- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gilbert Arenas is virtually guaranteed a spot on the 12-player U.S. national team that will play in the world championship because of his pure shooting ability.

Arenas senses as much and is grateful to be part of the restoration project of the red, white and blue.

Arenas and Antawn Jamison have survived the initial personnel shuffling of USA Basketball, facilitated by the absence of so many.

The list of players either injured or committed elsewhere is fairly impressive: Kobe Bryant, Shawn Marion, Michael Redd, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick and Lamar Odom.

With Luke Ridnour and Adam Morrison being put on the USA Basketball shelf, the roster of 17 has been reduced to 15.

“It is such a great honor to be playing for your country,” Arenas said by telephone yesterday.

It is an honor Arenas could not have imagined after being selected in the second round of the NBA Draft in 2001.

Five summers later, Arenas is among the elite players in the NBA.

“As much as I want to make this team — you know I’m a competitor, too — we all have to sacrifice to help this team win,” Arenas said.

Arenas was tempering his scoring thrusts in training camp before unleashing nine 3-pointers during a scrimmage the other day.

“I was on a fire, and they were in a zone defense,” Arenas said.

His shooting range is unrivaled, as he showed in the playoffs against the Cavaliers. He hit a 40-footer near the end of the first quarter in Game 2 and a 30-footer that sent Game 6 into overtime.

The distance did not compromise the integrity of his shooting mechanics in either instance.

“The guys have been talking about it here,” Arenas said.

Arenas is with the team that will compete in the State Farm USA Basketball Challenge in Las Vegas, the China Basketball Challenge in Guangzhou and the World Basketball Challenge in Seoul, Korea, in the weeks ahead.

Three more players will be removed from the active roster before the team appears in the FIBA World Championship in Japan, starting Aug. 19.

The team is carrying nine forwards, four guards and two centers, although both LeBron James and Joe Johnson have the perimeter skills and vision to play in the backcourt.

The two centers, Dwight Howard and Brad Miller, would seem to be a lock to make the roster that goes to Japan. The same can be said of three of the four guards: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Arenas.

Other apparent roster locks are Carmelo Anthony, Elton Brand, Bruce Bowen, James and Johnson.

That leaves Amare Stoudemire, Shane Battier, Chris Bosh, Kirk Hinrich and Jamison vying for the last two spots on the active roster.

The novelty of the situation is not lost on Jamison.

“I can’t remember the last time I had to try out for anything,” he said. “Here’s a situation where this is the biggest stage, but I never doubted myself. To be put on the stage with the best and come out as a finalist is very gratifying for me.”

Stoudemire is an unknown element after missing most of last season because of a knee injury. He is not where he wants to be at this point in his recovery. His place on the roster reflects the long-range thinking of Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

This is the opening phase of a three-year commitment that ends with the Beijing Games in 2008.

The roster that will try to restore America’s basketball supremacy in Japan next month is not expected to be the same one in Beijing.

The United States last won the gold medal in the world championship in 1994. An NBA labor dispute in 1998 forced the USA Basketball lords to send a group of collegians that claimed a bronze medal.

The United States finished sixth in the world championship in 2002, a prelude to the disappointment of the Athens Games two years later.

The slide has prompted this newly formed operation and a call to take the international opposition with the utmost seriousness.

“We have a group of guys who want to play together,” Arenas said. “That is the big thing. There will be only one basketball in Japan, and we all have to understand that.”

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