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Kidd, McGrady, Duncan, Allen say they'll play in Athens

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Associated Press

USA basketball plans to select a core group of eight or nine players by mid-February to represent the United States at both next summer's qualifying tournament and the 2004 Olympics, but several NBA stars have already given verbal committments.

Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen have already contacted the federation to say they're willing to play.

''We have reached out to Kobe (Bryant) but have yet to get a response from him,'' U.S. basketball selection committee chairman Stu Jackson said.

As they did in 1999, the U.S. federation will fill the final three or four spots on the qualifying team roster with players who will not be guaranteed spots on the 2004 Olympic team.

In 1999, Elton Brand, Wally Szczerbiak and Richard Hamilton were on the qualifying team but did not play on the Olympic team.

USA basketball plans to announce the first six players in mid-December, then add two or three more in early February. If the United States wins one of the three Olympic berths at the qualifying tournament, the final two or three spots on the 2004 roster would be filled sometime during the 2003-04 NBA season.

''Certainly both Kobe and (Shaquille O'Neal) are going to be candidates, certainly they are two of our very best, and we're hopeful both will participate if selected,'' Jackson said.

Jackson also confirmed that Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Pat Riley are the four head-coaching candidates. He would not answer when asked if the selection committee had already voted on a coach.

As for the players, the federation is hoping that O'Neal and Bryant show the same enthusiasm for playing that Duncan, McGrady, Kidd and Allen already have.

O'Neal has said he would only play if Phil Jackson is chosen as coach.

On Sunday, after hearing that Brown was reportedly the leading candidate, O'Neal said his knee will be hurting in 2004.

''The decision by a player whether to play is quite frankly a personal one,'' Jackson said. ''We've heard from these other players who don't know who coach is or the training schedule, and their view has been: 'Look, I want back in. I want to be there for the first time to help get the gold back,' and they did it without any criteria or contingency.''

The player and coach news was one of several topics that came up during a conference call with USA basketball president Tom Jernstedt and Jackson to discuss the U.S. federation's plans following the disappointing sixth-place finish at last summer's World Championships.

In another development announced Tuesday, the federation said the American players will stay at the athletes' village at the 2004 Games -- a departure from 1992, 1996 and 2000 when the team stayed at hotels.

''From a philosophical standpoint, we find it appropriate to stay in the village. Many athletes have suggested that doing so is a significant part of the Olympic experience,'' Jernstedt said Tuesday.

USA Basketball officials have already been in contact with International Olympic Committee officials regarding the accommodations the American players would have at the athletes' village, Jernstedt said.

Critics have chastised past U.S. teams for staying at fancy hotels and isolating themselves from the lower-profile athletes in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney.

At the World Championships last summer, the U.S. team had its own hotel while the other 15 teams stayed at a different one.

''I felt it would have helped in Indianapolis if they had been around the other teams a little more to just understand the magnitude and spirit of the event. We're hoping the players will be encouraged,'' Jackson said.

USA Basketball also plans to have an extended training camp and to play several exhibitions before the 2004 Olympics.

Yugoslavia, the world champion, and Greece, the host country, are already slotted in two of the 12 spots in 2004. Additionally, there will be three teams from the Americas region, three additional teams from Europe, one each from Africa and Asia and two from the Oceania region.

The cities vying to host next August's qualifying tournament are Toronto; Mexico City; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Caracas, Venezuela; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I hope the Yugo's enjoy that World Championship while they can ;)

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If they already have McGrady and Allen, they'd probably be better off without Kobe (unless he's the only way to get Shaq on the team). Last thing we need is for the Olympic team to be the Blazers (i.e. have a bunch of egos and 7 shooting guards)...

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