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MONROE: Divac isn't scared of Team USA

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 

INDIANAPOLIS

This is just what the 2002 FIBA World Championships for Men needed. A little trash talk. A little challenge to Team USA. Thank you, . Divac, the Sacramento center who is so good at getting under the skin of , got the first day of this 10-day, 16-team tournament off to a rousing start after helping Yugoslavia to a 113-63 blowout of Angola. No, he didn't cheapshot an Angolan player, a la Charles Barkley at the 1992 Olympics. It's what Divac said afterwards that is sure to reverberate for a few days here in the heartland. Asked to evaluate Yugoslavia's chances against the favored American team, Divac pulled no punches. "We don't think we can beat them, we know we can beat them," he said. Now, before you get too carried away, we need to let the record show Divac wasn't being boastful or disrespectful, just honest. "(We know we can beat them) just like somebody can beat us before we can meet them in the finals," he said, by way of clarification. "They are the favorites and they are number one and the best. Do we have a chance against them? Yeah, we do have a chance, and if we come close we will take advantage of it." Divac is 34 and coming off a long season that carried into mid-June, when the were eliminated in seven games by the in a memorable Western Conference finals. It's the belief that Yugoslavia is capable of doing something truly special in this tournament — upsetting the U.S. on its home turf — that spurred Divac to give up a long summer of rest to play for his homeland on a team that features fellow King and NBA All-Star Peja Stojakovic and four other NBA players. "That is why I am here," Divac said. "I want to be a part of history. It is always good to be a part of history." Beating Team USA indeed would be historic. America's men's team hasn't lost a World Championship or Olympic competition since the NBA allowed its players to play for USA Basketball, beginning with the 1992 Olympics. That's when the Dream Team was born, a group so dominant it engendered awe from competitors, along with a little bit of indignation at the ease with which it won. The group that represents the U.S. in this tournament is no Dream Team, but its roster is more talent-packed than that of any other nation. It opened its defense of the world title by beating outmanned Algeria 110-60. Nothing historic about that. This U.S. team hasn't really needed any extra motivational juice to get ready for this tournament because it has been roundly dismissed as a second-tier representation of American-born NBA players. No Shaq, no Kobe, no T-Mac, no Timmy ... no big dreams. Its own coach, world-class worrier George Karl, has warned his players they will be in trouble in this tournament unless they treat every game like a playoff game, not an All-Star game. They didn't dunk against the Algerians until threw down full six minutes into the third quarter, so you know they hardly treated it like an All-Star game. The U.S. players truly seemed intent at the outset against Algeria, running out to a 13-0 lead before the Algerians discovered they had no shot scoring inside and began to hit lots of 3-pointers, eight in the first half alone. Hey, they played the Americans dead-even, 19-19, in the second quarter. That can't be good for their self esteem. And now comes Vlade. "If they had Shaq, Kobe and everybody else," Divac said, "it would be a different story. This USA team ... don't get me wrong, I respect all those players. Some of them are or have been teammates. But they are not the real Dream Team. Dream Team is in the past." "It's still the best team in the world with the talent, Divac said, "but it's definitely not the best team USA can be." , who scored 22 in Team USA's easy win on Thursday, refused to be drawn into a war of words. "They're supposed to feel that way," Pierce said, "but I'm not going to say anything to add to their fuel." We couldn't even draw anything inflammatory out of Karl, who's been known to inflame from time to time. "It's our job to shut up our critics," Karl said, sounding more like diplomat than provocateur. "To talk about it is worthless. "We've just got to do our jobs. If we do, everybody has to write their apologies." Damn. And just when this was getting interesting. Let's hope neither of these teams gets upset on its way to the finals of this tournament. Then we can drag this all this out again on Sept. 8. I can hardly wait. Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Pacers, Lakers, Kings, Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal

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