Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Brand, Jefferson, Collison to get Team USA invites
By Marc Stein
With three spots left to fill on its roster for Olympic qualifying this summer, USA Basketball is extending invitations to the L.A. Clippers' Elton Brand, New Jersey's Richard Jefferson and NBA rookie-to-be Nick Collison from Kansas, league sources told ESPN.com.
All three players are seen as role-player supplements to what USAB refers to as its "core group" of nine players, and the additions of Brand and Collison would give coach Larry Brown five recognized big men. San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Utah's Karl Malone and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal are the only power players presently on Brown's team.
At guard, meanwhile, Team USA already has commitments from the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, New Jersey's Jason Kidd, Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, Seattle's Ray Allen and Sacramento's Mike Bibby. Jefferson, fitting the up-and-comer profile USAB has established for the role-player spots, would serve as an understudy at small forward to Orlando's Tracy McGrady.
The nine members of the core group, along with Brown and his staff, have two-year agreements with USAB and are expected to represent the country in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. Brand, Jefferson and Collison would not be assured spots on the Olympic team.
The decision to pursue those three indicates that USA Basketball does not expect Minnesota's Kevin Garnett to accept a standing invitation to join the national team for the forthcoming qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico from Aug. 20-31. That, however, does not rule Garnett out from joining Team USA for the Olympics. The nature of core-group and role-player distinctions enables USA Basketball to make a few changes after the Puerto Rico trip.
Kidd has been lobbying Garnett to reconsider, at least for Athens, after Garnett initially expressed hesitation to make another two-summer commitment to the program. Garnett made that commitment in 1999 and 2000 for the group that eventually won gold in Sydney.
O'Neal and Brand were members of the U.S. team that finished a humbling sixth in last summer's World Championships in Indianapolis. Dallas' Michael Finley was originally seen as the only member of that team to have a shot at being invited back, but the need for size created frontcourt openings. The Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal immediately declined his invitation to play and Sacramento's Chris Webber, still facing a perjury trial this summer, has not been considered by USAB because of his uncertain legal situation.
Bryant, Iverson and Jermaine O'Neal were formally named as members of Team USA on Tuesday. USAB does not announce its player selections until the players have signed contracts with the federation.
Collison, expected to be a lottery pick in the June 26 draft, would be reunited on the national team with his college coach. Roy Williams, the new coach at North Carolina after he and Collison led Kansas to the NCAA title game against Syracuse, is on the Team USA staff as an assistant to Brown.
|Elton Brand played on the U.S.'s sixth-place team at the Worlds last year.|
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.