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  Sat, August 30, 2003


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The Last Word
By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A new craze has swept the Roberto Clemente Coliseum at the Americas Olympic qualifying basketball tournament.

It's called: Spot the missing hoser.

Indeed, every day, someone, whether it's a fan, volunteer or media person, asks a wandering Canuck if Todd MacCulloch or Jamaal Magloire or Rick Fox will play at next year's Athens Olympics.

Of course, no one knows the answer. For one thing, the Canadian team has yet to qualify for Athens.

The question, however, has become a major source of intrigue. Canada is a popular team down here and one of the reasons for that is, people understand that this collection of mostly European pro and college players has, by and large, overachieved.

Other than Steve Nash, not one of Canada's current NBAers is here. But still, the red and white is in the fight this weekend for one of the three qualifying spots for Athens.

Imagine this lineup if Canada qualifies for the Olympics:

Steve Nash, one of the world's best, at point guard; Rowan Barrett, a leading point scorer at this tournament, at shooting guard; Rick Fox of the Los Angeles Lakers at small forward; Jamaal Magloire of the New Orleans Hornets at power forward; and 7-foot centre Todd MacCulloch of the Philadelphia 76ers.

That, by anyone's standards, is a medal-contending team at an Olympic Games.

On top of that, if Fox, Magloire and MacCulloch made it to Athens, the Canadian team's bench would become impressively deep. The second unit would look something like this:

Shawn Swords at point guard; Denham Brown at shooting guard; Peter Guarasci at small forward; Jesse Young at power forward; Greg Newton at centre.

Swords, Guarasci and Newton have started at this tournament, along with Nash and Barrett, and have played well. Off the bench, they would be even more effective. They're old, dependable war horses in international play.

Brown, 20, and Young, 23, have opened a lot of eyes. Toronto's Brown, who once scored 111 points in a high school game, is entering his second year at the University of Connecticut, a basketball factory, and will only get better. Coming off the bench here, in his first international tournament, the West Hill Collegiate grad has given Triano a nice scoring touch.

The 6-9, 250-pound Young (who has taken some kidding from his teammates because of the way the P.A. announcer pronounces his name -- Essi Yung), has also played beyond expectations.

Throw in Carl English in the mix for Athens as a possible backup shooting guard and the Canadian team would match up with the top European sides.

Most of the world's top players readily join their national teams at international tournaments. Canada is an exception, and nobody's sure why that is the case.

Fox played for Canada at the 1994 world championship but not since. He does have a good relationship with Triano and is a possibility for Athens.

MacCulloch has almost always answered the call for his country, but is dealing with a career-threatening nervous disorder. The Winnipeg native is in constant contact with Triano and is reportedly exploring every medical option.

Magloire is the big question. The Toronto native has never shown much interest in playing for Canada. His excuse, a legitimate one, this year was he is negotiating a contract renewal with New Orleans and didn't want to risk injury. But Nash and Triano have expressed optimism that he'll come on board by next year. Don't hold your breath.

As for English, well, the big question is whether the former University of Hawaii star is a legitimate NBA-class player.

The possibilities for Athens are great. Still, there is one special attribute that this group of guys has -- real team chemistry.

Nash, Barrett, Guarasci, et al, have played internationally together for years and are tight, on and off the court. NBA players often have a disturbing effect on morale. And that's why the coaching staff is reluctant and even disdainful to talk about the what ifs of next year's team.

"I really think talking about that is insulting to the guys who we have here," said assistant coach Mike Katz, the men's bench boss at Humber College. "I think that's the key point in all of this.

"To me, it's not important who isn't here. It's who is here. In the end, basketball is a team game. We don't have some players here, but we're doing our best with what we have and we still have very skilled players who relish the opportunity to go to another Olympics." 







Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
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