Monday, May 10, 2004
USA Basketball still scrambling to assemble roster
By Marc Stein
It was a good weekend for USA Basketball. San Antonio's Tim Duncan announced that he will indeed be making the trip to Athens, no matter how many of his veteran teammates withdraw, and another quality big man volunteered for duty.
Amid growing concern about the quality of Team USA's squad this summer, Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire told ESPN.com that he is yearning for the opportunity to represent his country.
"I would love it," Stoudemire said. "I would absolutely love it. It would mean so much to me."
Stoudemire hopes to gain some 11th-hour consideration as the selection committee scrambles to fill a roster in flux. As reported by ESPN.com late last month, USAB officials have been operating under the premise that Minnesota's Kevin Garnett will not accept their invitation to join the squad. Karl Malone is also expected to relinquish his roster spot, and Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal is considered a long shot to accept his invitation.
Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal is another big man who is at least considering a pullout, after battling through various ailments throughout the season and emerging as one of the first NBA personalities to publicly voice concerns held privately by many of the American stars regarding the level of security that can be provided in Greece.
Without either of the O'Neals or Malone, USA Basketball would likely be forced to add two or more players to a frontcourt rotation that, at present, only has commitments from Duncan and the L.A. Clippers' Elton Brand. New Jersey's Kenyon Martin and Detroit's Ben Wallace figure to be considered, as All-Stars with national-team experience, but Stoudemire thinks his size and skills make up for his lack of familiarity with the international game.
"We still have the best athletes in the world," said Stoudemire, the league's Rookie of the Year in 2003. "I wouldn't be nervous. This would be the first time [playing internationally], but I'm ready for it. Regardless of how young you are, if you're playing up to an Olympic level, you should be able to showcase your talents."
Asked about security fears, Stoudemire said: "You're taking a chance in anything you do in life. I just want to play for my country."
USA Basketball has holes to fill on the perimeter as well. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant has already relinquished his roster spot, citing potential court obligations in Colorado this off-season, and Toronto's Vince Carter turned down the opportunity to join the squad because he'll soon be getting married. New Jersey's Jason Kidd and Seattle's Ray Allen, both members of Team USA's original nine-man core, have also said they're unlikely to be available for the Athens Games -- Kidd because of health issues; Allen because his fiancée is expecting their first child in early September.
Team USA, coached by Larry Brown, is scheduled to convene in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 26 for training camp and then play exhibitions in Germany, Serbia and Montenegro and Turkey before the Olympics in Athens, which run through Aug. 29.
Duncan said his lifelong dream to win a gold medal is his motivation to play in Athens, even though his body could use the rest. A knee injury denied Duncan a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.