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Boys Down Under not getting public excited

8/31/2001

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 Australia without the retired Andrew Gaze and Luc Longley. That's
Canada sans the resting Steve Nash and Todd MacCulloch. That's Mexico
without Eduardo Najera.

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

  • The vagaries of international basketball dictate that you don't believe
    what it says on the roster until the players on said roster are seen in the
    flesh. That's our disclaimer for the following list, featuring some of the
    more familiar names we're told will be participating in the aforementioned
    Euro Championships: Croatia's Bruno Sundov (Indiana); France's Tony Parker
    (San Antonio); Germany's Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Shawn Bradley (Dallas);
    Russia's Andrei Kirilenko (Utah); Slovenia's Rasho Nesterovic (Minnesota);
    Spain's Pau Gasol (Memphis); Turkey's Hidoyet Turkoglu (Sacramento); Ukraine's
    Vitaly Potapenko (Boston) and Slava Medvedenko (LA Lakers); and Yugoslavia's
    Peja Stojakovic (Sacramento). And, of course, our favorite Italian: Gregor
    Fucka (pronounced Foochka, potty mouth).

  • There's even some foreign intrigue on the free-agent market these days.
    Nate Huffman is a legit 7-footer from Central Michigan who was arguably the
    best player in Europe last season, leading Maccabi Tel-Aviv to the
    Suproleague championship. That's the same Huffman who has barely generated
    an NBA sniff this summer, much as he wants to come home, while backup big
    men like Nazr Mohammed, Calvin Booth and Todd MacCulloch rang up long-term
    millions.

    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.

  • OK, OK. Back to these shores for our capper, which is a clarification on
    Chris Webber's contract. Much as the Kings deserve serious kudos for hanging
    onto CWebb, when everyone on the hoops Earth thought he was gonzo, it's best
    to describe their re-marriage as a five-year commitment. Webber's new
    contract is indeed worth $122.7 million over seven years, but he has an
    opt-out after Year 5. Also, the sixth and seventh years of the deal --
    totaling $43 million -- are not guaranteed. It's safe to say, even if Webber
    finishes his career in Sactown, that there will be a new deal coming in the
    summer of 2006.

    Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular
    contributor to ESPN.com
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