- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

Jerry Colangelo is attempting to assemble a genuine basketball team, as opposed to a collection of hastily assembled All-Stars, following the lackluster performance of Team USA in the FIBA World Championship in 2002 and the Athens Games in 2004.

The 22-player list, to be officially announced Sunday, has been crafted in the context of team dynamics, perimeter shooting and the willingness of the participants to commit to the program through the Beijing Games in 2008.

That in part explains the invitations to Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, two solid citizens eager to wear the red, white and blue of Team USA. Their inclusion was not hurt by their connection to Ernie Grunfeld, who serves on Colangelo’s advisory panel.

Arenas, in particular, was vocal about his desire to be among the select few. As he noted, he is not one to rest in the offseason anyway.

His prospects of making the final roster have been aided by the surprising omission of Allen Iverson, who campaigned to be on the team and earned high marks from Colangelo after their interview.

The earnestness of Arenas to represent his country is just the attitude Colangelo was seeking after the NBA’s collective yawn going into Athens. That ill-conceived team dropped three games en route to a bronze medal. That team could not shoot straight or master the nuances of the international game.

The days of meeting up and expecting the world to roll over on cue ended with the U.S. team that finished sixth in the World Championship in 2002. That ear-splitting alarm was sounded on these shores, in Indianapolis. It took the NBA and USA Basketball another two years to recognize that it was no aberration.

This team has plenty of shooters in Arenas, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Shooting was the bane of the U.S. team in Athens, as opponents employed packed-in zone defenses to neutralize the quickness advantage of the Americans. The simple recourse is to sink a good number of outside shots to stretch the defense.

That need has been addressed going into the World Championship in Japan this August. This team also has the versatility of Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion and Brad Miller, the defensive prowess of Bruce Bowen and the inside efficiency of Elton Brand.

The only element the team is truly lacking is a traditional center who swallows up the three-second lane and maneuvers on offense with his back to the basket. That player would be Officer Shaq, of course, if he ever feels inclined.

His capacity to commit to the program is problematic at this point in his career. The NBA’s 82-game schedule is challenging enough on his massive frame. By the time the Beijing Games roll around, Officer Shaq will be 36 years old.

Yet as the program evolves and players are shuffled to and from the active roster in the three summers ahead, Officer Shaq could find it in him to commit to one of the functions.

Although Americans tend to work themselves into a lather over the basketball competition of the Olympics, the rest of the world focuses its energies on the World Championship, which actually makes sense.

The World Championship is a celebration of the game, the spotlight all its own.

The rest of the world is embracing the game with a fervor that is showing up in persuasive numbers on NBA rosters. The foreign evolution is as compelling as this in the last generation: from Uwe Blab and Detlef Schrempf to Dirk Nowitzki, an MVP candidate this season.

USA Basketball’s attempt to fix the culture of apathy has been met by the straightforwardness of Colangelo.

His blunt message to the multi-millionaires was effective: Don’t do USA Basketball any favors. Representing your country in international competition is an honor, not a sentence, and only those who see it that way need apply.

That attitudinal adjustment is a good start.

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