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Shelley Smith
August 06, 1990
Yugoslavia won basketball gold at the Goodwill Games, but NBA stars will join the U.S. team for the Olympics
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August 06, 1990

Wait Till '92

Yugoslavia won basketball gold at the Goodwill Games, but NBA stars will join the U.S. team for the Olympics

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In a scene that has become all too familiar to U.S. basketball fans, strong, experienced foreign teams beat a young American squad inexperienced in international competition. It happened at the '88 Olympics in Seoul, where the U.S. lost to the U.S.S.R. It happened at the '87 Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, where the Americans fell to Brazil. And it happened again last week at the Goodwill Games in Seattle, where the Americans got the silver medal but lost 92-85 to the Soviet Union in a preliminary-round game and 85-79 to Yugoslavia in the final.

"It's not that we didn't play hard," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, skipper of the current American team. "But we are 19-and 20-year-olds going against men."

So they were, as were the last two U.S. teams. That will change at the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, where NBA players will be allowed on the American squad. Until then, the U.S. is stuck with whoever isn't in summer school or on the verge of signing an NBA contract. "It's the way it is," said Krzyzewski. "You just have to make the most of it."

Ignore the professional issue for a moment. The heart of international basketball is the three-point shot. Conspicuously absent from the U.S. squad was a player who could consistently make three-pointers, though the Americans thought they had one in Arkansas guard Lee Mayberry, the NCAA's fourth-most-accurate three-point shooter (50.4%) last season.

In Seattle, the U.S. converted only 22 of 71 shots from beyond the three-point stripe (which at 20'6" from the hoop is nine inches farther back than the collegiate line and 3'3" closer than the NBA line). This included horrific performances of 0 for 10 against Puerto Rico, 3 for 13 against the Soviet Union and 1 for 11 against Yugoslavia.

Also absent from this year's U.S. squad were several of the country's better eligible players, among them Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, who together led UNLV to the national championship, and LSU's Shaquille O'Neal. Moreover, those about to join the NBA chose not to try out for the team for fear that, without a signed contract, an injury could decrease their market value. So no Derrick Coleman. No Bo Kimble. No Chris Jackson.

Krzyzewski just had to make do. Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning, Syracuse's Billy Owens and Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson are a formidable threesome, but in the end they weren't enough. "It's disappointing," said Owens, who finished with a team-high 21.4 scoring average. "We set a goal to win the gold, and really thought we could do it."

The Americans had no reason to think otherwise after their 100-94 win over Puerto Rico. Both teams played most of the game without their key big men. Mourning, who's 6'10", 230 pounds, and the 6'10", 265-pound Jos´┐Ż Ortiz (formerly of Oregon State and the Utah Jazz) were ejected midway through the first half for trading punches in what had already become an ugly game. Luckily for the U.S., Owens made 13 of 20 shots from the floor to finish with a game-high 30 points.

The Soviets were up next, and though only Valeri Tikhonenko remained from the '88 Olympic gold medal squad, they outplayed the U.S., especially from the three-point line. While Tikhonenko was converting 5 of 9 trey attempts, the Americans struggled. The Soviets trailed by three points at intermission but outscored the U.S. 30-11 in the opening minutes of the second half. Then the game got out of hand. So did Krzyzewski, who blasted the media for unfairly "putting the weight of the country on these 20-year-old backs."

Krzyzewski was outraged when Mark Zeigler of The San Diego Union asked Mayberry and forward Mark Randall if they were embarrassed to have lost to the Soviets. "That's a horse-crap question," replied Krzyzewski. "Are you embarrassed to ask it?"

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