Bryant to discuss Bologna move

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ROME, Italy September 22 – Kobe Bryant’s agent is to discuss a temporary move to Bologna with the club’s management, a statement from the Italian team said on Thursday.

On Tuesday Bologna made a three-game $800,000 offer to Bryant to represent the team.

Bologna said the NBA star’s agent Rob Pelinka had replied to the offer and the two sides will sit down over a conference call on Thursday evening.

The Italian Lega A side have called on fans to help encourage Bryant to sign on by creating a special email account to which they can send messages to show the 33-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star how much he is wanted.

The offer made to Bryant is worth $800,000-net, which works out at about $550,000-600,000 per game pre-tax.

Bologna want the shooting guard to play in their first three matches of the season against Roma on October 9, Milan on October 30 and Cremona on November 13.

Bryant is a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers and was named MVP in 2008.

He has made the All-Star team 13 times, missing out only once since 1998.

Meanwhile, a semi-final place and local bragging rights are up for grabs at the Asian Basketball Championships on Friday, where holders Iran face their nemesis Jordan and South Korea play old foes Japan.

Iran, who are gunning for a third title in a row, stormed into the quarters unbeaten, underlining they are in red-hot form, but hosts China — roared on by the passionate home crowd — are also undefeated in the central city of Wuhan.

As well as the title of Asia’s best team, at stake is the continent’s only automatic berth to the 2012 London Olympics.

The second and third-placed teams must go through qualifying to get to the London showpiece.

“We are the top team in Asia so we must be in top condition and we must be ready to play,” Iran’s Serbian coach Veselin Matic said ahead of the clash with Middle East rivals Jordan.

“We are playing hard, we are playing with full court pressure and we are still in good condition. Mentally we are ready, if you win games, you are going to be mentally good. After six games we have not lost any games.”

China have won 14 Asian championships and represented the region at every Olympics since 1976, but have struggled in recent years largely due to injuries to superstar centre Yao Ming, who announced his retirement in July.

Iran have filled the void. They boast towering centre Hamed Haddadi of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies and a group of seasoned veterans led by point guard Mahdi Kamrany and forward Samad Bahrami.

China were buoyant ahead of their meeting with five-time semi-finalists Lebanon.

“A country like China deserves to see its team in the Olympics, so for our fans we are doing everything possible to make that happen,” China’s US coach Robert Donewald told journalists.

“Asia basketball is at an all-time high. I feel there are five or six teams that could win it… it is going to be one team that wins three in a row and they will go to London.”

Risking the ire of the hosts, Lebanon coach Ghassan Sarkis predicted Iran would be the last team standing.

“We feel that the China team is not playing as a championship team,” Sarkis told reporters, “Iran is the best team in the tournament.”

The match-up between South Korea and Japan promises to be one of the most exciting of Friday’s games.

The Koreans will be led by their point guard Yang Dong-Geun, while improving Japan’s hopes lie with talented shooting guard Takuya Kawamura.

“We finished 10th last time in this competition, so anything above that might look an improvement,” said Japan’s American coach Robert Wisman, who has brought respectability to Japanese basketball over the last two years.

“But a semi-final finish is what I am aiming for. An entry into the semi-finals will be a good return on the hard work we have put in.”

The last quarter-final showdown is another local affair between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The Philippines are likely to have the edge thanks to 2.10 metre American import Marcus Douthit, who is leading the championship in scoring and rebounding with an 18.6 point and 10.5 rebound per game average.

“The key to our plan will be how well we can stop their big guy,” Taiwan forward Mao Chia-ren said.

“I’ll take up the responsibility of guarding him, but it will be a lot of hard work.”

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