Miller Hopes U.S. Can Avoid Upset

by Conrad Brunner

April 16, 2001

Indianapolis - When Reggie Miller starred with Team USA in the 1994 World Basketball Championship, the road to the gold medal was smooth, up to and including a 137-91 rout of Russia in the championship game.

Miller Miller

Though only a few years have passed since then, the face of international basketball has changed dramatically, thanks in large part to the exposure brought to the sport by the presence of NBA stars like Miller. Simply put, the world is catching up to the United States - and quickly. Though the U.S. will continue to employ NBA stars on its national team for the 2002 World Championship tournament in Indianapolis, the expectation of dominance that accompanied recent teams has receded.

"I didn't sign up to come see an upset," said Miller, who along with Jermaine O'Neal will represent the Pacers on Team USA. "At the last Olympics, we were only one or two free throws from one of the biggest upsets in sports."

Games will be played in Conseco Fieldhouse and the RCA Dome, with 16 national teams from five continents competing. Qualifying for the event begins in June of this year and is completed in September. This will be the first time the event, co-hosted by USA Basketball and Indiana Sports Corporation, has taken place in the United States, and it is expected to draw between 50,000 and 75,000 fans from around the world.

"The events of the last Olympics, and the fact there are players coming into the NBA from all parts of the world should forewarn us of the fact we're no longer invincible on the international scene," said Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "The NBA takes this event very seriously. We don't want to lose any event, especially one that is so important in the eyes of the world."

With NBA players unavailable under the terms of a labor lockout in '98, the U.S. team was comprised mainly of collegians, and wound up settling for a Bronze medal. Prior to the dominating performance in '94, the U.S. finished third in 1990. Though NBA players were not yet allowed to participate in '90, that roster included Alonzo Mourning, Kenny Anderson, Christian Laettner, Billy Owens, Bryant Stith, Chris Gatling and Todd Day. Even so, the U.S. needed a 107-105 victory over Puerto Rico to finish third.

The most compelling evidence of the narrowing of the global talent gap came in the most recent Olympics. With a roster of NBA stars led by Mourning, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett, the U.S. was nearly upset by Lithuania before rallying for an 85-83 victory in the semifinals. In the Gold-medal game, France trailed just 76-72 with 4:26 remaining before the U.S. recovered to win 85-75.

"That was a great assemblage of talent," Miller said, "but you've got to have the right mix of players for the international game."

In fact, the Olympic experience has led USA Basketball officials to reconsider their method for selecting the team. In recent years, it has been a matter of selecting the most talented individual players available. This time around, a greater emphasis may be placed on assembling the necessary pieces to form a cohesive team.

"Those two games (in the Olympics) prompted more discussion on this subject than ever before," said Tom "That was a great assemblage of talent," Miller said, "but you've got to have the right mix of players for the international game."

In fact, the Olympic experience has led USA Basketball officials to reconsider their method for selecting the team. In recent years, it has been a matter of selecting the most talented individual players available. This time around, a greater emphasis may be placed on assembling the necessary pieces to form a cohesive team.

"Those two games (in the Olympics) prompted more discussion on this subject than ever before," said Tom Jernstedt, President of USA Basketball.

Tickets can be obtained via the Internet at www.2002worldbasketball.com or www.ticketmaster.com, or by calling toll free 1-866-849-4922. In addition, ticket order forms can be obtained at the box offices at Conseco Fieldhouse (317-917-2727) and RCA Dome (317-262-3389), by calling the 2002 World Basketball Championship office (317-327-1566) or at the Indiana Sports Corporation Event Information Center at 201 S. Capitol St.