Monday, August 2, 2004

Brown questions European tour

Team to face quality competition

The Associated Press

COLOGNE, Germany - Larry Brown wants to move on.

The U.S. Olympic basketball coach said Sunday that the suspension of Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire is forgotten. He would rather focus on a tough road trip against some of Europe's top teams leading up the Athens Olympics.

Brown refused to let Iverson, James and Stoudemire play in the team's 96-71 win over Puerto Rico on Saturday, punishment for the trio showing up late for a team meeting.

"It won't happen again. They'll play the next game and some will start," Brown said.

The U.S. squad arrived in Germany on Sunday, shook off the jet lag and held its first practice.

And Brown is having some second thoughts about whether this series of exhibitions, which includes a game against world champion Serbia and Montenegro, is ideal for his team.

That's a switch from last year, when he was eager for the trip after the U.S. team romped through Olympic qualifying in Puerto Rico with a 10-0 record. Since then, however, veterans from that team, including Mike Bibby, Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen, have bailed out.

Now, Brown is drilling the youngest U.S. Olympic team, with an average age of 23.6 years, since NBA players were first allowed into the 1992 Games.

James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony may be talented, but they are newcomers to basketball abroad. The team played together just one week, and many players will need a crash course in the different rules of the international game.

Brown thought the team had put all that behind them in Puerto Rico.

"We thought that team would be playing. We thought we had laid the foundation," Brown said. "Now I think maybe we can use the practice."

The U.S. team faces Italy on Tuesday, followed by Germany and Dirk Nowitzki on Wednesday. Then it plays two more away games against Serbia and Montenegro and Turkey, whose NBA players include Utah's Mehmet Okur.

"I hope this trip will competitively toughen us up," Brown said.

Sunday's practice, during which Brown worked on some plays, was a closed session in a sweltering small gym.

Only a handful of reporters were let in to watch a late shootaround and talk to the players.

That will be different against Italy and Germany. The NBA stars, often still called "The Dream Team" abroad, have awakened huge interest.

From across the world, the German organizers of the exhibition game said more than 500 media sought accreditation for the two games, with around 350 gaining approval.

That's about a 100 more than followed the U.S. team's training camp in Jacksonville.

While handling the growing hoopla, Brown will have to get his young team used to the international game's wider lanes, the different calls from referees, the shortened 3-point line, along with schooling them in some simple plays.

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