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Graney: Kevin Love’s selection to Team USA not about race

Jalen Rose was dead-flat wrong. Kevin Love wasn’t a token selection to the U.S. national basketball team. He isn’t part of a 12-man roster heading to the Tokyo Olympics because of skin color.

History doesn’t support such a notion.

Rose is the ESPN analyst and former NBA player who termed the choice of a white player in Love “tokenism,” claiming Team USA was afraid to have an all-Black roster.

A quick Google search would have informed Rose that the team has been composed of all Black players in the past, the most recent example being the gold medal side of 2016 in Rio.

Who was afraid then?

Understands criticism

Rose would (somewhat) back off his comments in a 42-minute Instagram video, where he apologized to the game of basketball but not directly about suggesting Love’s place was racially motivated.

His opinion. His right to it.

Still, the only token when it comes to Team USA might be one of those commemorative coins sold during the Games.

“In a way I understand (the criticism) because I came off a season where I didn’t play that many games and wasn’t at the top of my game,” Love said. “I feel I have a lot to prove.

“I’m 13 years in now. I’ve heard it all. All I can do is go out there and chase the game, let everything fall into place and just bust my ass and see what I can do for this team.”

Love’s long history with the national team might have had something to do with his selection despite being a 13-year veteran coming off the worst season of his career. That’s plausible.

It could also be this: International basketball is a world in which specific skills sets are valued more than others. Ones that Love, when healthy, possesses. The Cavaliers power forward/center claims he’s ready. His head coach agrees.

The national team faces Nigeria on Saturday at Michelob ULTRA Arena, the first of five exhibition games here before it departs for Tokyo.

There could be times once the Games commence when Love — who averaged just 12.2 points while being limited 25 games this season with a calf injury — doesn’t play much at all. There could be times when he’s needed to make a difference.

Remember: There is no three-second defensive violation in the Olympics. Your bigs can set up camp in the lane as if on a weekend getaway to Yosemite. You can play more zone than Syracuse.

This is where a player like Love can flourish. He’s a career 37 percent shooter on 3s. That threat alone will force post players guarding him (say, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert of France) to extend while at the same time allowing Team USA better spacing. Love is also a terrific rebounder.

“We’re going to work (Love’s) his ass off the next four to five weeks and demand a lot,” Team USA coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s going to definitely get him back into the rhythm he needs to be in to continue to play.

“You’re right. We all know he didn’t have a great year. But he has worked diligently to get his body ready for this and we have a need for his skills.”

Experience matters

From the moment he assumed control of the senior national team, Jerry Colangelo stated that loyalty to the program would be considered when making roster decisions.

Love won gold medals at the World Championships in 2010 and London Games in 2012. He’s also just one of three members on the Tokyo roster (along with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green) with Olympic experience.

That matters. So does having a willing role player among a collection of young stars and egos.

“Listen, I understand that being the No. 1 guy playing 35 minutes and getting 20 touches a game is in my rear-view,” Love said. “But how I can affect a team and feeling as I’m feeling now, I known I can do that at a very high level.

“I’m incredibly humbled to be here, thankful to be here, grateful to be here.”

Not a token.

Likely just a guy Popovich thinks can help win games.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.