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CHAMP TO PLAY BASKETBALL, BOX ON SAME DAY

You can get away with suggesting he seems bored with boxing and maybe even intimate he's foolishly risking his livelihood. Just don't accuse Roy Jones Jr. of pulling a stunt by playing basketball and defending his world title on the same day.

The International Boxing Federation's super middleweight champion wants to make history by becoming the first fighter to put his crown on the line only hours after competing in another sport.He insists he's not being disrespectful of challenger Eric Lucas of Canada, just merely trying to do something few athletes have the skills or mental toughness to even consider.

Deion Sanders played football and baseball for Atlanta's Falcons and Braves within a 24-hour period in 1992. But Jones thinks playing point guard in a United States Basketball League game before fighting Lucas Saturday night will be a more impressive accomplishment.

"Deion did it, but he pinch hit," Jones said, referring to Sanders' brief appearance in a National League playoff game the night before an NFL game. "I'm going out to participate in both sports because I want to make it real."

The champion expects to start and play about 15 to 20 minutes for the Jacksonville Barracudas on Saturday afternoon. He'll have about six hours to rest and get ready to climb into the boxing ring, where he's 31-0 as a professional, with 27 knockouts.

Jones views it not only as an opportunity to gain some personal satisfaction, but give boxing's image a boost as well.

"Don't take what I'm doing as a stunt. I don't create stunts," he said. "I'm doing it because I want to try to do something different in life. I want boxing to have a better name. I'm trying to do my sport a favor and do myself a favor at the same time."

Basketball long has always been a part of the champion's training routine, so preparing for Lucas (19-2-2) while playing for the Barracudas hasn't been as taxing on Jones as one might expect.

He's averaging just over four points and two assists while playing about 21 minutes per game for the USBL team. His defense is improving, and his confidence is growing, too, despite his modest statistics.

"When it gets close to fight time, my shot usually gets off because my punches are on. So I kind of expected that," Jones said. "But I can still make a layup and can make a free throw, so I'm still going to score."

He admits, though, that competing against players with aspirations of someday getting an opportunity to play in the NBA can be humbling. And not just because of the $300 weekly rookie salary he draws from the Barracudas.

The 28-year-old Jones, generally regarded as pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world, is such a dominant boxer that he has difficulty finding formidable opponents in his division.

But playing in the USBL has given him a sense of what it's like to be a challenger again.

"The way I conquer my frustration is by tightening down and trying to make it happen better the next time," he said.

"I want to have that same mentality in boxing. Just because something's going my way, don't stop at that. Keep reaching to get better. If you don't reach to get better, you've got a problem."

The champion promises he won't take Lucas lightly, adding that his challenger probably is a lot better than most people realize.

"The one thing he does bring is durability," Jones said. "That's what I'm testing - my durability and stamina. That's his strong point, so I'm kind of playing his game."

The undercard for the biggest fight in Jacksonville since Jim Corbett faced Charley Mitchell for the heavyweight title in 1894 features a scheduled 12-round bout between challenger Derrick Gainer and World Boxing Union featherweight champion Kevin Kelley.