by Conrad Brunner
November 1, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS, November 1, 2001 - Two members of the Indiana Pacers, guard Reggie Miller and forward Jermaine O'Neal, were named to the USA Basketball Men's World Championship team on Thursday.
The FIBA World Basketball Championship for Men will be played Aug. 29 through Sept. 8, 2002, in Indianapolis at both Conseco Fieldhouse and the RCA Dome.
Both players have strong international experience. Miller has played on the gold medal winning 1996 U.S. Olympic Team (11.4 ppg), the gold medalist 1994 World Championship team (17.1 ppg) and the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival (16.0 ppg). O'Neal was a member of the 2001 USA Goodwill Games Team that captured gold (13.2 ppg and 7.2 rpg) and the 1996 USA Hoop Summit Team (21 points and 10 rebounds).
''It's exciting, especially in these trying times we're in now, any time you have a chance to play for your country it's something truly special,'' said Miller. ''Add to that Indianapolis is going to be the host city and we get a chance to play in front of these fans, it's truly an honor.
''There was no hesitation when I was asked. Any time you put the red, white and blue on ... the experiences I had in Toronto for the World Championships was fantastic. This is a stepping stone to solidify our
position for the Olympics. It's special to get a gold medal. You know a lot of hard work has gone into this. We are collecting some of the best basketball players in the world. Any time they put a medal around your neck, it's something special.
''I've had a lot great memories in Indianapolis and Conseco Fieldhouse. At one point, hopefully you would love to win an NBA championship, but I think the next best thing would be to have a medal placed around your neck here.''
Miller's shooting ability is considered a major plus for international competition, where zone defenses have long been allowed. At 36, he was the oldest of the seven players named Thursday. The others are Ray Allen (Milwaukee), Jason Kidd (New Jersey), Michael Finley (Dallas), Shawn Marion (Phoenix) and former Pacers player Antonio Davis (Toronto).
''Hopefully, I'll bring international experience,'' Miller said. ''And as many zones as they play in international play, I still am the greatest shooter on this planet. So if you want a zone buster, you might as well call the best shooter in the world.''
O'Neal made a strong impression with his dominance inside during the Goodwill Games.
''It means a lot to be named to this team. Having been part of the Goodwill Games, that was great, but this means a little more this time with everything our country has been through the last two months,'' he said. ''It's great to be able to represent my country.
''This will be on our home court. It will be a great situation for myself and Reggie to play in front of the home crowd.
While Miller has enjoyed widespread recognition in his storied career, O'Neal is just beginning to develop the profile of a rising star. As well as he played in Australia, most of those games were played during late-night hours the U.S., thus limiting the viewing audience. The World Championship is definitely a prime-time event.
''It means a lot to be recognized as one of the top players,'' O'Neal said. ''I went through a lot the first four years in Portland and this is a long time coming. I can't say enough for what it means to be considered one of the best players in the world on this team. I thank the committee, everyone who voted me on.
''I bring young legs to this team. I bring my spirit, my intensity, my versatility and my will to win.''
Should the U.S. win gold again, O'Neal has special plans for his medal.
''I always said if I got a gold medal, I would give it to my mother,'' he said. ''I wore it for 5 minutes (after the Goodwill Games medal ceremony), took it off my neck when I got off the stand and gave it to her. Hopefully, I can get two or three in my career.''
The selections were made by the USA Basketball, and Stu Jackson is the chairman of the organization's Senior Men's National Team Committee.
''Reggie will be very important to this team because of his tremendous ability to shoot the ball and his international experience from the 1994 Worlds and the 1996 Olympic Games,'' Jackson said. ''Jermaine had an impressive performance at the recent Goodwill Games. He is certainly one of the more talented, young frontcourt players in the NBA. He's an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder who can score in the low post.''
Teams were required to qualify through zone tournaments. The 16 teams that will compete in Indianapolis are the United States, Angola, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, China, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Spain, Germany, Russia and New Zealand.