T.O. may return to hoops in June

Naturally, the first questions Terrell Owens answered this week at the 49ers' three-day minicamp had nothing to do with football. But they had everything to do with basketball. We're talking NBA basketball. And, of course, the kind of professional basketball Owens just got done playing earlier this month in the United States Basketball League. And might be playing again in June, if the spirit moves him.

The first questions presented to Owens on Thursday - after he declined to speak with reporters at the onset of camp Wednesday - had to do with the Kings-Lakers series. Could Owens have covered Sacramento's Mike Bibby? Is he rooting for the Lakers or Kings?

If there's a Game 7 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento on Sunday, Owens says he'll be there. But he'll have a problem regarding which team to root for, since he's friends with Sacramento's Bibby, Chris Webber and Bobby Jackson, and also Los Angeles' Shaquille O'Neal, Robert Horry "and all those guys," he said.

By then - Game 7 or no Game 7 - Owens will be gearing up for the Niners' four-day, full-squad minicamp that begins Monday. It's the Niners' final big bash practice sessions in preparation for summer training camp. Owens, like the rest of the Niners, will be a free man with no more obligations to practice with the team until training camp begins July 20 in Stockton.

He'll be free to go back to Glen Falls, N.Y., where in May he played in five games with the USBL's Adirondack Wildcats, making a positive impression on the people who run that team. The Niners, of course, feel that Owens' fling with pro hoops should be over for this year, and he should now focus his attention on football with summer camp just six weeks away after minicamp ends next Thursday.

"I'm not sure," Owens said when asked if he'd be rejoining the Wildcats for the end of their season or the playoffs. The USBL regular season ends June 23, and the Wildcats are likely headed to the playoffs. "It's an open-door policy, so it's totally up to me. It just depends how I feel. If I want to go, I'll go. (The Niners) left that decision up to me, and if I want to go back, I'll go back. And if I don't, I don't."

Owens played just 63 minutes in his five games with the Wildcats, averaging 4.2 points with six rebounds, five assists, four steals and eight turnovers. Despite his limited appearances and production, Adirondack general manager Mike Sweet said, "Terrell really turned into being an asset to the team. He got himself into the rotation and earned the respect of the coaches and players."

This wasn't anything Owens didn't expect, he said.

"I just took it for what it was worth," Owens said. "I told some of the guys I wasn't trying to come in there and steal the limelight from anybody. I was trying to go in and just learn basketball, and play basketball, and those guys understood that. It's like coming here as a rookie. You've got veteran guys in front of you. So you know when you get your chance to play, you've just got to take advantage of the opportunities. I think for the most part, I tried to do that. It's not that hard. I've been at the bottom of the totem pole before. So it wasn't anything strange or new to me."

Owens said he now feels in better shape because of his basketball experience, and he has had no trouble this week making the transition back to football. The Niners, obviously, are hoping there won't be another transition back to basketball - and then back to football again - this summer.

"He knows we would prefer him not to play and just get ready for (football)," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "He knew that's what we preferred last month. As you know, we're always worried about the ramifications of any sort of injury. That's where you've got to keep your fingers crossed. He knows and his agent knows that we would prefer that he choose not to go. He's concentrating right now on this passing camp, and then we have a full-team minicamp again next week, and I think that's where his focus is lying right now."

 


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