By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2010; 10:21 PM
NEW YORK - The U.S. men's national team arrived at Madison Square Garden short one member of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, but another was in the arena to greet team members Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose with handshakes, hugs and words of encouragement. With Wizards center JaVale McGee not around after being informed that he had been cut - for the second time - hours before the game, No. 1 overall pick John Wall sat courtside as Team USA ripped through France with a 86-55 victory at the World Basketball Festival.
Wall was in town a few days early before participating in the NBA's rookie transition program in Palisades, N.Y., later this week and no doubt anxiously awaiting his opportunity to some day represent his country in international play. Asked when that day might come, Wall said, "Hopefully soon."
For now, Wall had to settle for being surrounded by director Spike Lee and Khloe Kardashian, reality TV star and wife of U.S. forward Lamar Odom, as he watched the Americans play their final home exhibition before heading to Spain as they continue to prepare for the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul from Aug. 28 to Sept. 12. The United States will only take 13 players after managing director Jerry Colangelo informed both McGee and former Georgetown star forward Jeff Green that their services were no longer needed. Colangelo said it was a difficult decision, which left the 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler as the only true center on the roster, but added that both McGee and Green were willing to come back should someone suffer an injury or illness abroad. The team, which has three more exhibitions against Lithuania, 2006 world champion Spain and Greece, doesn't have to submit a final 12-man roster until Aug. 26.
"I don't care how long you've been in the game, whenever you're telling a player, on any level, that they are not going to be with you - I hate to use the word cut - that's still tough, but they handled it very well," Colangelo said.
Durant said he spoke with both players before the game and would "represent for him" in his absence. "They know the business of it," said Durant, who is teammates with Green in Oklahoma City and friends with McGee. "It is something different."
The United States needs to win the gold medal in Turkey to secure an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics. Although Team USA ended an eight-year drought in international competition by claiming the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the United States hasn't won the world championships since 1994. Shaquille O'Neal, 38, is the only active NBA player to win gold at the World Championships.
A relatively young and inexperienced team featuring all-stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard won bronze in 2006. Those players later helped form the successful Olympic team, but every member of that squad - including Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer - declined an invitation this summer, and Chandler said some to refer to this current representative "as the B-team."
"Everybody is talking about who's not here or whatever. But they can say what they want, none of those guys has a world championship," said Billups, who made three three-pointers and scored 17 points in the win over France. "So we can do something that they haven't done, too."
After a sluggish start on Sunday in which they trailed France late in the first period, the United States charged back by forcing turnovers and creating several fast-break opportunities. Rudy Gay led the team with 19 points, providing several highlight-reel dunks, including a reverse slam in which he lowered the ball to his knees before lifting it back over his head. Durant added 14 points. "As much as people say, we're the [lesser] team or whatever, we all have the same job and I think we're pretty good at it," Gay said. "That's why we're here. We're going to go out there and play as hard as we can."
Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who led the 2008 Olympic gold medal and the 2006 world championship bronze medal team, said he is pleased with how this group is coming together. "I can tell you intangible-wise it's off the charts with attitude, hard work, 'I'll do anything,' all that. That's a good place to start," he said.
The Team USA remains thin up front. Odom, a natural forward at 6-10, is expected to back up Chandler at center, with 6-10 Kevin Love and even 6-9 Durant possibly getting minutes at the position.
Asked if he was concerned about the lack of height on the team after cutting McGee, Krzyzewski said: "McGee wasn't playing before. So it's the same concern we had with McGee.
"We don't have bulk. JaVale is really good; he didn't have bulk, either."