O'Neal Officially Joins U.S. Olympic 'Core Group'

by Conrad Brunner

April 29, 2003

Colorodo Springs, CO -- Adding offensive firepower in a big way to its 2003 USA Men’s Senior National Team, USA Basketball officially announced today that NBA All-Stars Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), MVP of the 2002 NBA All-Star Game and a three-time member of the NBA champion Lakers, Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers), 2001 MVP of the NBA, and Jermaine O’Neal (Indiana Pacers), winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2002, have been added to its Senior National Team. The player selections were made by the USA Basketball Senior National Team Committee.

"It's a great honor and I'm very appreciative that I've been selected for this team," said O'Neal. "In my mind, I feel I have some unfinished business as an individual and we as a team have some unfinished business after our disappointing showing in the World Championship. To represent the United States in international competition is special recognition that not many players receive and I am really looking forward to this summer and 2004 in helping USA Basketball regain its status in international basketball.”

The Senior Committee has now named nine “core group” players to the 12-member 2003 USA Basketball Senior National Team. The USA roster will be finalized later this spring with the naming of the final three “role players.”

The 2003 USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team will participate in the 2003 FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will be held Aug. 20-31, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“They have paid their dues in our league and have made unbelievable contributions to their teams. It is a great honor for them, and I am happy for all three of them,” said Philadelphia 76ers head coach Larry Brown who was named on Nov. 26 as the USA’s head mentor.

“From a personal standpoint, I am thrilled to death (about Iverson’s selection). It just shows the respect that everyone in the league has for Allen and what he has done. He has made unbelievable contributions to our game. This is the culmination of a career that has gotten better every year, and he continues to learn the game and get better.

“Kobe has had a remarkable career. He has won three championships so quickly. He is as good of an all around player that we have in our league. I hope this is one of many opportunities he gets to represent his county in this way because he is what our Olympic team is all about,” continued Brown.

“Jermaine has gotten better every year. He is one of the main reasons Indiana has been an improving team. He is one of the best young players in our league,” stated Brown.

“These three additions to the 2003 Senior National Team round out one of the finest teams we have ever assembled,” said USA Basketball President Tom Jernstedt. “We are thrilled by the interest shown by these exceptional players. We now have nine team members who have made the commitment to play for USA Basketball over the next two summers. We look forward to this group representing the United States in a manner that will make all Americans proud.”

“At this point, we are extremely pleased with the core group of players who are committed to represent USA Basketball during the next two summers. We have assembled some of the very best players on the planet in anticipation of recapturing the gold medal in international competition. Our next objective is to complete the team with three additional players, who will gain valuable experience by representing the U.S. in this summer's qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico,” stated Stu Jackson, Chair of the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team Committee.

USA Basketball previously announced that Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers would serve as head coach of the USA senior team, and named as his assistant coaches were San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, recently hired Clemson University (S.C.) head mentor Oliver Purnell, and recently named University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams.

USA Basketball had also previously announced six members of the 2003 senior squad including: two-time Olympic gold medalist and 18-year NBA star Karl Malone (Utah Jazz); 2000 Olympic gold medalists Ray Allen (Seattle SuperSonics) and Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), the NBA’s 2002 Most Valuable Player; Tracy McGrady (Orlando Magic), the NBA’s leading scorer in 2002-03 season and the NBA’s 2001 Most Improved Player, and rising NBA star Mike Bibby (Sacramento Kings), who led the Kings to the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals.

The three-some of Bryant, Iverson and O’Neal add considerable scoring punch to the USA team. Bryant, who on March 5, 2003, reached 10,000 points for his career, making him the youngest player (24 years, 193 days) in NBA history to reach that plateau, finished second in this year’s NBA regular season scoring race averaging 30.0 ppg. Iverson, who has captured three NBA scoring titles (1999, 2001, 2002) in his seven seasons, ranked third at 27.6 ppg., and O’Neal finished 19th averaging 20.8 ppg. Five of the nine players now named to the USA team finished among the top 10 scorers for the 2002-03 NBA season, and seven ranked among the top 21. McGrady led the NBA in scoring (32.1 ppg.), followed by No. 2 Bryant, No. 3 Iverson, No. 7 Tim Duncan (23.3 ppg.), and No. 10 Ray Allen (22.5), while O’Neal ranked No. 19, Malone was No. 21 (20.6 ppg.), Kidd ranked No. 31 (18.7 ppg.), and Bibby, who averaged 15.9 ppg., did not meet minimum requirement but if he had, he would have ranked tied for 45th in scoring.

Iverson and O’Neal have previously worn USA Basketball’s red, white and blue uniforms. Seven of the nine selected players boast of previous USA Basketball playing experience.

Iverson, while starring at Georgetown University (DC), was a member of USA Basketball’s memorable 1995 World University Games Team that finished a perfect 7-0 and captured gold in Fukuoka, Japan. Part of a talented team that included future NBAers Allen, Duncan, Kerry Kittles, Othella Harrington, Austin Croshere and others, Iverson led the USA squad in scoring, assists and steals. Iverson averaged 16.7 points, 6.1 assists and 2.9 steals a game, while shooting 56.0 percent from the field overall and 37.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

O’Neal will be representing the United States for the third consecutive summer and for the fourth time in his career. A member of the 2002 USA World Championship Team, O’Neal played in eight of the USA’s nine games, starting five times, and averaged 7.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg. and 1.8 blocked shots a game, while shooting 51.0 percent from the floor. Also a member of the 2001 USA Goodwill Games Team that captured gold with a 5-0 record, he posted impressive averages of 13.2 ppg., 7.2 rpg. and 3.2 bpg., while hitting 68.3 percent of his shots overall. As a high school senior, O’Neal was a member of the USA Junior Select Team that participated in the 1996 Hoop Summit Game and accounted for USA highs of 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots while playing 27 minutes.

“We welcome Jermaine back to another USA Basketball team, his third consecutive year of representing the United States in international basketball competition," said Stu Jackson, the chairman of the selection committee. "Jermaine is a terrific addition to our frontcourt from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. He gives us another low-post offensive scorer and an additional shot blocker, which is crucial in the international game.”

Bryant is the fourth named USA Senior National Team player (joining Duncan, Kidd and McGrady) who earned All-NBA First Team honors in 2001-02. Bryant has also collected All-NBA Second Team honors in 2001 and 2000, and was a Third Team choice in 1999. Bryant additionally has earned NBA All-Defensive honors three times having been named First Team in 2000 and Second Team in 2001 and 2002.

Iverson is a two-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999 and 2001), and a two-time All-NBA Second Team choice (2000 and 2002). In addition, Iverson garnered NBA Most Valuable Player honors in 2001 and was Rookie of the Year in 1997.

O’Neal, collected his first All-NBA honors in 2002 when he was named Third Team and was also tagged as the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2002.

Between Bryant, Iverson and O’Neal, the trio have appeared in 11 NBA All-Star Games and twice earned MVP honors of the mid-season classic. Bryant, a five-time All-Star, accounted for 22 points in the 2003 NBA All-Star Game and was named MVP of the 2002 game after tallying 31 points, five rebounds and five assists. Iverson, who poured in 35 points and added seven assists and five steals in the 2003 All-Star classic, has been selected for four All-Star Games and earned MVP honors in the 2001 Game after posting 25 points, five assists, four steals and two rebounds in 27 minutes. O’Neal has now earned All-Star honors in back-to-back seasons, accounting for 10 points and East Team highs of 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in the 2003 outing.

All three players completed impressive seasons in 2002-03, and each led their team into the Playoffs.

Bryant in 2002-03 finished ranked first in the NBA in field goals made (868), second in field goals attempted (1924), second in minutes played (3401), second in free throws made (601), fourth in minutes averaged (41.5 mpg.), fifth in free throws attempted (713), fifth in efficiency ranking (28.02), sixth in steals (2.21 spg.), 14th in assists (5.9 apg.), 18th in 3-point field goals made (124), 25th in free throw percentage (.843) and 27th in 3-point percentage (.383).

Likewise, Iverson is found ranked among NBA leaders in numerous statistical categories. He finished the 2003 regular season standing first in the NBA in steals (2.74 spg.), first in field goals attempted (1940), first in minutes played (3485) and minutes played per game (42.5 mpg.), second in free throws attempted (736), third in field goals made (804), fourth in free throws made (570), 18th in assists (5.5 apg.) and 19th in efficiency ranking (20.85).

O’Neal is also listed among NBA statistical leaders in several categories. He concluded 2002-03 ranked fourth in rebounds (10.3 rpg.), sixth in defensive rebounds (7.7 per game), sixth in double-doubles (43), seventh in blocks shots (2.31 bpg.), 10th in efficiency ranking (23.74), 15th in free throws attempted (510), 18th in field goal percentage (.484) and 18th in field goals made (610).