National expedition

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Leo Rautins, the head coach of the men's national team, understands that qualifying for the 2006 world championship and 2008 Olympics will be difficult.

Particularly if NBA all-star point guard Steve Nash decides not to play, as probably will be the case.

In that regard, Rautins plans to leave no stone unturned in his quest for qualification, and that includes finding and nurturing the best talent available.

One of the Toronto native's priorities has been to try to convince New Orleans Hornets centre Jamaal Magloire to end his self-imposed holdout and play for Canada. Rautins said yesterday that talks with Magloire have been positive, although he won't go any further than that.

The national team will be holding a camp in June as a means of identifying prospective talent for this year's team and future senior squads.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of avenues Rautins plans to explore in terms of bolstering his roster. One is to check into the status of Philadelphia 76ers centre Samuel Dalembert.

The 6-foot-11 Dalembert, one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, was born in Haiti but moved to Montreal at 14 and first played basketball as a student at Lucien Page High in La Belle Province. It's uncertain whether Dalembert could attain Canadian nationality, or whether he is even interested, but Rautins plans to look into it.

Rautins also plans to examine the possibility of Syracuse University centre Craig Forth, a senior who stands seven feet and is a top NCAA big man, playing for Canada.

"One of his parents is supposedly a Canadian," Rautins said. "So we'll see."

Rautins' thing will be to recruit the best players possible, but stressed that he only wants guys who really want to play for Canada, and he won't do a song and dance to get anyone to play. He'll sell them on the merits of the program, but not beg anyone to come on board.

HARD TO BELIEVE, NOT

In his new book, The Jump, about Portland Trail Blazers rookie Sebastian Telfair, author Ian O'Connor talks about Telfair's claim that while attending a Georgia Tech game during his senior year in high school, a Tech booster allegedly told Telfair that he could get him $250,000 US if he signed with the university. Telfair, who jumped right into the NBA from high school, has backed up that story. Raptors forward Chris Bosh attended Georgia Tech during the 2002-03 season.

SOUR CARMELO

More and more questions have been raised about Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony's talent is unquestioned, but his attitude hasn't always been the best and that came to a head as Nuggets coach George Karl has not been afraid to bench his second-year star.

On Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns, Karl parked Anthony on the bench for the final 18 minutes in a 106-101 loss.

Asked, after the game if he was hurt, Anthony told the Rocky Mountain News: "I'm hurt I didn't play."

GOOD OLD RICK

Former Raptor Rick Brunson, the target of a sarcastic website when he was in Toronto, is still plugging away. The guard is in his eighth season in the NBA without once signing a guaranteed contract. According to the Chicago Tribune, that could change this summer as Brunson will come reasonably cheap and has been playing well, averaging six points and 5.7 assists in 25.6 minutes.

TIP INS

It appears the Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown will be gone for an indefinite period of time after he announced on Sunday that he needs further surgery related to his hip. The Pistons went 2-4 without Brown in November when he underwent hip surgery ... The playoff aspirations of the Indiana Pacers took a major hit on Friday when forward Jermaine O'Neal was placed on the injured list because of a sprained right shoulder. O'Neal, who is averaging 24.8 points per game for the 31-31 Pacers, will miss a minimum of five games for Indiana and may need surgery ... Bad stat: The Washington Wizards had more turnovers (13) than assists (10) in a 93-83 loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday night ... Knicks president Isiah Thomas continues to praise interim head coach Herb Williams, but he also says that he will look for someone better once the season is over.

BLAME VINCE

Things got ugly in Sunday in Orlando as the free-falling Magic lost to the Nets 98-82 and proceeded to self-destruct on the court. Steve Francis was ejected from the game for shoving Nenad Krstic during a melee. The stupidity didn't stop there, however. Magic players Tony Battie and DeShawn Stevenson will probably face suspensions for a couple of bizarre incidents following the Francis shove. According to Florida Today, Battie left the bench to break up a fight between Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu and Zoran Planinic of the Nets and then Stevenson kicked the basketball 30 rows deep into the crowd at the final horn, as the crowd booed. And then in the locker room later, veteran forward Stacey Augmon, taking exception to some questions directed toward Francis, sprayed several reporters with body lotion.

FAMILY FEUD

And continuing in the spirit of bizarre, a feud between Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and ABC reporter Jim Gray continued over the weekend as Cuban slapped Gray with a "one game suspension" for what Cuban called Gray's ambush interview of Dirk Nowitzki on March 6, concerning the Mavs' having better chemistry without Steve Nash. Cuban said Gray would have to apologize before he was allowed to interview Dallas players and Gray refused. Apparently on Sunday, a cease-fire was announced and the two sides have agreed to disagree.


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