JAMISON ON THE BUBBLE?
* ... After showing winning form in four exhibition games, the only real drama for Team USA prior to arriving in Japan on Thursday for the FIBA 2006 World Championship is which two players of the current 14 will be left off when the final 12-man roster is revealed.
That decision is likely to happen after the fifth and final 'friendly' contest which takes place in Seoul, South Korea, against South Korea, a team that is not part of the World Championship, on Tuesday (ESPN2, 1:30 p.m. ET - tape delayed). Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix) was the first of the 15 finalists to be dropped, reducing the squad to 14.
Former Tar Heel Antawn Jamison (Washington) has made his case for making the team with some impressive stats through four games. Jamison has notched 41 points (4th) over 50 minutes (9th) of playing time (10.3 ppg in 12.3 mpg). He's 15-26 overall from the floor for 57.7 percent (4th) and 7-15 on threes for 46.7 percent (also 4th-best). His rebound total of nine (2.3 pg) is the same as Chris Bosh (Toronto), but six less than the 15 (3.8 pg) recorded by Shane Battier (Houston), who has only 13 points in 54 minutes.
Bruce Bowen (San Antonio) has been the least productive USA player in the exhibitions. The noted defensive ace is scoreless in 27 minutes over three games played, 0-4 from the field (all threes) with four rebounds.
Dwight Howard (Orlando) is the team's top rebounder with 23 (5.8 pg) in 47 minutes. Joe Johnson (Atlanta) leads in minutes with 79. Only Brad Miller (Sacramento) (47), Chris Bosh (47), Dwight Howard (47), Gilbert Arenas (Washington) (44) and Bruce Bowen (27) have played less minutes than Jamison. Dwyane Wade (Miami) (18) and Chris Paul (New Orleans) (17) account for nearly half of the team's 72 assists. Carmelo Anthony (Denver) is the scoring leader at 17.8 ppg.
It shapes up as the versatile 6-9 forward Jamison along with Chris Bosh, Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Brad Miller and Gilbert Arenas waiting to see if they will take the court for the United States team that will compete in the 2006 World Championship.
Team USA is in Group D and will play Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Italy, China and Senegal in the preliminary round in the city of Sapparo. The top four teams in each of the four groups of six teams will then advance to a field of 16, also known as the knockout round, starting on August 26.
Team USA starts out against Puerto Rico on Saturday (ESPN2, 1 a.m. ET). On Sunday they play China (ESPN2, 6:30 a.m. ET) Note: Japan is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone.
Former Tar Heels Ademola Okulaja (Germany), Ed Cota (Panama) and Makhtar Ndiaye (Senegal) are also playing at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.
Germany and Panama are in Group B and will meet on August 23. Senegal (Group D) will play the USA on August 24 (ESPN2, 6:30 a.m. ET).
For more info check the resources of USA Basketball and FIBA.
JERUSALEM BRINGS IN COTA
* ... Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem of the Israeli Premier League was in need of a quality point guard. Ed Cota was looking for a place where he could show he is still among the best point guards on the international circuit.
It was announced last week that Ed Cota signed a two-year deal with Hapoel Jerusalem for around $700,000.
The recent military strikes in northern Israel and southern Lebanon between Israeli and Hezbollah forces have made playing pro basketball in Israel a very unattractive proposition. "I have been bringing basketball players here for 20 years, and I don't recall such a dreadful summer," said an agent to lsraeli newspaper Haaretz. "Players are simply refusing to come here."
The signing of Cota, considered to be among Europe's best pure playmakers, changes that for now. Cota winds up in Israel for his seventh pro season after a down season in 2005-06 split between Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania and FC Barcelona in Spain.
Zalgiris Kaunas released Cota at midseason for conduct detrimental to the team. He went to Barcelona as a backup for former Tar Heel teammate Shammond Williams and was let go prior to the playoffs after not getting much playing time.
"Ed is a player with an almost perfect control of the tempo of the game. He is a leader and plays without fear," noted David Blatt, who signed and coached him at Dynamo St. Petersburg in Russia the previous season.
Blatt, now the coach of Italian League champ Benetton Treviso and also the Russian national team, went on to describe Cota as "simply fantastic" as the point guard that helped him win the FIBA EuroCup title in 2005. "He led a team of scorers and played the point guard role almost perfectly."
"Ed is a winner," Blatt added, according to the Haaretz article. "He's a player with high expectations of himself and others. He wants his players to be in the right place and to know how to read moves. If he comes to Jerusalem in the right shape physically and mentally then Hapoel has a steal."
Cota's teammates with Jerusalem include Mario Austin (Miss. State), Tamar Slay (Marshall) and Timmy Bowers (Miss. State).
Prior to taking that trip to Jerusalem, Cota will be playing a leading role for Panama at the FIBA 2006 World Championship that will begin on Saturday in Japan against Angola.
PHELPS TO PLAY IN RUSSIA
* ... The Russian Superleague club of Spartak Primorie Vladivostok has reached a contract agreement with former Tar Heel Derrick Phelps. This will be his 13th season of pro basketball since leaving North Carolina in 1994.
Phelps played last season in Germany for GHP Bamberg and averaged 8.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg and 2.9 apg. in 38 games.
During the upcoming season in Russia, Phelps is likely to encounter former Tar Heel star Ademola Okulaja of BC Khimki Moscow Region and former St. John's guard Omar Cook, recently signed by CSK VVS Samara.
ELLIS, BAKER MAKING NEWS IN DALLAS
* ... The Cowboys have been using veteran defensive end Greg Ellis, 31 today, at left outside linebacker during training camp.
Cowboys coach Bill Parcells calls moving the former Tar Heel from defensive end to linebacker an experiment at this point.
"I'm just trying to find out if he can conclusively do this job," Parcells said last week, according to the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "If he does that, [it] will send us in one direction, and if I feel like gee whiz, maybe we can give ourselves more insurance at that spot, then it would set us in another direction. But I have been generally pleased with what I've seen."
* ... The USA TODAY, among many other media outlets, reported last week that Dallas Cowboy receiver Terrell Owens was slowed by a hamstring injury at training camp causing him to miss practice. But during a postpractice session the star wideout ran hard, made cuts and caught some passes "from a fourth-string quarterback."
That fourth-string quarterback was former Tar Heel QB Matt Baker ('06). The Cowboys had just released rookie free-agent quarterback Jeff Mroz (Yale) and added Baker, who was cut by the Houston Texans on July 28.
Drew Bledsoe (Washington State), Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois, Div I-AA Player of the Year) and Drew Henson (Michigan) are currently ahead of Baker on the Dallas depth chart at quarterback.
KARL EXPECTED TO NAME NEW ASSISTANT
* ... According to reports from the Denver media, George Karl has plans to name a new assistant coach to the Nuggets coaching staff on Tuesday. Former Tar Heel Dave Hanners, currently with the Knicks, has been interviewed for that position.
It was also noted by the Denver Post that Karl revealed that former Tar Heel Joe Wolf is under consideration to be the coach of the Colorado (Broomfield, Col.) 14ers, an NBADL expansion team.