Roster not likely to be set by May 1

Updated: April 27, 2004, 10:33 PM ET
Associated Press

Shaquille O'Neal shook his head, frowned slightly and shrugged when asked whether he'll play at the Athens Olympics.

"I'm still not sure," the Los Angeles Lakers' center said.

He's not the only one.

There are more questions than answers right now for the USA Basketball selection committee, with only six players considered locks to show up in Greece: Jermaine O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Mike Bibby and Richard Jefferson.

Among those wavering are Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, Elton Brand, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

Vince Carter, who is getting married this summer, already ruled himself out, and Kobe Bryant's availability hinges on the schedule for his sexual assault trial in Colorado.

"It's not troubling, but it is what it is," Stu Jackson, chairman of the USA Basketball selection committee, said Tuesday. "In a perfect world, we'd like to have a roster in place by May 1. But given the circumstances, that seems unlikely."

Among the reasons for the hedging are nagging injuries, fears of terrorism, and family plans, including the wedding and a birth.

Shaquille O'Neal said his participation in the Aug. 13-29 Olympics will depend largely on how far the Lakers advance in the NBA playoffs, and Minnesota's Garnett sent a similar message to USA Basketball officials.

Bryant, O'Neal's teammate with the Lakers, is accused of sexually assaulting a hotel employee in Colorado. He did not have to surrender his passport when he posted bail, with the only requirement on overseas travel being that he inform the court.

The American team will hold training camp in Florida in late July before traveling to three cities -- Cologne, Belgrade and Istanbul -- for pre-Olympic exhibitions.

"You'd better be ready to play 8-on-5 in Belgrade," quipped Kidd, counting the two referees and the crowd as the three extra opponents.

The Nets' All-Star point guard has said his participation will depend on his left knee, which could require surgery after the NBA playoffs. Malone and Brand also have injury concerns, and Malone has indicated he's not enthusiastic about traveling to cities where anti-American sentiment has grown.

"The players are definitely concerned about it," Jermaine O'Neal said. "It definitely sits on your mind. Every day you've got TV, and you see how the terrorists are trying to figure out ways to be effective."

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who will play for China, shrugged off a question Sunday about security concerns in Athens, implying he's satisfied with arrangements at the athletes' village.

The U.S team, citing logistical reasons, will use Olympic housing being provided on cruise ships in Piraeus harbor.

Allen wasn't exactly thrilled when he heard that news.

"Sure, I have concerns," Allen said earlier this year. "The walls have been penetrated. As Americans, we never thought they could get through with a suicide bomb. That's something we have to concern ourselves with now, at all the venues."

Allen, expecting a child in September, has since said he is strongly considering relinquishing his roster spot. That would deprive the Americans of their best pure outside shooter.

Kidd is the U.S. team's best point guard, and Shaquille O'Neal is the world's most dominant center. The absence of Garnett, Brand and Malone would leave a void at power forward, and not having Bryant would subtract the game's most dynamic player.

American teams are 109-2 in the Olympics, with losses in 1972 and 1988.

These days, the level of competition no longer tilts heavily toward the Americans -- even at full strength. A U.S. team of NBA players lost to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain at the 2002 World Championships, and the American team that won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney needed a last-second miss by Lithuania to survive its semifinal game.

"The selection committee will continue to forge ahead as quickly as possible," Jackson said. "The objective remains putting the best possible Olympic team together to win the gold medal, and we remain committed to that objective."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press