-- CHICAGO -- Even Carmelo Anthony struggles to process the enormity of his Olympic accomplishments.
The New York Knicks superstar and Team USA stalwart is on the verge of becoming the first American man to participate in four Olympic basketball tournaments.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet about the fact that I'm playing in four Olympics and have an opportunity to win three gold medals," Anthony said before the U.S. men's basketball team's practice on Thursday. "I think about it, but I haven't really sat down and put everything into perspective. A lot of times when you're going through these situations, you tend to not put so much focus on the whole process and the journey until after the fact."
As much as Anthony tries to shy away from the possibilities, the fact is he could become the most decorated Olympic men's basketball player in American history if Team USA rolls to its third straight gold medal in Rio next month, as is expected. He's also in line for a slew of other Olympic men's basketball records.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Anthony is just 35 points shy of becoming the Olympic men's basketball all-time leading scorer. LeBron James currently holds the record with 273 points, spread out over the past three Olympics.
Anthony has played in 23 Olympic basketball games, just one shy of the record James and David Robinson share for most in American history.
Anthony has racked up 83 rebounds over the past three Olympics. That's good for fourth in American history. Robinson owns the lead with 124.
Anthony has made 75 field goals in Olympic play, good for fifth in American history. Michael Jordan owns the record with 111 made field goals over his two Olympics.
Anthony's rise to the top of the U.S. program is even more impressive when you consider his humble beginnings on Team USA. In the 2004 Athens Games, Anthony played in just seven contests, according to basketball-reference.com, and scored just 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the tournament that saw the Americans earn a bronze medal.
Jerry Colangelo was brought in months later as U.S. men's basketball managing director -- in charge of overhauling the organization's system and to try to atone for the underwhelming finish in Greece. But it was in those difficult moments immediately after a shocking loss to Argentina in the 2004 medal round that the foundation for Anthony's love of the program was formed. As one U.S. player after another dejectedly walked off the floor, it was Anthony, then just 20 years old, who individually walked most of the team back to the locker room.
Jim Boeheim, Anthony's college coach at Syracuse and a men's basketball team assistant under Mike Krzyzewski since 2006, knows the player who helped the school win its only national title in men's basketball has changed a lot since his first Olympic experience.
"A huge development," Boeheim said. "All those guys in Athens, even LeBron, and all those guys were young. And they did crazy stuff -- they did what teenagers do when they're out on their own for the first time. Carmelo has really, over the years, matured in terms of on and off the court. He's a leader now. He has been a leader for a while. He's accepted his role on our Olympic teams. He's been part of two gold medal-winning teams, one he started on and one he came off the bench. Now he's back, and I'm glad he's back because he gives us a veteran guy that's been there, along with Kevin [Durant], two guys that won gold medals."
Anthony's veteran presence is something this young American team will be able to lean on during its defense of another world title. The fact that Anthony continues to answer the bell for his country on the Olympic stage is something Colangelo gushes over. Out of all the stars in America's deep pool of basketball riches, it is Anthony who has become the unlikely face of the national program over time, not James or Durant.
"The fact that he has had a commitment for that period of time and has served for that period of time is an incredible example for the other players," Colangelo said. "Number one, it's been healthy and good for him in terms of participation and being ready for the next season just a few months later when they go into training camp. He also, in the international game, has thrived. He's been very successful in it, so it's a feel-good kind of a situation. When you're happy and you're a player and you thrive in a system, you want to be there. So when you look at all that he brings to the table -- the leadership, the experience, the fact that he's been so successful -- it's all of those factors that make it very special."
But aside from health and longevity, what is it about Anthony's game that has made him so successful over time on the international level? Boeheim noted that the 3-point line is a little closer, 23 feet, 9 inches at the top of the key in the NBA compared to 22 feet, 1.7 inches in FIBA. But the larger key is the versatility in the All-Star's repertoire.
"Carmelo's game hasn't changed that much," Boeheim said. "He gets open, he makes shots and if you get up on him [he can] get to the basket. Probably internationally, he's a little better because they don't have many shot-blockers internationally, so he can get to the rim and shoot. He's a really good offensive player anyway, but he's really even probably a little better internationally."
After all these years, Anthony's reasoning for continuing to come back to Team USA is simple -- it has been a part of his entire basketball life. Aside from the soon-to-be four Olympic appearances, Anthony won a silver medal in 2001 as part of USA Basketball's Youth Development Festival. He earned bronze medals in the 2004 Games and the 2006 World Championships. And besides his two Olympic gold medals, he earned another gold in 2007 as part of the team that won the FIBA Americas tournament.
"I enjoy it," Anthony said. "At first, early, Athens was -- I wanted to come back and kind of redeem myself -- myself as an individual and ourselves as a country. We did that. And just the program and the foundation that Jerry Colangelo laid and put into place -- I wanted to be a part of that."
Anthony has a chance to cement that legacy even further in Rio, and Boeheim is hopeful that his school's famed protégé can help push the rest of the group to the mountaintop one more time.
"I wanted him to come because I thought it would be good for him to have a good experience again in basketball," Boeheim said. "But I thought it was good for our team to have a guy that's been there."
Anthony is trying to take all of this in stride. As much as he doesn't want to admit it, he has become the man that the rest of his teammates and coaches look up to as they try to dominate the rest of the basketball world.
"I try not to think like that," Anthony said of being the face of the Olympic men's basketball team. "I think I'm a big part of USA Basketball, but as far as being the face, that's a lot of pressure."
As he has proved time and time again since those difficult moments 12 years ago in Athens, it's a pressure that he has proudly overcome for the love of the game and his country.