Sunday, August 17, 2003

College basketball insider

Pros in international games here to stay

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The notion seems quaint today: The United States rounds up its best college basketball players, sends them off to the Olympics and runs away with the gold.

Of course, the United States hasn't sent a team of college players to the Olympics since 1988, when John Thompson coached the team to a bronze medal. Four years later, the United States began sending NBA players and hasn't stopped, winning the gold with them in each of the last three Olympics.

"It would be very difficult to medal or win in the Olympics with college players assembled the way they used to be," said Oliver Purnell, the former University of Dayton and current Clemson coach, who's serving as an assistant on the U.S. team.

The U.S. team assembled last week to begin practice at John Jay College in Manhattan for the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament Wednesday through Aug. 31 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The closest thing to a college player on this team is Kansas product Nick Collison, who will be a rookie for the NBA Seattle SuperSonics this year.

The only true college connections on this Olympic qualifying team are the coaches, Purnell and North Carolina's Roy Williams, who, along with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, are assisting coach Larry Brown of the Detroit Pistons.

"European players have gotten better," Purnell said, "and the other thing that you've got to realize is that the European players go back every summer and play together in competition. We don't do that. Most of the time, when we assemble a team, it's for the first time.

"When you take that into account, as well as the fact that they're not as good as NBA players, and that so many college players go to the NBA early, the best of that age group is not available."

Even with a team of NBA players, winning the Olympic gold medal is no longer a given for the United States, especially after its sixth-place finish in last year's world championships in Indianapolis. Purnell says there's a sense among the players on this team that the USA must re-establish its dominance in world basketball at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

"It's certainly something we've talked about," Purnell said. "We are the defending gold medalist, but because of our performance last year with different players in the world championships, we have to go out and qualify for the Olympics. That's the first order of business. Then we go defend that gold medal."

Purnell and the other coaches spent last week trying to mold Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Karl Malone, Jermaine O'Neal, Richard Jefferson and Collison into a team, while at the same time helping them adjust to the international game with its different rules and strategies.

"You've got to play more as a team," Purnell said. "It's like anything. It's an adjustment, especially after playing one way for 82 games."

SHIELDS MILESTONE: Northern Kentucky coach Ken Shields needs 10 victories to become the first coach in the school's history to reach the 300-win plateau.

Shields, the dean of local college coaches, took over the NKU program in 1988. As he enters his 16th season with the Norse, he's 290-155. He has had seven 20-win seasons.

He also coached at Highlands High School and St. Thomas High School, where he amassed 460 wins and posted fifteen 20-win seasons. He has won 750 games as a head coach on both the college and high school levels.

Shields, 61, has talked about retiring from coaching at the end of this season, but he hasn't made a decision yet on whether to return next year.

The Norse begin their season Nov. 7 in the Disney Division II Tip-Off Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Orlando. They'll open the three-game round-robin tournament against Kennesaw (Ga.) State, which was 25-10 last season and played in the NCAA Tournament. They'll play Philadelphia (16-12 last year) in their second game and will finish up against South Dakota State, which went 24-7 last season and also played in the NCAA Tournament.

NKU lost four starters from their 25-6 NCAA Tournament team, including All-American Brenden Stowers and all-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection Quentin Smith.

MAYBIN FUND: A fund has been established for former Louisville star Marques Maybin, who is paralyzed from the waist down following an Aug. 5 motorcycle accident.

Maybin, who played under coach Denny Crum from 1997-2001, scored 1,624 points for the Cardinals, putting him 12th on the school's career scoring list and eighth in Conference USA.

He has played professionally the past two years in Lebanon and France but had not signed a contract for the upcoming season and had no health insurance.

Donations can be sent to: Marques Maybin Medical Fund, c/o Republic Bank, 661 South Hurstbourne Pkwy., Louisville, Ky., 40222.



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