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Jackson Among Olympic Picks

Laker coach is one of four nominated to lead U.S. men in qualifying tournament next year and 2004 Athens Games.

November 20, 2002|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers' Phil Jackson is among four NBA coaches nominated to lead the U.S. men's basketball team through an Olympic qualifying tournament next summer and, if successful, at the 2004 Athens Games -- but there's a catch.

USA Basketball officials said Tuesday they hadn't spoken to Jackson about the job, for which Philadelphia's Larry Brown, Utah's Jerry Sloan and Miami's Pat Riley are also being considered. And whoever accepts the challenge of restoring the luster tarnished by the U.S. men's sixth-place finish at the World Championship in September must agree to several conditions.

Among the terms are possibly extending the pre-Olympic training period, having the team stay in the Olympic village at Athens, and adjusting strategy to the international game, which includes more perimeter play and less post play.

"Many of the international teams field teams that train together for years, often under one coach and similar philosophy," said Stu Jackson, chairman of USA Basketball's senior men's national team committee. "Our players seem to be better one-on-one talented players, but unable as a collection to overcome the team part that international teams bring to these competitions."

Stu Jackson said a coach would be chosen by the end of the month. Three assistants, one from the NBA and two from the college ranks, will be named early next year.

They will have a core group of eight or nine players who will be chosen by late December and will commit to playing in the qualifying tournament and the Olympics. Two or three players will be added by February but won't be guaranteed Olympic spots.

The remaining three or four "will come from a variety of constituencies," Stu Jackson said, among them U.S. and European pro leagues. Trials might be set up to choose a college player or two.

Stu Jackson said USA Basketball had "reached out" to Kobe Bryant but had so far received no response. He added that he hadn't spoken to Shaquille O'Neal, who expressed interest in playing only if Phil Jackson were the coach, but said O'Neal might be invited regardless of the coaching choice.

"It would not be a factor," Stu Jackson said. "Our objective here is simply to gain a commitment from the coach we feel would be best suited to get the gold medal back."

Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen and Jason Kidd have contacted him and agreed to play in the qualifying and Olympic tournaments, Stu Jackson said.

"I'm certain both Kobe and Shaq are going to be candidates," he added. "We're committed to getting our very best players. Hopefully, both will eventually participate if they both are selected."

Stu Jackson acknowledged that the rest of the world had caught up to the U.S. men, but said he believes they can regain supremacy.

"USA Basketball will continue to attempt to enlist the very best players possible and formulate the best team possible to take into these competitions," he said.

Tom Jernstedt, president of USA Basketball, said the decision to house the men's team in the Olympic village stemmed from security concerns, although building camaraderie was also a factor. The men's team stayed at posh hotels in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney, Australia, in 2000.

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