1998 USA Basketball World Championship Team Continues Preparations|
July 21, 1998
MONTE CARLO, Monaco - When the USA Basketball Men's World Championship Team was confronted by Spain's national team on Sunday night in Monte Carlo, the game posed a test of size, maturity, strength and conditioning for the club which will represent the USA in the 1998 FIBA World Championship of Basketball, to be held July 29-August 9, in Athens, Greece.
With a narrow 43-36 halftime lead, the USA realized the test was truly a look at things to come. The USA team answered when Jason Sasser, the 1997 Continental Basketball Association (CBA) co-Rookie of the Year, scored the first six points of the second half and point guard Michael Hawkins provided valuable leadership, as the United States wore down Spain for a 95-78 victory at Stade Louis II Arena.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the win was the fact that a different set of heroes emerged than those who excelled in USA's first exhibition contest against France a day earlier.
"I think that's going to be a trait of this team," said USA Coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "We have good players, but the most important thing is that we have the team concept. All the guys came out in the second half and really got it going. Hopefully, one of the strengths of this team is going to be our depth. On different nights, different guys are going to get the job done for us."
Sasser finished with 15 points and Hawkins had 12. They were the only Americans to score in double digits, although all 15 team members scored.
"It was a good learning experience for us," Tomjanovich said. "I'm pleased with the way we came out in the second half and kept our intensity up there. And, again, defense was a big key for us."
Hawkins, the starting USA point guard, agreed with Tomjanovich's analysis of the team thus far.
"I think someone might have 15 or 20 points on one night and then the next night, it'll be somebody else, maybe somebody off the bench, doing that type of scoring," Hawkins said.
The USA is wrapping up its training in Monte Carlo and is expected on Thursday, July 23 to reduce the squad down to the official 12-member team. Following a morning practice Thursday, the team flies to Rome, Italy where it will train on July 24, then will play an exhibition game with Italy on July 25 at the Palaeur. Training on July 26 in Rome, the USA squad travels to Athens later that day and finish its pre-world championship training with practies on July 27 and July 28.
"Our practices have been spirited with high intensity and I think if we approach each day like that we'll get better by the time the tournament starts," remarked Tomjanovich. "I feel very good about our progress, but we have to get better, we can't stay at the same place. And you see it coming. You see the chemistry, the teamwork, developing but it is a process and it takes time.
"I think the time together is just going to help us. Already you can see guys communicating and helping each other on defense, offensively we know our plays and when the guys overplay it, you can see guys reading situations. I think the biggest thing is just being together and becoming a real team."
The 13th FIBA Men's World Championship will be held July 29-August 9 in Athens with teams from 16 countries competing for the gold medal. The United States begins World Championship preliminary round play on July 29 against Brazil, and continues preliminary round play on July 30 versus Lithuania and July 31 against South Korea. Second Round Group play is slated to be conducted August 2-4, with quarterfinals, semifinals and finals action to be held August 7-9.
The 15 finalists include: Wendell Alexis (Alba Berlin, Germany / Syracuse '86); Ashraf Amaya (Idaho Stampede / Southern Illinois '93); Earl Boykins (Eastern Michigan '98); Tim Breaux (Idaho Stampede / Caceres C.B., Spain / Wyoming '92); Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State '00); Bill Edwards (Virtus Rome, Italy / Wright State '93); Kiwane Garris (Grand Rapids / Illinois '97); Michael Hawkins (Olympiakos, Greece / Xavier '95); Gerard King (Siena, Italy / Nicholls State 96); Jimmy King (Quad City Thunder / Michigan '95); Trajan Langdon (Duke '99); Brad Miller (Purdue '98); Jimmy Oliver (Ciudad de Huelva, Spain / Purdue '91); Jason Sasser (Sioux Falls Skyforce / Caja San Fernando, Spain / Texas Tech '96) and David Wood (Rockford Lightning / Unicaja Malaga, Spain /Nevada Reno '87).
NEWS & NOTES
The third and final exhibition game for the USA World Championship squad will be held in Rome, Italy this Saturday, July 25 against the Italian National Team. The game will be held at the Palaeur, the site of the 1960 Olympic Games, where the United States won the gold medal and was represented by basketball greats Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and a host of other basketball legends.-------------------------------------------------------------------------
For the USA's Michael Hawkins, the opportunity to represent the United States at the World Championship will also be a homecoming of sorts. Hawkins, a 6-0 guard and 1995 graduate of Xavier University (Ohio), spent the 1997-98 season in Athens playing with the Greek professional team Olympiakos. One of Europe's and Athen's most popular teams, Hawkins averaged 9.2 ppg., 2.6 rpg. and 2.9 apg.
"It will be nice going back to Greece because it is a beautiful country. The people are pleasent and they have good fans. They (the Olympiakos fans) are exciting. They really get into the game. They are no where close to being conservative fans. They really want to become part of the game, they're kind of rowdy. Some fans might like me and some might not, so I don't know how they'll respond to me. But I'm looking forward to going back."