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If he has been stung by criticism of his decision not to join the Canadian Olympic basketball team, Jamaal Magloire is not saying so.

Magloire, it would seem, is as adept at deflecting criticism as he is basketballs.

"I would have loved to have been at the Olympics," the 6-foot-10, 260-pound player said on the weekend.

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"I'm from Canada, and my dream has always been to be part of that team. I've been with them [the national team]in the past, but, unfortunately, the NBA was coming up and when I was ready to play, coach [Jay Triano]and I talked and [he]advised me that next year would be a better situation for everybody."

The 22-year-old returned to Toronto on Saturday to make his National Basketball Association debut in his hometown with the Charlotte Hornets, who made Magloire their first-round choice, the 19th player taken overall, at this year's NBA draft.

He played 25 minutes, scored five points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots as the Hornets routed the injury-riddled Toronto Raptors 91-66 in an exhibition game at the Air Canada Centre. Never before had the Raptors scored fewer points in a game, exhibition or regular season.

After starring as a high-school player in Toronto, Magloire honed his basketball skills at the University of Kentucky, where he finished as the Wildcats' career leader in blocked shots, 286, and won a National Collegiate Athletic Association title in 1998.

There were some bumps along the way as the headstrong player endured three suspensions, including one for an incident in which he was in a car with two other men who were arrested for marijuana possession.

His relationship with Canada's national team has also been strained, and both Magloire and Rick Fox of Toronto, a forward with the Los Angeles Lakers, were roundly criticized in some media quarters during the summer for their refusal to play for Canada in the Olympics.

Fox begged off, citing family responsibilities and the fact that he was worn out by the Lakers' NBA championship run. As for Magloire, there were whispers that he had no desire to play for Canada and that he demanded assurances from Triano about playing time before he would agree to come out.

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However, as assistant Canadian coach Mike Katz pointed out, the fact that Magloire did not sign his professional contract with the Hornets until late July was the main stumbling block that prevented him from joining the Olympic team. By that time, the team had been together for a couple of months.

"I'm not sure people realize that," Katz said. "And if Jamaal did show up, I think it would have put everybody in an awkward position because you've already set your team, you've made commitments to your other players.

"Suffice to say, there was, I think, an amicable parting between Canada Basketball and both Fox and Jamaal. I don't think there was any real bitterness."

Magloire said he agrees with the assessment.

"It was more the coach's decision than my decision," he said. "The timing was just off. I was trying to get ready for the NBA, and coach kind of wanted to go with who he had."

The Canadian lineup included Steve Nash of Victoria, an NBA point guard with the Dallas Mavericks and a player who is passionate about all things Canadian. With Nash leading the way, Canada finished with the second-best record at the Olympics, 5-2, but fell short of advancing into the medal round.

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Nash was asked whether he felt Magloire received a bad rap for not joining the Olympic team.

"For me, I know it was just a thrill to be able to play for Canada," Nash said. "It's just an awesome opportunity. Unfortunately, Jamaal, for whatever reason, didn't have the same feelings.

"But I can't judge him. I don't know what his reasons are, what his priorities are. So I can't fault Jamaal."

Steve Konchalski, the former coach of the Canadian team, said that Kentucky did not make it easy for Magloire to participate in the national program while he was a student there.

"There were some outside pressures from Kentucky," said Konchalski, who coaches at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. "I'm not going to put it all on Kentucky, but it was a factor.

"Jamaal is certainly not the patriot that Steve Nash is, but who is? Steve Nash, in today's world, is an exceptional human being. To compare Jamaal with Steve, or for that matter most professional players, I don't think it's fair."

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Magloire may get a chance to show his Canadian colours next summer when the national team tries to qualify for the 2001 world championship in Indianapolis.

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