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John Schuhmann

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JaVale McGee's athleticism and wiry frame make him a good fit for Team USA's plans.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

McGee gets best chance yet to stick on thin U.S. frontcourt


Posted Aug 9 2010 11:52AM

On Feb. 10, when USA Basketball named its pool of 27 players for the next three years of international competition, JaVale McGee wasn't on the list.

When four more names were added on May 10 and three other players were added on July 15, McGee didn't make those lists, either.

When the team first met in Las Vegas on July 19 to begin preparing for the World Championship, McGee still wasn't there.

But shortly afterward, Knicks president Donnie Walsh called USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and told him that Amar'e Stoudemire couldn't play due to a contract issue. Robin Lopez also took his name off the roster. And about 15 hours later, there was McGee, in the gym for the team's first workout, a true last-minute addition.

Fresh off an impressive Summer League run -- he averaged 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds, while shooting 69 percent in four games -- McGee may have been in better shape than anyone in camp. But he also had lesser credentials than the others. To some observers, McGee seemed to be there as more of a practice body, someone to bang with Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez for a week before he was told "thanks for your time" when cuts were made.

McGee had his moments during those five days in Vegas and with Chandler and Lopez struggling early on, there was a feeling that McGee might actually have a shot at making the roster. But then Chandler got his legs under him and by week's end, had clearly established himself as the team's best center.

McGee made an immediate impact when he checked into the USA Basketball Showcase that Saturday night, scoring six points, blocking one shot and challenging another in his first minute-and-a-half of action. But, he was slow to get back in defense on a handful of possessions and he was the only player to log less than 12 minutes.

Three days later, McGee was indeed one of the four cuts Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski made in trimming the roster to 15. Colangelo said that while Lopez was out of shape (Lopez was recovering from a bout with mono), he was giving the Nets' center another chance to make the roster -- a clear indication that the team preferred the more skilled Lopez to the more mobile McGee.

McGee's skill set is actually a better fit for what Krzyzewski wants from his centers than Lopez's are. McGee is a 7-foot beanpole who can jump out of the gym, the kind of guy who can effortlessly recreate Michael Jordan's cuff dunk in a Summer League game. With his athleticism and speed, he can patrol the paint and run the floor for a team that wants to win with aggressive defense and transition offense.

Intangibles come into play and for a player to fully earn his coach's trust, he must be experienced, consistent and reliable. At this point in career, McGee is none of those.

But at this point, Colangelo and Krzyzewski are running out of options at center. Lopez said on Wednesday he wouldn't be in good enough condition to continue training in New York this week. So McGee was put back on the roster, again the beneficiary of attrition.

On a conference call to discuss the cuts a week earlier, Colangelo had even mentioned that McGee "may get a call sooner rather than later," a prophetic statement if there ever was one.

Chandler still tops the center depth chart, but having missed 68 games over the last two seasons makes his durability is a concern. And while the U.S. team plans on using Lamar Odom and Kevin Love at center as well, they may have no choice but to keep McGee around in case of emergency.

He was a late addition to the roster for the first phase of training camp. Then he was a late addition for the second phase. If he survives the next three cuts, McGee will have the opportunity to do something that Baron Davis, Reggie Miller and Paul Pierce couldn't do in 2002 and that Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn't do in 2006.

Could you imagine it? JaVale McGee, who couldn't crack the Wizards' rotation last season until after they traded three-fifths of their starting lineup, a world champion?

Hey, he made it this far.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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