Originally created 07/12/98

USA team down to 16 finalists



CHICAGO -- For three days, Rudy Tomjanovich watched hours of practice and dozens of players, trying to separate equally talented men and come up with a U.S. world championship team.

Now comes the hard part.

With his roster whittled to 16 finalists Saturday, Tomjanovich's next task is figuring out how to meld his ragtag group of college and CBA players into a team that can compete for a medal.

"Now our focus is how we're going to become a real team. Not an all-star team, not a group of guys from a whole bunch of different parts of the country," Tomjanovich said Saturday. "We've got to become a family."

Duke standout Trajan Langdon and Big Ten player of the year Mateen Cleaves are the biggest names on the list of 16 finalists. Earl Boykins, who, at 5-foot-5 is known as much for his diminutive stature as he is for his ball-handling skills, also made the cut. So did Jimmy King, who was part of Michigan's famed Fab Five and now plays in the CBA.

The other finalists are: Brad Miller; Kiwane Garris; Michael Hawkins; Jimmy Oliver; Wendell Alexis; Tim Breaux; Bill Edwards; Jason Sasser; David Wood; Ashraf Amaya; Warren Kidd; and Gerard King.

Tomjanovich is expected to make one more cut before training camp ends Tuesday, and announce his official 12-man roster after the team's camp in Monte Carlo. The 1998 FIBA World Championships begin July 29 in Athens, Greece.

USA Basketball initially selected 12 NBA players for the world championship team, including Grant Hill, Gary Payton and Tim Duncan. But with a lockout looming July 1, the all-stars threatened a boycott.

USA Basketball moved first, announcing June 16 it was dropping the NBA stars and replacing them with current college players, CBA players and Americans playing overseas.

"We're going to do our best to work hard and not have any letdowns of the expectations that we're set with the first team," Jimmy King said. "We want to pick them up like they were never lost."

But that won't be easy.

Most international teams have played together for months, if not years, and some will still have NBA players. The U.S. team will have been together three weeks when it takes the floor for the first game.

"You need months to get ready and you're not playing your best basketball until the end of the season," Langdon said. "But we don't have that long, so the group we have has to come together quickly."

The bonding has already started. There was plenty of trash talking during Saturday's drills. Broken up into three separate teams, players were slapping hands and hollering whenever someone in their group made a basket.

And when practice finished, Cleaves and Miller, who just finished his eligibility at Purdue, resumed what's become an ongoing debate on who has the best team in the Big Ten.

But the key for this team is the lack of egos. There is a wide range in the age and experience of the finalists -- from the 33-year-old Alexis, who played in Germany last year, to Cleaves, won't be 21 for two more months.

"Nobody is in it to be the lead scorer or rebounder," Cleaves said. "People are starting to play their roles, and if we do that, we're going to win. We've got everything we need -- the big fellas, the wings, the guards.

"If everybody plays their roles, we're going to be a tough team to handle."