TEAM USA BASKETBALL
Grounded stars erase enthusiasm
LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Amare Stoudamire are held from an exhibition against Puerto Rico because they were late to a meeting.
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 12:53 a.m.
Team USA coach Larry Brown suspended Iverson, James and Stoudamire for showing up five minutes late to a pre-game meeting Saturday morning. All three took the team bus to Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Coliseum and dressed for the game, but none played.
Iverson, named co-captain of the team with Tim Duncan, was lauded all week in practice for showing leadership and maturity after a checkered past that included run-ins with Brown when the two were coach and star player in Philadelphia.
"That doesn't sit well with me," Iverson said. "I'm supposed to be one of the leaders of the team and to be a couple of minutes late, I let my teammates down. Today was a bad day. I want to put it behind me."
Said James: "I can never disagree with a coach's decision. I was late for a meeting and whatever he does you have to take it from there.
"I'm a competitor. I want to compete every time. But it's a decision I have to live with."
Brown was not at ease to discuss the suspensions at length, nor was he happy that the public address system announced the suspensions two minutes into the game. In the fourth quarter, with about six minutes remaining, the sellout crowd of close to 14,000 began chanting "Iver-son, Iver-son"
"I was embarrassed by the announcement," Brown said. "They broke a team rule. We are a team. They paid the price. No one wanted to embarrass them, and we have to move on."
Without James or Iverson, Brown started Stephon Marbury at point guard and 6-foot-7 Richard Jefferson at shooting guard. Duncan, Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion rounded out the starting lineup, but the leading scorers came off the bench, with Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer each scoring 16 points.
Duncan added 15 points and 10 rebounds and Marion scored 12 on 6-of-9 shooting.
In all, six of nine U.S. players reached double figures. Miami Heat rookie Dwyane Wade, spelling Marbury at the point, finished with seven points and eight assists.
"Shawn and Richard were asked to play positions that they don't normally play," Brown said. "The biggest thing is that we made progress from last game to this game."
Team USA scored 64 points in the paint and 14 fast-break points, offsetting 20 turnovers.
"We were more aggressive," Duncan said. "We got the energy back, got some steals and were able to get some baskets in transition."
When asked about playing the game short-handed, Brown said, "There are a lot of games where we might not play more than nine guys. It might be a case of a player suiting up and not playing for a second. That's part of being on a team."
Puerto Rico made a brief run in the second quarter. With Duncan resting, Puerto Rico went to a zone defense, and cut a 15-point U.S. lead to five when Carlos Arroyo hit a breakaway layup off a steal with 1:35 to go before halftime. But Team USA scored the final four points of the half and opened the second half with a 10-5 surge.
Larry Ayuso hit five 3-pointers and led Puerto Rico with 19 points. Arroyo, a guard with the Utah Jazz, added six points and five assists.
"They came out very aggressive in the second half," said team Puerto Rico coach Julio Torro. "In this kind of a game, you only hope that the time goes faster."
The exhibition for Team USA was the first and only on American soil. Shortly after the game, the team hopped on a flight for Germany, where it will begin a three-country exhibition tour with stops in Cologne, Belgrade, Serbia, and Istanbul, Turkey.
Any lingering questions about Iverson's leadership should be answered before the games begin Aug. 13. Players, for now, don't seem concerned.
"He still is a great leader," Odom said. "That happened and it's over with, but it doesn't change my opinion of him as a person or a player.
"People are going to dwell on it but you're barking up the wrong tree. We're going to keep the focus on what happens on the court."
You can reach Kevin Brockway at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 374-5054.
TEAM USA on Page 10C
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TEAM USA:European exhibitions planned of Stoudemire, Iverson and LeBron James for the U.S. team's exhibition match against Puerto Rico
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