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What to do? Where to hide? Why me? Lorenzo Charles' quandary—the high perils of Lo—suddenly manifested itself last week as the 72 candidates for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team underwent their vicious, exhausting three-practices-a-day, give-me-liniment-or-give-me-death ordeal.
In one scrimmage the 6'7", 252-pound Charles found himself playing man-to-man defense against 6'9", 259-pound Wayman Tisdale and monster-to-monster offense against 6'6", 284-pound Charles Barkley: in other words, between a rock and a lard place. (Only kidding, Mr. Barkley, sir.) In another scrimmage Lo Charles was chagrined over being surrounded by an opposing team consisting of Patrick Ewing, Sam Perkins, Chris Mullin, Leon Wood, Steve Alford and, oh no, Barkley again. Not all at the same time, of course, but it may have seemed-that way to Lo, who sometimes looked as if he desired no mo'. And who could blame him? The panting glut of NBA coaches, general managers and scouts who descended on the Indiana University campus took one look at the aforementioned team and started plotting how they might pile the whole crew into a pickup and slip out of Bloomington under cover of darkness to start a new franchise. Ed (White Line Fever) Manning, the ex-Bullet, ex-Bull, ex-Trail Blazer, ex-truck driver and present assistant coach at Kansas, whose son, Danny, was one of only two high-schoolers at the Trials, obviously could be shanghaied to do the honors in the pilot's seat.
"They said they was gettin' the best 72 and they wasn't tellin' no stories," said Louisiana Tech's Karl (The Mailman) Malone in the pithy vernacular of his home hamlet, which is "Mount Sinai Community, Looziana." Malone, a sophomore who has always played in the shadow of a women's team, for pity's sake, was not among the final qualifiers, but there was no dearth of other intriguing fellows whose stories we should all be hearing about from now until doomsday, or at least Aug. 10, the date of the Olympic basketball final in Los Angeles.
By that time there will have been investigative reports concerning Ewing's T shirts, Barkley's gastronomical preferences, Tisdale's comedic impersonations—he does a terrific Richard Nixon—and Michael Jordan's pool-shooting acumen. Not to mention stories about our heroes' wondrous ability to play their chosen game. You think the 1980 U.S. hockey team was hyped to a fare-thee-well? When the communications powers that be get through with America's new basketball bunch—remember, we haven't competed for an Olympic medal in eight years and haven't had a chance for vengeance against the Russkies in 12—the country will know them so intimately, the Carrington family will seem like interplanetary aliens.
A dynasty, of course, is what the U.S. built over 36 years of international basketball until 1972, when the Soviets won the gold medal in Munich in an unforgettably wild finish. That has been the only smudge on an otherwise perfect Olympic slate for the U.S., which of course couldn't compete in '80 because of the boycott.
In the old days, however, nobody else could play basketball as Americans knew it. The 1960 team, which included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas, among other semi-immortals, out-scored eight opponents by an average of 40 points a game. Since then the world has caught up. Now the worry is that Italy and Yugoslavia are our equals, and the Russians...well, U.S. coach Bobby Knight says that the young Soviet center, 7'2" Arvidas (C'est Bon) Sabonis, is "potentially the best player in the world, amateur or professional."
All of which is why Knight took time away from his Indiana coaching duties to spend part of the last two years scouting, preparing and organizing the development program which culminated in last week's Trials and in the selection of a preliminary 20-man team that must be cut to 12 (plus four alternates) by July 14.
Many longtime observers, including Knight's personal guru, Pete Newell, who coached that 1960 Olympic team, agreed that this year's Olympic camp was the best-conceived, most thoroughly coordinated and best-directed in memory. Also, that it brought together talent the likes of which the U.S. hasn't enjoyed since '60, if then. "I've never seen anything like these guys," said Newell.
"I'd take the bottom five home from here and be happy," said Iowa State's Johnny Orr, one of the 19 college coaches assembled to help Knight and assistants George Raveling of Iowa and Don Donoher of Dayton direct the Trials.
Dilettantes could quibble about who was invited: Why weren't Xavier McDaniel of Wichita State, Bernard Thompson of Fresno State and Othell Wilson of Virginia asked? Moreover, Kentucky's Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, Maryland's Len Bias and Memphis State's Keith Lee turned down invitations. But probably only Bowie, a member of the 1980 team that Jimmy Carter slam-dunked into oblivion, would have made the grade in Bloomington. And Bowie's survival would have been dependent on his vulnerable shins' holding up to a terrible daily pounding on the no-spring Tartan surface in the stone-cold Indiana field house.