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U.S. basketball to be tested by tall Turks

They were sure easy to spot, towering over everyone and wearing red jackets as they walked toward the arena at this resort.
/ Source: The Associated Press

They were sure easy to spot, towering over everyone and wearing red jackets as they walked toward the arena at this resort.

Turkey's basketball team is tall, and it might well provide the sort of challenge the United States is looking for as the Beijing Olympics near.

The teams meet Thursday, with the Americans entering the difficult portion of their exhibition schedule. They have three more games in the next five nights, two against potential medal contenders.

"We wanted as many tough games as possible and actually the way we're doing it, we have three in four (days), and four in six, it's tougher than what Beijing will be where you have a day off in between each," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So the better the competition, the better it will be for us."

The United States then plays Lithuania, the team it beat in the bronze-medal game four years ago, on Friday. In Shanghai, the Americans will face European champion Russia and Australia.

Turkey didn't qualify for the Olympics, but has the kind of frontcourt height the Americans will see once they get there.

Six members of Turkey's roster for the game are listed at 6-foot-9 or taller. So even without some of their top players, the Turks should present a bigger challenge than Canada did in the Americans' exhibition opener. The U.S. won that game 120-65.

The Americans played much closer games against the Turks in 2004 — a pair of 12-point victories in exhibitions before the Olympics.

"That's what we're looking for really this whole trip," forward Chris Bosh said. "We know certain teams are going to challenge us and we know who those teams are. But just to change it up, just have the size against us and a more experienced team will be pretty good for us."

Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu, voted the NBA's most improved player last season, is on the roster but has not been cleared to play because of an undisclosed reason. The team hopes the 6-10 forward will be cleared in time to be in uniform.

Forward Ersan Ilyasova, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2006-07 season, is also on the roster. However, Mehmet Okur of the Utah Jazz is not. The 6-11 center would have allowed the Americans to work against something else they'll have to be prepared for in international play — big men who drift to the perimeter and are outside threats.

"We don't see it a lot, but it's a part of the game now," Bosh said. "Especially with these international teams, we know that they're going to try to stretch guys like Dwight (Howard) out and really try to take them away from the basket, so we just have to be ready for that."

The U.S. believes it can negate any height disadvantages by pushing the pace and taking advantage of its depth, which Canada coach Leo Rautins said no team can match. With LeBron James expected in the lineup, the Americans will be even deeper.

James missed the exhibition opener while resting a mildly sprained ankle. Dwyane Wade started in his place and scored 20 points.

Much has been made of the Americans' lack of interior depth. Howard is their only true center, with Bosh and Carlos Boozer acting as backups, and James and Carmelo Anthony at times sliding up from their normal positions to play as power forwards. U.S. players and coaches have downplayed the issue, believing they match up fine with any opponents.

"The only thing is, I laugh because LeBron James is 6-9, 260 pounds. I don't care how big they are, they're not bigger than that," assistant coach Mike D'Antoni said.

"Carmelo plays big, he is 6-8, 250. Carmelo's a big guy and Dwight Howard obviously is big and Chris Bosh, so I think we're real comfortable with our size. And when you do have quickness and skills and all that other stuff, so I see people say that, but I just don't think it's a big reality. We'll see."