Representatives of the United States Basketball Academy, including director Bruce O'Neil and former Trail Blazer General Manager Bucky Buckwalter, are serving as official consultants for the basketball venue at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Yes, work already has begun. O'Neil is in China, and Buckwalter made a trip there last fall. For now, most of the work is focused on developing China's basketball developmental system.

'We have been working on improving the grass-roots basketball in the country, both teaching and playing,' says Buckwalter, who still makes his home in Portland. 'We are trying to set up a competitive college situation over there similar to our NCAAs, and we have been coordinating coaching certifications and that sort of thing. Basketball is very popular over there, but still not as advanced as it is going to be.'

In 2000, China's national team Ñ including 7-1 Wang ZhiZhi and 7-6 Yao Ming Ñ practiced at the academy's facility in Blue River (east of Eugene) for two weeks before the Australian Olympic Games.

Buckwalter was a pioneer for international players in the NBA. He drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic in 1986 and continues to be well-versed on foreign talent.

Bucky says there are several good young players coming up in China Ñ 'some mobile 6-7, 6-8 guys' Ñ who will make an impact here. In 2000, Buckwalter predicts that within two years a Chinese player would be in the NBA. Wang is now playing for the Dallas Mavericks.

'I am saying now that by 2008, there will be at least 10 from China in the NBA,' he says.

• Though 71 years young, Bill Schonely remains a swinger. Proof comes next Tuesday when the Portland Beavers' broadcaster serves as host for 'Swinging with the Schonz,' a musical night at the Schnitz to benefit the National Kidney Foundation. Steve Marche Torme is the headline act, but I'm told the Schonz will belt out a number or two as well.

• Eight locals who impressed in their audition to help provide entertainment for Portland Beaver and Timber games will be flown to Orlando next week for a four-day training camp schooling 60 winners from seven regional teams.

Portland Family Entertainment figures that its survivors have the ability to help make the fans' PGE Park experience enjoyable. 'I don't know if we found the next 'Chicken,' ' says PFE's Steve 'Dream' Weaver, 'but at least we got the next Charlie the Tuna.'

PFE also is holding national anthem auditions at PGE Park from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 8. Winners will perform at Beaver and Timber games. Call PFE, 503 553-5400, to reserve a time slot for the audition.

• IBF Junior lightweight champion Steve Forbes is in Portland training for his second title defense, set for March 22 in Phoenix as part of the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights telecast. The opponent will be named in a few days.

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