Stepp Among 17 Finalists For Pan Am Games Team

June 1, 2003

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gonzaga University senior guard Blake Stepp is one of 17 finalists selected Sunday for the 2003 USA Basketball Men's Pan American Games Team.

The finalists feature five collegians who earned All-America honors in 2002-03. Three days of USA National Team Trials concluded Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The finalists were selected by the USA Basketball Men's Collegiate Committee and the official 12-member USA Pan American Games Team will be finalized during the team's training that begins July 21.

In addition to Stepp, the other 16 finalists selected were Andre Barrett (Seton Hall / Bronx, N.Y.); Josh Childress (Stanford / Los Angeles, Calif.); Ike Diogu (Arizona State / Garland, Texas); Gerald Fitch (Kentucky / Macon, Ga.); Ben Gordon (Connecticut / Mount Vernon, N.Y.); Chuck Hayes (Kentucky / Modesto, Calif); Chris Hill (Michigan State / Indianapolis, Ind.); Julius Hodge (North Carolina State / New York, N.Y.); Luke Jackson (Oregon / Creswell, Ore.); Arthur Johnson (Missouri / Detroit, Mich.); Brandon Mouton (Texas / Lafayette, La.); Steve Novak (Marquette / Brown Deer, Wis.); Emeka Okafor (Connecticut / Houston, Texas); Ricky Paulding (Missouri / Detroit, Mich.); Lawrence Roberts (Baylor / Houston, Texas), and Hakim Warrick (Syracuse / Philadelphia, Pa.).

"I think the USA Basketball committee did a great job in picking quality players for this year's Pan Am team," said USA Pan American Games head coach Tom Izzo, who has enjoyed tremendous success at Michigan State University including the capturing of the 2000 NCAA championship. "I hope the men that were chosen go back and work hard individually for the next three to four weeks so they are all ready to get going when we arrive in Orlando.

"This summer is going to be a neat experience in many different ways. I know when I coached at the 2001 Goodwill Games the competition was intense so I am expecting the Pan Am Games to be even more tough. I hope these guys get a lot out of the summer so they can go back to their respective teams and become the leaders and have successful seasons. However, most importantly, I stressed to them in our first team meeting that we will enjoy ourselves and gain many friendships while working towards our goal of the gold medal. Because of what's going on in our world today, this year we will play for pride more than anything," added Izzo.

"I thought I played alright. You can't really try to do too much around here because everybody's good so you have to try to do what you do best and be a team player. I think that's what (the USA Basketball Collegiate Committee) was looking for," Stepp said.

"A little bit," Stepp said when asked if he was nervous when his name was called. "I think my name was the last or second to last one called so I got a little bit nervous because I heard a bunch of guards before me. But you know, everybody here deserved to be called, everybody is a good player so I feel lucky."

The 2003 West Coast Conference Player of the Year in helping Gonzaga to a fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Stepp said he is looking forward to the possibility of representing his country.

"It's exciting. Especially since the last couple of Pan Am teams had professional players (CBA) and now we're going back to college players. So we'll have to represent the USA in a good fashion. If we just go over there and do our best I think we'll do alright," said the Eugene, Ore., native.

The 2003 Pan American Games will be held Aug. 1-17, with men's basketball slated for Aug. 2-6, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The field of participants for the basketball competition, which is expected to consist of eight teams, is not yet known.

The official 12-member USA Pan Am team will be finalized during the team's July 15-29 training camp in Orlando, Florida.

Assisting on Izzo's USA Pan American games Team coaching staff are college head coaches Lorenzo Romar (University of Washington) and Quin Snyder (University of Missouri).

Of the 17 selected finalists, five players, Diogu (Associated Press honorable mention), Gordon (Basketball America third team), Johnson (Basketball America third team), Okafor (espn.com second team, Basketball America second team, Basketball Times third team, AP honorable mention) and Stepp (AP honorable mention), earned NCAA All-American honors.

Additionally, five finalists (Diogu, Hodge, Jackson, Okafor and Stepp) were all-conference first team picks in 2002-03, five (Barrett, Gordon, Hill, Johnson and Paulding) were second team choices, three (Mouton, Roberts and Warrick) earned third team honors, Childress was honorable mention all-league, and Novak was tagged All-Freshman and Conference USA's Sixth Player of the Year.

Seton Hall guard Barrett is the lone finalist boasting of USA Basketball international experience and was a member of the 2001 USA World University Games Team that claimed the bronze medal with a 7-1 record. Also, three finalists, Barrett (1999), Childress (2000) and Stepp (1999), participated in a USA Basketball Youth Development Festival.

Stepp joins former Bulldogs John Stockton, Matt Santangelo and Dan Dickau on the roster of a USA Basketball Team. Stockton, as a member of the Utah Jazz, played in the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Santangelo (1999) and Dickau (2001) both represented USA Basketball in the World University Games, Santangelo in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Dickau in Beijing, China.

The Pan American Games, held every four years in the year prior to the Olympics and organized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), is a multi-sport competition open to men and women representing countries from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The USA men, who fell 95-78 to Brazil in the 1999 gold medal game, have earned a medal in 12 of their 13 Pan Am Games appearances, including a record eight golds, as well as three silvers and one bronze; and currently own a 79-8 (.908) all-time mark at the Pan Am Games.

Held since 1951, the USA dominated the first five Pan Am Games, earning five consecutive golds. At the 1971 Pan Ams, despite a record of 2-1 in the preliminary round, the USA did not advance to the medal round and for the first time in Pan American history did not win the gold medal. However, the United States rebounded for a 26-0 record over the next three Pan Am Games and captured its last Pan Am gold in 1983. While the gold has eluded the U.S. in the past four Games, with the Americans earning three silvers and a bronze medal, the United States is aiming high for 2003.

Many USA Basketball athletes who have been selected to a Pan American Games team have gone on to compete in the Olympic Games, while many others enjoyed stellar professional careers. In all, 34 Pan Am athletes have been a member of a U.S. Olympic squad, including Ernie Grunfeld, Grant Hill, Luscious Jackson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Danny Manning, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, Oscar Robertson, David Robinson, Isiah Thomas, Jerry West and Jo Jo White.

The USA Basketball Men's Collegiate Committee is chaired by former University of Virginia Director of Athletics, Terry Holland, and consists of: NCAA appointees Jim Boeheim (head coach, Syracuse University, N.Y.), Rob Evans (head coach, Arizona State University), Jim O'Brien (head coach, Ohio State University) and Tubby Smith (head coach, University of Kentucky); NABC appointee Oliver Purnell (head coach, Clemson University); NAIA appointee Ralph Turner (head coach, Union University, Tenn.); NJCAA appointee Dan Sparks (head coach, Vincennes University, Ind.), and athlete representatives Steve Wojciechowski (1995 USA Junior World Championship Team and assistant coach at Duke University, N.C.) and A.J. Wynder (1995 USA Pan American Games Team and head coach at Nassau Community College, N.Y.).

 

 

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