Facility preps Chinese kickers for NFL

Fair Game

A lot of cool things happen at the U.S. Basketball Academy, the training facility founded in 1993 and located 45 miles east of Eugene along the McKenzie River. And not all of it has to do with basketball.

In February, three Chinese soccer/rugby players trained at the academy for five weeks, learning from former NFL kicker Nick Setta how to be a football kicker.

The plan was devised by the NFL, which has been working for years to penetrate the China market and hopes to have a preseason game there in 2009. A game between Seattle and New England this August was called off Monday.

'The idea was, to create interest among the fans, they wanted to have some (Chinese) players they could identify with during the game,' USBA founder Bruce O'Neil says. 'The only position you could really do that with is kicker.'

The crash course paid off, O'Neil says.

'When they first got here, they could sporadically kick a field goal from maybe 30 yards out,' O'Neil says. 'When they left, they were regularly hitting from 45 yards.'

The trio left Eugene in early March for Tampa, where they participated in a tryout camp for NFL Europe. Two of them were assigned to teams for the 10-week season.

• USBA representatives, incidentally, will be in Beijing this month for the dedication of a multipurpose training facility that will be used by the Chinese national basketball team and will serve various teams during the upcoming Olympic Games there.

Former Blazer broadcaster Eddie Doucette was the facilitator for a deal that led to the USBA and Aacer Flooring Co. of Peshtigo, Wisc., to serve as corporate sponsors for the three-court facility that has been installed over the last three months.

Doucette, now living in San Diego, survived a prostate cancer scare in 2001 and remains active in broadcasting pursuits with NBA radio and TV and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

'I think about my time in Portland all the time,' says Doucette, who worked for the Blazers 1992-99. 'I had a great time and made a lot of great friends.'

• Larry Brown is working as an executive vice president with the Philadelphia 76ers, the first time he's been an NBA executive rather than a coach. The 76ers own three first-round picks and a second-round choice in the June draft. Brown's time has been divided between that and scouting NBA players for potential trades.

'It's been fun watching (NBA players) and evaluating the league,' he says. 'I've also enjoyed preparing myself for where I can help with the draft. I've always been a huge fan of college basketball.'

Word is Brown, 66, will at some point succeed Maurice Cheeks, the ex-Blazer coach whom General Manager Billy King says will be back at the helm of the Sixers next season. Does Brown want to coach again?

'I don't know,' he says. 'I really miss practice. I don't go to practice here. I don't want to impose. I do go to a lot of college practices of coaches I have relationships with.

'I'm not sure if I want to coach again, but I don't want to be away from the game. That's obvious to me. I feel like I'm too young - maybe not too young, but I still have something to offer and still have a passion for it.'

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