NEW YORK, Aug. 12 -- After experiencing a whole lot of nothing last year at the World Championships, Team USA big man Jermaine OíNeal believes the squad that will try to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics has that special something.

"I think this team, outside of the Dream Team with Jordan in 1992 -- and maybe 1996 -- might be the second-best put-together team," OíNeal said.

Forgive us for channeling our inner-Keanu, but "Whoa!"

Could OíNeal, who played on the first USA Basketball team to lose in international competition despite featuring NBA players, possibly be overselling the 2003 version? Not at all, the two-time All-Star said.

Jermaine O'Neal claims this USAB men's team has more drive than the previous team.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE
"With this yearís team, I think weíve exiled losing from our vocabulary," said O'Neal. "Thatís the biggest difference. Weíre not talking about Ďif we lose.í Weíre talking about winning it and being impressive at the same time."

O'Neal also saw first-hand what does, and doesn't, work in international play. And he believes this team has a better balance of players who don't just break opponents down off the dribble.

"I think that we have a little bit of everything," explains O'Neal. "This year, we have a lot of players who can distribute the ball. I think we have a lot of post players that can step out and make the shot. In international play, you canít play one-on-one. You have to make plays and this team can make plays."

O'Neal may be on to something. This star-studded team was assembled with versatility in mind.

"Itís tough to say that the roles (on this team) are defined," said Ray Allen. "As a team, weíre all so talented (and) we can do so many different things. You put a guy at a position, you have to know the plays. ... You have to make the next man better."

Making the next man better is chief among the intangibles that Allen thinks this team possesses. The sinewy shooting guard who can drive, dish and hit the jumper knows it takes more than ability to succeed at this level.

"The talent runs deep in this league," Allen said. "Itís the extra stuff that you bring into practice, itís the extra stuff you bring to a team that matters. And, you know, those are the things that keep teams together."

O'Neal, for one, seems intent on keeping this team together. When asked what he planned to do to help the U.S. succeed in Puerto Rico, the 6-11 post player had a simple answer.

"Do whatever I can do to help the team," O'Neal said.

Team-first talk by some of the game's best players? This group might just have that special something after all.