McGee leaps into U.S. team discussion

By Michael Lee
Saturday, August 14, 2010

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. - Over the past month, JaVale McGee amazed his teammates on the U.S. men's basketball national team with his incredible athletic gifts. Chauncey Billups shook his head and laughed as he described how McGee was messing around during a break in a July practice and tapped the side of his head against the rim, or how he once leapt above the square on the backboard to catch an alley-oop dunk.

"Everybody was like 'Ooh, are you serious?' " Billups said of the Wizards' 7-foot-1 center.

Lamar Odom spoke of how, during a layup line, McGee stopped underneath the basket and made a windmill dunk off a two-foot jump. And Derrick Rose talked about McGee as if he were some creation from science and engineering.

"I've never seen anything like that," Rose said Friday as Team USA prepared to face France in an exhibition on Sunday.

But the reason McGee - who was cut after the team's first training session in Las Vegas and was brought back to train in New York only after New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez backed out with mononucleosis - remains on the fringe to make the 12-man cut for the world championships in Turkey is because the 22-year-old remains a raw, unpolished, physical specimen.

USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo still describes McGee as "a babe in the woods" when it comes to the game, but selected him to try out for the team - despite McGee's scarce credentials in two seasons in Washington - because of his immense potential. In addition, injuries and attrition have limited frontcourt options.

McGee was invited to train with Team USA last summer as well, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he and Colangelo saw a different player last month during summer league play when McGee averaged 19.5 points and 9.2 rebounds.

"We were impressed with his ability to block shots, run, his extraordinary athletic ability. As we watched, we noticed, he's grown in the summer league - and it wasn't just because of John Wall, although that helped," Krzyzewski said.

And, for the first time, McGee acknowledged what else may have contributed to his improvement since the second half of last season after the Wizards traded Brendan Haywood to Dallas: He recently had asthma diagnosed.

For several years, McGee thought the fatigue and shortness of breath that accompanied his sprints up and down the floor were because of poor conditioning. Wizards Coach Flip Saunders suggested McGee get checked out, believing it was unusual for a player with McGee's light frame to get winded so quickly.

"It was a great relief, because I thought I wasn't in shape," McGee said. "I didn't even know I had asthma. Then I started taking the medicine and I was 10 times better. I remember one game, everybody was hurt and I played [46] minutes and I didn't go to my knees once and I amazed myself."

That McGee continues to hang on with Team USA remains amazing to some, but he is using this as an opportunity to improve as a defensive rebounder while taking advice from veterans such as Billups and Odom on the fundamentals. Billups described McGee as "a sponge" who "could be really special."

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