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America's Dream coveted by world
Part II

Chester Jets captain Pero Cameron will represent New Zealand at the FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis in August and September. We'll be following his preparations and progress in a series of looks at basketball's biggest event.

Part I: Rested and ready

Mark Woods

Pero Cameron remembers it well. The autograph hunting. The polaroid shots from the bench. And Charles Barkley's elbow.

That was Barcelona '92. The year that America gave the world its best shot and everyone simply smiled and was grateful for the mere opportunity to take the bullet.

In those Olympic Games, the Dream Team featuring Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the incomparable Michael Jordan (plus eight other rather legendary players and recent black sheep Christian Laettner) didn't just beat the opposition.

Fortifyied by the introduction of NBA players into international competition, it steamrollered over them, with Barkley whacking any passing Angolan for good measure.

Competition it wasn't. Except for second place. But for one young New Zealander, the impression was indelible..

"They were unbelievable," Cameron exclaims. "Jeez, nothing can touch that team. 

"But the thing about them... they came out and didnít bullshit around. They kept it very professional on the court, and they took care of business They were just incredible."

Since then, there have been other American teams which have been similarly dominant. None though has been a real Dream Team. More a pleasant train of thought.

The Kiwis have no such ambition. In the Sydney Olympics, they could finish only next to last as sceptics muttered they had only qualified due to Australia's automatic berth as hosts. 

In Indianapolis though, their presence is by right not
by default. And the experience of 2000 has matured his team, Cameron insists, even the 46 point mauling dished out there by the United States.

"There were two extremes," the Chester Jets captain recalls of that day. 

"Yes, it was incredible to play against all these huge stars. But for me, it was disappointing that we didnít put in a good performance. Sure the result was taken care of before a ball was thrown onto the court. 

"But they were very beatable at the last Olympics as Lithuania in particular showed and I wish weíd given a better account against them that we did. We were capable of better."

Ah yes, Lithuania. The Baltic wind blew ill on American myths. Illusions shattered. That seemingly impregnable cloak of invincibility sported by the NBA's finest was just a rim's clunk away from removal.

"In Sydney they had some very good individuals and they were very strong but they nearly got caught out. But all that matters is that they took gold and thatís what will go down in history."

All eyes will be on the hosts - coached by Milwaukee's George Karl - to regain a title which they ceded to Yugoslavia four years ago during the league's strike. 

In their home land, in a state regarded as the hotbed of basketball, anything less than ultimate victory will bring dishonour. 

The American side will however not be their country's
strongest. Many NBA icons have opted to rest rather than represent their nation during the summer months. 

There is no Shaquille O'Neal. No Bryant, Iverson or Duncan. They will be on a beach, recovering from a long campaign while others do their duty.

It is unsurprising. Previous exiles such as Gary Payton and Canadian absentee Steve Nash have suffered from performing national service during the off-season.

Yet those who have accepted an invitation are still of pure pedigree. The chance of an upset remains wafer thin.

"They can afford to do that," Cameron admits. "Their third string line-up, even their fourth or fifth, is still probably better than any other country's best team. But it's a lot to do with their frame of mind too.

"Their third best team might be hungrier than their best because they have something still to achieve.

"Baron Davis, who has replaced Jason Kidd, is a really tough point guard and he will be difficult to stop. Ben Wallace, Antonio Davis, Jermaine O'Neal - they are really hard-nosed competitors. 

"Their whole team is super-athletic. They're still the team to beat. They set the standard."

But he adds a caution. 

"Opportunity is everything. If the USA is complacent, it could still go wrong for them."

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