If you Like Georgetown basketball, you'll love the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Even if you don't like the Hoyas—and the snarling dogs from D.C. are quite comfortable being the team America loves to hate—you may still end up falling for the players the U.S. will send to Korea next month.
To redeem the U.S. loss in the 1987 Pan Am Games, Georgetown's John Thompson has assembled exactly the team he vowed he would—a gray, white and blue bunch that will succeed (read: win the gold) or fail (take home anything else) on his exacting terms. Like the Hoyas, these Hoyanks will generate offense from defensive pressure. They'll substitute often. They'll put together at least one unanswered run in every game. And they'll cross Olympic assistant and Georgetown academic coordinator Mary Fenlon, who'll keep her prim vigil on the bench, at their peril.
In theory, Georgetown's style should travel well. Extended defenses, be they half-court traps or full-court presses, are rare overseas, and if a game turns into a battle of benches, only Yugoslavia can hope to compete with the U.S. "It'll be a shock for the Russians to play against these guys," said Sacramento's Kenny Smith—a member of the 1986 U.S. world championship team that beat the U.S.S.R.—after the Olympians thumped his NBA some-star team 100-67 in Richfield, Ohio, on Friday. "But it won't be a shock for the Americans to play against a team like the Russians."
Thompson is counting on that. Amid alarmist cries that the best way for the U.S. to compete internationally today is to match three-pointers with three-pointers, or bulk with bulk, or to throw in the towel and send in the pros, Thompson's pithy credo has been, "You can't push what you can't catch." His team, which as of Sunday night had won four of five meetings with NBA pickup squads, is wiry and fast and with each game looks less vulnerable to a fusillade of Brazilian treys or a succession of Soviet elbows. The Seoul Patrol will include:
August 28, 1988
•The Three Amigos. None of the team's big men has dominated, and they've all had to cover for one another. Big East kibitzers said Pittsburgh's Charles Smith was "soft" because he didn't rebound the way teammate Jerome (In The) Lane did. Fact is, Pitt wanted Smith in the high post so 'Rome could roam under the hoop, and the 6'10" Clipper-to-be has so far shown he can bogart with the best of them. Meanwhile, David Robinson (Navy, the Spurs) has thrown his weight around so injudiciously that on Friday night he picked up his fourth foul within the first minute of the second half. Thompson is lucky that Robinson, who played only 15 minutes of the infamous Pan Am loss to Brazil because of fouls, isn't central to the system.
At first glance J.R. Reid seems completely at odds with Thompson's way. Whereas everyone else can grab a loose ball and lead the break. Reid is a turnover-in-waiting when he tries such things. But the North Carolina forward's role as inside enforcer is crucial so long as Robinson persists in courting foul trouble.
•The Convertibles. Much is being made of the team's supposed weakness at point guard, but no foreign team will be so rash as to press the Americans. Danny Manning (Kansas, the Clippers) and Willie Anderson (Georgia, the Spurs) can play anywhere on the floor, including the point. Having two players this versatile will make all the shuttling Thompson plans to do that much easier.
•The Gnats. Thompson spent much of the trials emphasizing how important backcourt size would be in deterring three-thinking foreigners from letting fly. But he left open the possibility of choosing a little guy or two, so long as they were disruptive sorts in the Muggsy Bogues mold. Bimbo Coles and Georgetown's Charles Smith, who both go 6'1", have made it on that score. "He's a very good player," Thompson said of Coles, smiling, after the Hokie sophomore scored 25 in a Virginia Tech upset of Georgetown last December. "I think we'll see more of him." No one picked up on that cryptic comment at the time. At week's end, Coles was the team's second-leading scorer in the NBA exhibition series, with 10.0 a game. (Manning is tops with 10.4.)
Smith, Georgetown's returning senior point guard, would be an ideal team leader if only because he knows the system so well. But even Thompson was startled at what happened in practice a few weeks ago after the coach had been running his charges through a stretch of wind sprints. He promised relief if someone hit a one-and-one and asked the team to pick the man to do it. Little Smitty was the unanimous choice.
•Teacher's Pets. Thompson adores Hersey Hawkins (Bradley, the Sixers), the efficient screen-reader and national scoring leader who has been asked to play defense for the first time in his life and has done so adequately and uncomplainingly. Dan Majerle (Central Michigan, the Suns) is the one player who hasn't been chewed out yet on the exhibition tour. A 6'6" forward who had to rebound and score inside at Central Michigan. Majerle has fill-the-lanes legs (he has run a 4:36 mile) and a proto Hoya feistiness (as a member of the U.S. Select team in June, he threw the team's sole punch in an exhibition against Spain) that are now on full display.
•A Sheppard for the Flock. An assistant on Dean Smith's 1976 gold medal-winning team in Montreal, Thompson remembers well the role Maryland's Steve Sheppard played as an end-of-the-bencher who kept his chin up. This year the 12th-man slot and spot defensive-stopper duty likely will go to Stacey Augmon of UNLV, whose crude offensive skills are nonetheless flattered by the open-court situations that the Thompson system will generate. Augmon's deflections led to two late turnovers, and he blocked the final shot in the Olympians' 81-80 victory in Charlotte on Aug. 12.
•The Survivors. Jeff Grayer, Brian Shaw and Mitch Richmond, all big guards who can shoot, handle and play D, are competing for two spots, possibly one. Whom to cut will be Thompson's toughest call. Richmond (Kansas State, the Warriors) seems the likeliest to go, but he has been steadily improving. He stripped Michael Jordan on consecutive possessions in Charlotte on Aug. 14 and had 14 points, four rebounds and six assists on Friday night. Grayer (Iowa State, the Bucks) will likely win a spot partly because he has the right temperament for coming off the bench, and Shaw (UC Santa Barbara, the Celtics) probably will make the team because he's the better rebounder.
They play hard, their pro sparring partners agree. But the Olympians, who lost to a Piston-heavy NBA team 90-83 on Sunday in Detroit, don't yet play nasty. They have two more games before Sept. 2, when Thompson will make his final cuts. Alonzo Mourning (6'10"), whom Thompson might let go in part so the Georgetown freshman won't miss a month of school, is the team's strongest and most physical player. "Tentative." was how the Sixers' Charles Barkley described the U.S. team. Added the Pacers' Chuck Person. "You gotta knock 'em on their butt, help 'em up and knock 'em down again. You're playing for your country."
It's an odd criticism of a Thompson team, and one likely to be rectified in the next few weeks. When they're knocking 'em on their butt and not helping 'em up, they'll have peaked.