Tryout proposal on table for November meeting

Updated: September 10, 2004, 2:57 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The 2008 Olympic team could be made up of players who try out for the team, rather than those who were invited to play if one of the main proposals passes at the next USA Basketball committee meeting in November.

Tom Jernstedt, the executive director of USA Basketball, told ESPN.com that a proposal to invite up to 40 players from the NBA, the developmental league, Americans playing in leagues overseas and a few selected college players could be at the center of the upcoming meeting.

Jason Kidd
AP PhotoJason Kidd, right, played for Team USA during 2003 qualifying, but not in Athens.
"It's not a new concept, but there was resistance primarily from one constituent [the NBA]," Jernstedt said. "They said that tryouts would be a disincentive and that the elite players wouldn't be interested in taking the time for a tryout.

"But as we're sitting here in September, and reflecting back on a bronze finish at the Olympics in 2004 and a sixth-place finish in the World Championships in 2002, you can say it didn't seem to work. We were also a 3-point shot from losing in the semifinals in 2000 [Olympics] in Sydney to Lithuania. We have to applaud the team that did show up [in Athens] and had the interest to represent their country."

Jernstedt said members of the selection committee and Olympic coaching staff met on a number of nights in Athens to discuss how to make the selection process better in the coming years.

"We're willing to try anything that will help us address our training issue," said the NBA's Stu Jackson, who is the chairman of the senior men's national team selection committee. "It may be difficult to get many of the elite players in the NBA to participate in a tryout system. But I suspect some players will gladly be a part of such a system.

"We're in unchartered waters here. USA Basketball in cooperation with the NBA will have to explore a way to enhance our performance and address the training method."

Jernstedt said the committee, which will meet Nov. 9-10 in Colorado Springs, Colo., is expected to come up with a new model and timetable for choosing the next senior national team. Since the U.S. didn't win the gold medal, the Americans still have to qualify in the summer of 2005 (at an undetermined site in the Americas) for the 2006 World Championships in Japan. The 2008 Olympics will be in Beijing, China.

Jernstedt said USA Basketball isn't locked in to sending the same team to the 2005, '06 and '08 events, assuming the U.S. qualifies for '06 and '08. But he does agree it would make it easier for the next coach, who could end up being the same person for each event, if the team played together longer.

"One of the results of a tryout is that it clearly identifies who has the heart and attitude on and off the court [to participate in the Olympics]," Jernstedt said. "All options will be discussed very thoroughly."

Another plan that is on the table, but isn't warmly received, is to take the NBA champion from the previous season. Problems would arise if the team has key foreign players, players whose contracts have run out, or anyone who is injured. Also, this would prevent the same team from being together in 2006 and '08 unless that team won the NBA title in each of those two seasons.

"Many of the rosters include international players, and the free agency issue would be a factor," Jackson said. "That would make it very difficult to take the NBA champion."

A tryout seems to be the idea that has the most momentum, especially among the coaching staff.

"If you have a tryout, you would address that issue right off the bat as to who wants to be there and wants to make sacrifices for the team," said Olympic basketball assistant Roy Williams, the head coach at North Carolina. "You would have a team that is more familiar with each other and would play together longer."

But that won't change everything that went wrong with Team USA. Off-court behavior was an issue. Multiple sources told ESPN.com that USA Basketball was in the process of finding out how to dismiss a player from the team before the Olympics. The coaching staff and members of the USA Basketball selection committee met in Istanbul, Turkey, after the U.S. held an exhibition before the Games, looking at the procedures for sending home anywhere from one to four players who weren't behaving up to the USOC's standards.

But it didn't go any further than inquiries into the process of dismissal.

We don't have the passion for the Olympics that other athletes do in other sports or for their national teams in basketball. The dream for them is playing for their national team. Our kids grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA. No one could make that equal. That will be difficult to overcome.
Team USA assistant Roy Williams
Poor behavior could occur even with players who earn a spot through a tryout. But Williams said changing attitudes about the Games would be the toughest part of winning another gold medal.

"We don't have the passion for the Olympics that other athletes do in other sports or for their national teams in basketball," Williams said. "The dream for them is playing for their national team. Our kids grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA. No one could make that equal. That will be difficult to overcome.

"The old days of putting 12 NBA players out there and winning on talent are over. We have a system that isn't conducive to the Olympics. NBA owners don't want their players to play. The season is so long in the NBA that they are concerned about their bodies. The talk of terrorism was real, but the single biggest factor was how long the season was for the NBA players. Go down the line -- Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal -- all turned down invitations and they all missed some time due to injuries."

Jackson said not having seven players -- Kidd, Allen, McGrady, O'Neal, Mike Bibby, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone -- who participated in the qualifying practices in the summer of 2003 hurt the '04 Olympic team.

"The biggest negative of the seven players defecting from the team wasn't replacing them but the continuity from one summer to the next that was lost," Jackson said of the team that competed in Puerto Rico. "We would have performed better if they had played together. That's a huge factor against international teams. The team has to be together an extended period of time."

Williams said the differences between the international and NBA game need to be addressed. He said a point guard driving through the lane, pulling up from 4 feet and firing a pass back out to a 6-foot-11 player for a 3-pointer doesn't happen in the NBA or in college basketball.

"It's a different game," Williams said. "Playing in the Olympics is a lot harder than these guys thought. It's a huge commitment. Guys say they want to be involved but when they get there, it's not exactly what they thought it would be. The players we had have been criticized, but they did agree to go. We're failing to see that, and they should be praised for that since they did choose to go there."

But the next Olympic team might at least be a choice after a tryout, rather than from a shrinking pool of available players who weren't against going to Greece. A tryout might increase the pool for Beijing and, USA Basketball hopes, give the Americans a better foundation for a shot at the gold.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE