Eliminated from the 2008 NBA Playoffs following Friday night's Game 6 loss to Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals, most members of the Utah Jazz can now look forward to summer vacations.
Except a threesome with an eye on the Summer Games.
Andrei Kirilenko is a lock for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with his game-high 17 points leading his Russian national basketball team to the 2007 European Championship title last September, and an automatic Olympic berth.
Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams hope to be members of the United States squad playing this summer in Beijing. Both are among the 30-plus members of the U.S. Select men's basketball roster, from which the '08 U.S. Olympic team will be culled.
Both have worthy resumes. Boozer was a member of the 2004 U.S. team that took the bronze medal at the Athens Olympics and earned All-NBA and All-Star honors during the 2007-08 season.
Williams, a late addition last spring to the U.S. Select Team, helped the Americans clinch a Beijing berth as the United States went 10-0 at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament last summer in Las Vegas. He was also named to the All-NBA team this season.
In Boozer's mind, he and Williams will become the Jazz's first Olympic duo since Karl Malone and John Stockton were members of the Dream Teams I and II for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Games.
"I'm sure we'll both make it," said Boozer at Saturday's locker-room clean-out at EnergySolutions Arena.
"It's an opportunity to play for your country, and that doesn't come along for athletes very often," he said. "We don't take that very lightly we relish the opportunity. That's something that me and Deron will do, and we're excited to be a part of that team. But first we've got to make it."
Both are looking at stiff competition at their respective positions for the 12-member U.S. Olympic Team.
Besides Boozer, other power forward candidates on the U.S. Select roster include Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers and Elton Brand of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Boozer will hope that his '04 Olympic participation, his NBA honors credentials and his having played collegiately at Duke for '08 U.S. head coach Mike Krzyewski work in his favor, and that his absences from the U.S. teams the past two summers (injured in '06, family circumstances last year) as well as his struggles in the recent NBA playoffs don't hurt him.
Williams is seen as mired in a four-man race for likely three point-guard spots, along with Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks and Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons.
Paul had an MVP-like season for the Hornets, with Williams not far behind, particularly with his impressive postseason showing. Kidd is said by some to be a lock again for '08 since he provides veteran savvy and a strong past in international competition. Billups' chances are enhanced by his versatility, able to switch between the two guard positions.
"I hope I make the team," Williams said. "I would love to be on that team. It would be a great honor to have a chance to win the gold medal and represent my country."
USA Basketball will pare down its Select Team roster to 15-18 players for a three-day mini-camp in late June, with the final Olympic roster 12 players and three alternates due at the end of the month.
The team will reconvene in Las Vegas in late July for a weeklong training camp and will likely play several exhibitions before beginning pool competition in Beijing. Kirilenko, who played for Russia at the 2000 Sydney Games as a skinny, 19-year-old Jazz draftee, said his national team will gather in early July and hinted that the United States and Russia may square off in a pre-Olympic exhibition.
He didn't think a summer of extensive Olympic preparation and competition would result in extended wear and tear physically and mentally for the Jazz threesome going into the 2008-09 NBA season.
"It helps you because before the training camp, you come in game shape and already in rhythm," he said.Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said that while injuries are an initial concern when players opt for extended play, he's never asked a player to forgo an Olympic opportunity.
"You never tell anybody, 'I don't want you to play in the Olympics.' That's crazy you would never do that to anybody. It's their lifetime dream," said Sloan, a USA assistant coach at the '96 Atlanta Games, who himself earned an U.S. Olympic team tryout as a player in the mid-1960s."That was my lifetime dream," he added. "I got to try out for it, but I wasn't good enough reality set in."
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