by Conrad Brunner
August 13, 2002
Jermaine O'Neal will join his U.S. teammates, including the Pacers' Reggie Miller, when training camp for the World Basketball Championship opens this weekend in San Francisco. Before heading West, O'Neal sat down for this question-and-answer session.
Q. What are your thoughts on playing in the World Basketball Championship?
A. It gives a chance to do a lot of different things - play for my country, play for this city, myself, my family - and work on some of the things I've been working on this summer. Hopefully, I can build from the World games to the regular season.
Q. How do you feel about certain teams trying to prevent their players from competing?
A. I don't really understand it. This isn't something that just started this year. This is something that's been going on forever. The teams saying it are the teams trying to make a really strong run. Dallas has four or five players in it, which may be understandable but at the same time they should be able to play.
Q. Last year you used the Goodwill Games to work on additional low-post moves and other elements you were adding to your game. What have you worked on for the World games?
A. Everything. I've working on some things this summer that I really want to bring back to the team. Hopefully I can get the opportunity to put it all together in the World games, build from it and come back and have a dominating season this year.
Q. Anything in particular, like your jump shot?
A. A lot of jump shots. I'm working on post moves also, but jump shots and shots off the dribble can really separate me from others.
Q. What is the biggest challenge for the American team?
A. Winning. Everybody expects for us to win so we have to go out, win and win big. If you don't win big, it's kind of a letdown to the rest of the world.
Q. How much is the homecourt worth?
A. It means a lot to me and obviously Reggie (Miller) because it's homecourt in every aspect. We're here playing in front of fans that support us throughout the year, plus we're playing on American soil, so hopefully it makes it really tough for other teams to come in here and play.
Q. From your experience with a close call in the Goodwill Games last year, will you use that as an example to your teammates of just how competitive the international teams have become?
A. I've been talking to coach (Gregg) Popovich and some of the other coaches and they've been reiterating that fact: that we can lose. Yugoslavia is bringing an entire country with them. They have an extremely good team with Divac and the rest of the guys. They're going to challenge us. If we don't play, we can be beat.
Q. How does it feel for you, personally, to be playing for your country?
A. You grow up looking at it on TV and it's a different feeling. It's always a good feeling putting on an NBA jersey. It's a whole other feeling when you've got that red, white and blue on your chest and you're playing for your country. It means a lot to me. Our country has gone through a little bit now, and to just go out and support my country means a lot to me.
Q. Does the Sept. 11 anniversary come to mind?
A. Last year, I think, was even tougher, with the guys on the Goodwill team. It was emotional. Coming into this year, it's like we've got to win. We've got to show we're still together and our country's got great things going on.
Q. It's no secret several top NBA players declined invitations to participate. How do you feel about that?
A. Different strokes for different folks. They've got other agendas, I guess, other things to do. I guess they're concentrating more on their season. I think until I retire I'm always going to say yes. Like I said, it's a different life playing for the U.S. team. It's something I grew up wanting to do and to get the opportunity to play year-in and year-out means a lot to me. As for the guys who said no, I guess they've got to watch us play now.
Q. How do you like the international rules?
A. It's kind of like high school rules, almost, with the zone defenses and a guy following behind me all the time. But we have really good shooters, in particular Reggie Miller, and we have other guys to get them off me in the paint, so it really doesn't matter.
Q. Do you like the (more liberal) defensive goaltending rule?
A. That could be in my favor, and Ben Wallace and Raef Lafrentz. If we can go up and get things off the rim, that should help our team in transition.
Q. Where have you spent the summer? How busy have you been and what have you been working on?
A. I've been working pretty much the whole summer. I took maybe two or three weeks off, looked at the NBA playoffs and then just got back in the gym. I gave my body an opportunity to rest and heal. I feel really good right now. I think I'm a little taller than I was last year, and I'm maybe 12 pounds heavier. I weighed in today at 250. Whether it stays when training camp comes or not, I feel really good and really positive about what I'm going to be able to do this year.
Q. So, are you a 7-footer now?
A. I think I have grown to 7-feet now.
Q. Has the nature of this offseason changed the way you normally prepare?
A. Guys normally get into the gym in August. I was in the gym maybe the first week in July, so it doesn't give your body an opportunity to rest that long. But I think I've got longevity in this game and I think working out in the summer is going to help me during the season.
Q. Did playing in the Goodwill Games last summer take a physical toll on you during the NBA season?
A. I think the trip to Australia is what wore me down. The trip over there, it took myself and a lot of the other players a week or a week-and-a-half to be able to adjust, to get our feet back under us. But we're playing on our soil this year so I don't have to go far. I don't think I'm going to hit the wall come January. I'm going to just keep going and continue to build.
Q. Is there any one country you look forward to competing against?
A. Every country is going to rally around their team this year. If I had to pick a team, I'd say China, Dirk Nowitzki and the Germans, and Vlade and Yugoslavia. Outside of our group of players, Yugoslavia probably has the best players. They can really challenge our team. They're bringing a really good team over here so we're going to see what they can do.
Q. Have you seen much of Yao Ming?
A. I really haven't much of him so I really can't tell you. Anything he does will be new to me. I've got to just try to play him hard. I'll get the opportunity to play against him in Oakland a few days from now in an exhibition game (Aug. 22) so I'll be able to see him and get an idea what he likes to do.
Q. The rumor mill is flying with the possibility of Michael Jordan playing for the U.S. team. What would it mean to you to play with him?
A. It would be great. It's always good to be on the same team with Michael Jordan. He's one of those guys you grew up watching and grew up rooting for. The All-Star Game was the first time I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him and see what type of person and player he is. To get this opportunity again would help our team and also maybe bring in 50,000 more fans to the arena.
Q. Would there be more pressure to win if he's on your team?
A. There's always pressure to win. I don't think there's been an NBA team to lose in any Olympic-style event. Hopefully, I'm not going to be involved in any of those games because I plan on helping my team as much as possible and winning each and every game.
Q. What did you learn from the playoff loss to the Nets?
A. My first year against Philly, I learned offensively I had to get better to help my team. It was no different this offseason. They double- and triple-teamed me to try to take me out of it but this year I added a couple more things to my arsenal to keep guys off me.