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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

'Evil' Vince a new man

  SYDNEY -- Demonstrative, forceful to the point of being brash. Certainly in the thick of things.

 The Vince Carter of the Sydney Olympics is noticeably different than the one you knew as a Raptor the past two NBA seasons and he has become the talk of the mostly U.S. media covering the American men's basketball team.

 Oh, he will still dunk. And score. He certainly did both with some authority early yesterday morning, totalling 13 points while leading the U.S. men's team to a 93-61 victory over Italy.

 But this Vince Carter has a new coif and an apparent take-no-prisoners, determined, even arrogant in the minds of some, edge to him, one that basketball fans in Sydney seem to love and hate at virtually the same time.

 Carter was booed one moment as he shot free throws and cheered wildly the next as he slammed home a Kevin Garnett pass off the glass in the first half. At one stage he got into an altercation with Italy's Alessandro Abbio.

 At the very least he is being noticed.

 "It doesn't matter," Carter said, when asked how he likes being cast as the villain after becoming the centre of controversy during an exhibition game in Melbourne against Australia shortly before the Olympics began.

 "I play to win. I don't care what you think of me. My mom says, 'You're not going to be liked by everybody.'

 "What's important is to earn the respect of my coaches and teammates. If no one else likes it, oh well.

 "I see myself as a person who plays with a lot of flair, excitement, yet one who gets the job done."

 He certainly did that yesterday, as did his U.S. teammates.

 Italy had pulled to within two points of the U.S. with 21/2 minutes left in the first half. But just as the U.S. did in its first game of the tournament against China, eventually it solved the puzzle. At the half, the U.S. led by 10, and then quickly shut down Italy and ran away with things.

 Carter, who took only four shots, tried to do different things. He made a nice dish to Antonio McDyess in the second half. He played determined defence. And when needed, he lifted his arms to bring the crowd to life -- even if it was to rally them against him.

 "In my mind, it's us against the world," Carter said. "I wanted to make it sound like our arena. But don't get me wrong, I don't need the fans (here) to get me pumped up."

 Asked about the fickle Australians, who would boo and cheer in turn, he said, "I don't care about that. I play for fun, I play for love, but I play to win."

 Carter and the Americans certainly have done that, and are now at the top of Pool A with four points and a 2-0 record. Four teams, including Italy, follow at 1-1. The others are China, which defeated winless New Zealand 75-60 yesterday, Lithuania and France in the wake of Lithuania defeating France 81-63.

 In Pool B, Yugoslavia put away Australia 80-66, effectively crushing Australia's medal hopes. Canada and Yugoslavia are tied for the pool lead at 2-0. Spain lost to Russia 71-63, leaving both teams tied at 1-1. Australia is tied with Senegal at 0-2.

 After two games, Canada's 200 points scored leads the Olympics, which might become important in the event of a tie in the standings later in the tournament.