By Brian Mahoney
AP Basketball Writer
HOUSTON — They have crisscrossed the country, delivering basketball blowouts from coast to coast.
Now the U.S. Olympic teams can finally take the only flight they really want.
They were to depart together Tuesday night for Brazil, a trip that’s expected to lead to gold.
“This is the exciting part, knowing that we’re about to go to Rio,” men’s star Carmelo Anthony said. “We’re about to just lock in in just one location, and we can just really focus on playing basketball and getting better individually and as a group.”
Anthony, at 32 the old man of the U.S. team, wasn’t a fan of the early morning flights that the Americans took during their exhibition tour, as evidenced by DeMar DeRozan’s Instagram video of a team singalong during one trip.
Now the teams can drop anchor and stick around in one spot — they’re staying on a cruise ship along one of Brazil’s beautiful beaches.
“I’m excited to see (Kevin Durant), DeMarcus Cousins, all the guys. I like them all, and it’s a great group of guys,” Angel McCoughtry of the women’s team said following its final exhibition in New York. “I’m ready to get to know them better and continue to hang out with these girls and have a good time in Rio. This is the Olympics, it’s a positive thing and we’re ready to go in there and have some fun.”
The men finished off their exhibition tour here Monday with a 110-66 rout of Nigeria, a game attended by the women’s team after it arrived earlier in the day. After unveiling their team in New York in late June, the men reported three weeks later to training camp in Las Vegas and also played exhibition games in Los Angeles, Oakland and Chicago.
They went 5-0, averaged 102.8 points and overwhelmed their opponents by 43 per game. The road to Rio was easy, but coach Mike Krzyzewski insists the Olympics won’t be.
“The competition is going to get better. I mean, really good,” Krzyzewski said.
“We play two games against teams that we’ve beaten, but they’ll be a little bit different, in China and Venezuela. And then we play Australia, who is very good. They’ll probably start five NBA players. And then you play Serbia, and we know them from the world championships, with (Milos) Teodosic and their big guys. And then you play France, who will probably have eight or nine NBA players. So it goes up. It goes up, and we have to react accordingly.”
The U.S. crushed China, the opponent in its opener Saturday, 106-57 and 107-57. The Americans beat Venezuela 80-45.
The women played higher-caliber opponents during their tour, which started in Los Angeles before moving to the Northeast for victories over France, Canada and Australia. They are a heavy favorite to win a sixth consecutive gold medal in Rio and have won 41 consecutive Olympic contests, with the last loss coming in the 1992 semifinals.
They gathered on July 23 and coach Geno Auriemma said Tuesday was the first real practice they’ve had. He plans another Wednesday after they arrive in Rio.
“So we’re not as good as we’re going to be, and that’s kind of the way it’s been for us at the Olympics,” Auriemma said. “We get better as the week goes on and that’s certainly been the case since the 23rd.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo visited the women’s team at practice and addressed the players afterward, wishing them luck in Rio.
Durant and Anthony are the only players on the men’s team who have played in the Olympics, while the women have much more experience playing together — some even as college teammates under Auriemma at Connecticut. But there was still plenty of learning to do on and off the court during the tour, with more still come when the games start to count.
“I think there’s a level of comfort now that you can tell that we have from our first game to our last warmup game,” Maya Moore said.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this report.