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NBA FINALS: PISTONS 87, LAKERS 75

Olympic Basketball Roster in Flux

June 07, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Stu Jackson had to pause, trying to corral fragments of memories, mental notes and thoughts.

The question seemed simple: How many NBA players remain on the U.S. national team roster for the Athens Olympics, after the recent withdrawals of Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady?

The answer, however, was difficult for him to pinpoint.

"At this point we have.... Well, it changes daily," Jackson, the senior vice president of basketball operations for the NBA and USA Basketball's senior national team committee chairman, said Sunday after the Detroit Pistons' 87-75 victory over the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

For those keeping count, the U.S. roster stands at eight players who have guaranteed their participation: Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby, Stephon Marbury, LeBron James, Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson and Amare Stoudemire. Jackson and fellow committee members plan to meet today in Chicago to discuss how to fill the remaining positions before the mid-July deadline for submitting names to the International Olympic Committee.

And for those keeping count of the withdrawals and refusals, the list is even longer. In addition to O'Neal and McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Elton Brand and Kenyon Martin have either said don't bother asking or no thanks.

"Sure, we're disappointed," Jackson said, "but at the same time, I'm sensitive to players declining to join for various reasons. Some have suffered injuries during the regular season, some have personal commitments they have to honor, and some have expressed concerns about security."

He said he had not tried to persuade players to stay if they said no, including those who had cited fear of potential anti-American actions or terrorism. "We just try to give them as much information as we have, so they can make informed decisions," he said.

No potential additions have been sounded out about their interest before invitations are extended for the final four spots.

Jackson rejected the notion that perhaps the Olympic team should be reserved for younger players, who might be more willing to go through the rigors of a pre-Olympic camp and accepting of accommodations that are less luxurious than conditions they are accustomed to during the season.

"The age of the player has not really been a focal point," Jackson said. "We're just trying to put together the best team to compete for the gold medal."

He acknowledged that Team USA Coach Larry Brown -- now busy coaching the Pistons -- and the selection committee have had some concerns after the withdrawals of many of the bigger front-court candidates. That is a topic that probably will arise tonight.

In the end, the biggest question is whether Team USA -- whatever its final roster -- can fend off rapidly improving international opponents, who caused more than a few nervous moments at the Sydney Games.

"It's going to be a real challenge for this team," Jackson said. "There are some very strong teams in the world, like Serbia-Montenegro, Lithuania and Argentina. We're going to have to play very well."

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