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2004 Basketball Planning Begins

November 15, 2002|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

With no team or coach yet selected, no site or date yet designated for the American qualifying tournament in which they must participate, and the good name of their country to reclaim, USA Basketball's Senior National Team Committee meets today in New York to start picking up the pieces.

It's the first meeting since the summer disaster in Indianapolis, when the U.S. men suffered their first international loss since NBA players started representing the country, falling to Argentina, followed by losses to Yugoslavia and Spain, and finishing sixth in the World Championship.

This renewed calls for the best U.S. players, such as the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, to play. Bryant has indicated an interest and O'Neal, who has been in one Olympics and a World Championship, has said he might return.

Laker Coach Phil Jackson has also suggested his interest. Jackson has never been associated with USA Basketball, which traditionally gives the Olympic job to people who have coached its other teams. However, because O'Neal and Bryant would be pleased by Jackson's appointment, committee sources don't pooh-pooh Phil's candidacy.

Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak, a member of the committee, is attending but says he is bearing no messages or conditions from O'Neal, Bryant or Jackson.

An Olympic gold medalist at Montreal in 1976, Kupchak has suggested that Bryant and O'Neal think about going to Athens in 2004 but says they haven't discussed it recently.

"I read the papers," Kupchak said from New York. "I see Kobe is interested in playing and Shaq is considering it, but we've had no discussions recently....

"Phil and I did talk about it a little bit. I think it's something that's intriguing to him. I think it's something that he'd consider. I think at one point in time, he was adamantly against it, but I think it's intriguing today.

"To be honest with you, it's kind of a silver lining to the fact that we lost in Indianapolis. It has renewed interest, patriotic interest in this country's status in international basketball, something that seems to have been lost. You've got some very established people saying they're interested in coming, including our coach. Clearly, it's something people care about."

The qualifying tournament will be sometime next summer. Finalists for the site are Rio de Janeiro; Mexico City; Toronto; Caracas, Venezuela, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The U.S. last had to qualify in 1999. That time a "core group" of nine players was selected, and those players were promised places on the 2000 Olympic team.

With such stars as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, the U.S. went 10-0 and qualified. Then the team was augmented in the Sydney Olympics by Vince Carter and Antonio McDyess and won the gold medal, although not without scares from Lithuania and France.

Bryant has expressed less interest in playing on a qualifying team too, but if he or O'Neal said they'd go to the Olympics, the committee probably would give them next summer off.

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