Boys Down Under not getting public excited
These aren't the Olympics, but the young NBAers in the Goodwill Games want some love.
This is not the Olympics. It won't be the finest foreign roundball of the summer, either. Ain't even the best international tournament scheduled for the first week of September.
Not a lot of goodwill there, huh?
You feel guilty dissing the Goodwill Games, given what the competition represents and what it's called, but facts is facts. So there can be no straight-faced overhyping of this latest Down Under excursion for Team USA/NBA, which will finally score all those 40-point routs we didn't see from the Dreamers last fall.
The only real competition for Flip Saunders' squad of future stars in Brisbane will be the in-house battle for minutes. Reason: Most of the overseas juggernauts, or countries that can at least give us a game, will be busy at the European Championships in Turkey, which opened Friday and run concurrently with the Goodwill schedule. The young Yanks thus find themselves in an underwhelming field featuring Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Mexico and New Zealand.
That's why Flip's players can't be faulted for wondering whether anyone back home will be watching.
"You always care what people think -- you want people to tune in," said New Jersey's Kenyon Martin, well aware that those very tape-delayed broadcasts from Oz tend to struggle when it comes to grabbing ratings. "But we can't make 'em watch."
The good (or sad) news -- sad for those Europhiles among us (HELLO!) -- is that Turkey 2001 won't be available on any Stateside channel. Those championships might have stolen from the potential Goodwill audience with their own stable of NBA names and the much more serious stakes attached: Europe's top five finishers qualify for next summer's World Championships in Indianapolis.
Our Goodwill-goers will have to settle for a historical distinction, this being the first time in the event's history that NBA pros will represent the United States. Beyond that? It amounts to a maiden taste of the international game for future Dream Team candidates such as Shawn Marion, Baron Davis and Andre Miller. Otherwise? A nice reward for one of our favorites, Minnesota's underrated Saunders, who finally has a team deep enough to get out of the first round.
Besides the Davis/Miller tag team at point guard and Marion on the end of their lobs, Saunders has Jermaine O'Neal, Rashard Lewis and Jason Terry for offense. Mike Miller, Marcus Fizer, Shane Battier and the Wolves' own Wally Szczerbiak, too. They don't have an established center but won't need one, with more than sufficient talent stockpiled to sink the minnows taking part.
"It's opportunity," Saunders said of a group culled from either the 1999 and 2000 drafts or the 22-and-under set. "You have some of the top young players in the game, and a lot of times these players -- especially if they're on a good team -- don't get to show people everything they can do night in and night out.
"Now these guys have an opportunity to step out onto the floor and show people around the world what they can do. You look at last year, what it did for Steve Nash. When the season ended two years ago, a lot of people were down on Steve Nash. Then he had an incredible run at the Olympics, gained his confidence and carried that over into [last season].
"It really took his game to the next level, and now Steve has become one of the better point guards in our league. I think that's the opportunity that some of the players on this team have."
There's also the knowledge that the Goodwill Games were previously even more obscure, as Miller, Szczerbiak and late addition Calvin Booth know first-hand. They were all members of the 1998 team which beat Australia for the gold in overtime. In New York.
Incognito, because those Goodwill Games, however close to home, were mostly ignored.
"I don't think people know much about it and they didn't really know in '98," Miller said. "But everybody wants to play on the Dream Team someday, so we have to take advantage of this opportunity. We're trying to earn our stripes."
Again, no worries there. Australia's only familiar names are Chris Anstey and Paul Rogers, because Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke and Andrew Vlahov have retired from international play along with Gaze and Longley. Which explains how the Americans, together for just a handful of practices, battered the host Aussies in a Thursday exhibition 109-76.
Forthcoming scorelines might not be any closer, but surely there is enough goodwill out there in the basketball community to generate some sort of following for these lads. Isn't there?
"I've watched it before," Martin said. "If people tune in, it will be a great opportunity to show them what we can do."
Around The League
What gives? Part of the problem is Huffman's demands; he wants more money and more years than any player with no NBA experience should expect. The other problem is that lack of NBA experience. "It's a known versus an unknown," said one Western Conference executive. "He's certainly one of the best players in Europe, especially among big men, but he still hasn't played an NBA game." Huffman is probably also hurt by the fact he has been playing in Israel, not a powerful domestic league like Spain, Greece or Italy. Given that Anthony Mason, Chris Gatling and Marc Jackson haven't landed new contracts yet, either, Huffman will probably have to wait a little longer.
Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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