In theory, the entire program of the Olympic Games is designed for all the nations of the world. In actual practice, however, some nations have turned out to be downright selfish. India, for example, persists in making field hockey an Indian monopoly. The Hungarians have for years been in a class by themselves in water polo. And so it is with basketball—except that in this case the United States can plead extenuating circumstances. We invented the game in the first place.
Since the sport became an integral part of the Olympic program at Berlin in 1936, the U.S. has won every tournament and the 12-man squad selected this year is probably the best yet; in fact, it may well be the best amateur basketball team the world has ever seen.
For one thing it has Bill Russell, the giant All-America from San Francisco whose marvelous agility and reflexes make him perhaps the first true defensive genius the game has known. And around him will be revolving such players as the mercurial guard K. C. Jones; high-scoring Chuck Darling (6 feet 9) and Burdy Haldorson (6 feet 8); sharpshooting Gib Ford and speedy Ron Romsic of the Armed Forces and half a dozen more.
However—and Coach Gerald Tucker knows this quite well—the U.S. could run into trouble. In the past 20 years the rest of the world has become basketball-conscious to such an extent that the sport now ranks high among the favorites of a score of nations. Some, like Russia and France and the South Americans from Brazil and Uruguay, are playing very good basketball indeed.
None has the height or depth to match the U.S. and none has the shooting touch or the wonderful feel for the game you might expect from athletes who have been banging away at baskets hung from barn doors and telephone poles since infancy. But these upstart challengers are generally quite strong defensively, have good team speed—and never stop hustling. This may not be the year but they are at least beginning to close the gap.
Their one big hope of upsetting the U.S. involves no secret weapon at all; instead it revolves around a tactic which both Russia and Brazil used with such good effect against us at Helsinki that is worth trying again. This, of course, is control-type basketball—the stall. But Tucker now knows what to expect. "Hard, aggressive defense" is his formula for breaking up the deep freeze. "We will press the opposition and keep pressing."
Russia must be accorded the best chance if the U.S. should stumble. They are tall and strong and set up their shots well. France is a good defensive team and can rebound, but, like most non-U.S. basketball teams, shows the lack of topflight coaching. Brazil and Uruguay prefer the race-horse style of play but, aware of the risk of trying to outrun the U.S., will almost surely choose to slow down too. Brazil uses a double post offense and moves the ball well; Uruguay has less cohesion as a team but boasts perhaps the finest young player outside the continental limits of this country in flashy, hard-driving Oscar Moglia.
But basketball is still a United States game, and no one really expects it to look like anything else, even at Melbourne.