USA Basketball did not play well at the Pan Am Games, either on or off the court
Was there anything this team needed? When asked that question after the U.S. women had to settle for the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games (page 26) last week, USA Basketball executive director Bill Wall said, "Yeah, a new coach." So reported Dick Patrick of USA Today and Randy Riggs of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, who spoke with Wall shortly after coach Vivian Stringer's team defeated Canada for third place. A day earlier, the U.S. team's hopes for gold had ended with an 86-81 loss to Cuba in the semifinals.
According to Patrick and Riggs, Wall tried to go off the record with the comment after he had made it. According to Wall, his remark was misunderstood. All three agree that Wall elaborated on the comment, making the point that because the nucleus of the American side at the Pan Am Games had played for coach Theresa Grentz at last summer's Goodwill Games and world championships (Grentz will also coach the 1992 U.S. Olympic team), the players were more familiar with her system than with Stringer's. Still, the original comment demeaned the unpaid and considerable efforts of Stringer, who coaches Iowa and has twice been national women's college Coach of the Year. Wall formally apologized, and USA Basketball president Dave Gavitt issued this withering statement: "Mr. Wall's comments, whether reported out of context or not, were inappropriate and inexcusable."
Wall says what he thinks, and there is virtue in that. But a position like his—as close to a diplomatic posting as exists in his sport—requires more circumspect behavior. "It's my job to take the heat," Wall likes to say. He said it in 1988, when USA Basketball banned the press from the U.S. Olympic trials—but let in agents and shoe salesmen. He said the same thing during these Pan Am Games, when the U.S. men's team shuttled between Havana and a luxury hotel in Miami, creating a controversy (SI, Aug. 19) that was scarcely eased when the pampered Americans were beaten by Puerto Rico 73-68 in Thursday's semifinals. Maybe they had jet lag.
But Puerto Rico was hardly a pushover. Most of the players are in their late 20's and seasoned twice over, in Spain's pro league during the winter and then in Puerto Rico's tough summer league, in which the teams have nicknames like Los Cariduros (the Hard Faces) and Los Brujos (the Warlocks) and play accordingly. The U.S. couldn't contain Puerto Rico's veteran front line, which consisted of former Alabama-Birmingham star Jerome Mincy and two former NBA players, Josè Ortiz and Ramón Rivas. "We should beat this team," said Puerto Rico coach Raymond Dalmau after the game.
"We have two guys who have been in the NBA, and if they can't dominate college kids inside, they're not as good as I think they are."
Dalmau indicated that another Wall remark motivated his players. In explaining why the Americans chose to stay in hot tub-equipped hotel rooms Stateside instead of in the athletes' village, Wall had said, "Every one of these kids is going to be a multimillionaire in two years." Said Dalmau, "Yes, my players got upset. A guy like Rivas, he was making the minimum salary with the Boston Celtics."
In the future, the men's basketball competition at the Pan Am Games will probably be limited to players aged 22 and under. With that restriction, says Purdue's Gene Keady, who coached this year's Pan Am team, "I don't think anyone can beat us. But I can say that. I won't be coaching."
Wall, on the other hand, will stay on to answer questions about what USA Basketball needs. Some people might be tempted to answer, "A new executive director."
A New Swing Era
Golf may never be the same because of John Daly
John Daly's long-distance victory in the PGA two weeks ago may change the face of golf. Although it's still too early in the Daly era for any concrete examples, here are some things to look for in the coming weeks:
•A Eureka, Calif., clairvoyant and golf equipment salesman will produce a subliminal instruction tape consisting solely of below-the-audible-threshold repetitions of Daly's driving mantra: "Kill!"
•A teaching pro in New Harmony, Ind., will package a "John Daly Swing Trainer" that employs a harness, rubber belts and automobile leaf springs to encourage a full-coil backswing.
•A driving-range operator in Puckapee, Ga., when asked about a rash of injuries at his establishment, will say: "You get some bitty guy trying to hit a 40-compression range ball 300 yards, something's gotta give. Usually it's the pancreas."
•The USGA will shift the site of the 1995 U.S. Open from Oakland Hills to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
•A sporting-goods manufacturer in Mashpee, Mass., will come up with a special set of John Daly signature clubs: a driver, a one-iron and three wedges. At which point a rival will point out, "You don't want to say that the five-iron is obsolete. You still might want one for hitting out from under trees."
Seriously, some driving ranges reported record weeks in the wake of Long John's victory at Crooked Stick, and club pros have been trying to undo the damage their imitative pupils have been inflicting upon their swings. Brent Studer, the pro at Essex Fells (N.J.) Country Club, says, "We haven't had any injuries yet, just a lot of people asking about how to get a greater shoulder turn and seeing if they can get the club back as far as John does. Mostly, we discourage it. We've got an older membership, and most aren't nearly flexible enough to swing that way."
One beneficiary of the Daly phenomenon could be the first publisher to reissue Rex Lardner's cult classic, Out of the Bunker and into the Trees, or The Secret of High Tension Golf. "The object of the golfer is to smash the ball," Lardner wrote 31 years ago, "and any weaseling philosophic description of the process...is absurd."
Lardner's words suddenly have a new resonance.
The Inside Game
There is something to be said for Arenaball
ArenaBowl '91, which came off last Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, was very exciting. The game was tied at 42 with 39 seconds to go when Tampa Bay Storm quarterback Jay Gruden threw a 35-yard TD pass to Stevie Thomas to beat the Detroit Drive 48-42.
This was the fifth ArenaBowl, and it left this newcomer to the sport with five distinct impressions:
1) Arena football is not so much a miniature version of the NFL as it is a violent version of sandlot football. Because the field is only 50 yards long, a team is almost always in scoring position and almost never runs the ball. Says Tim Marcum, coach of the Drive, "We say count to three Mississippi, and the ball better be gone."
2) There is no danger of Arena fans complaining that the players are overpaid. Arenaball players make only about $5,000 per season. Storm lineman Tom Gizzi, a medical student at Penn and the only Ivy Leaguer with STORM shaved into his hair, says he plays because "I still have the passion within me to play football." Even if the NFL comes knocking at his door, Gizzi says he'll return to Arenaball next season. "Whether it's the NFL or Little League baseball, we're still world champs," says Gizzi. "We 25 guys are the best in the world at something."
3) The players are not half bad. Most Arenans were good college players who didn't make the NFL, and in this league, most of them have to go both ways. Says Storm coach Fran Curci, who coached college football at Tampa, Miami and Kentucky, "Maybe a player was a few pounds too light, a few inches too short, but his heart is just as big."
4) Arena football is here to stay. The league consists of eight fairly healthy franchises, and Tampa Bay was a big success on and off the field in its first season. Arenaball founder and commissioner Jim Foster says that the plan is to expand to 12 teams next year.
Why hasn't this alternative football league died like the WFL and the USFL? Says Foster, "It's football, but it's still different enough from the outdoor game." Equally significant, Arenaball organizers are populists. After the ArenaBowl, all 20,357 people who were at the game were invited to a party at the arena.
5) Arena football is fun.
A Glowing Report
Long-shot Corporate Report wins the Travers Stakes
At 6 a.m. on Sunday, as the first light strained through the rain clouds rolling over Saratoga Race Course, trainer Jeff Lukas climbed aboard his stable pony and watched the coppery chestnut Corporate Report stride around the dirt ring outside the barn. "It was just a matter of time before he won a race like this," Lukas said. "He proved himself yesterday. He beat 'em all. And was he game! That race was why we are in the business. I'm real proud of him."
Lukas had every right to be. Only 12 hours earlier, the beautifully bred colt (by Private Account out of Ten Cents A Kiss, a daughter of champion Key To The Mint) pulled along one of the most competitive fields ever assembled for the 1¼-mile, $1 million Travers Stakes. Once again historic Saratoga lived up to its reputation as a graveyard for favorites. Kentucky Derby winner Strike The Gold, an 8-5 favorite, struggled home fourth, and Hansel, the 9-5 second choice and winner of the Preakness and the Belmont, finished a neck behind Corporate Report. Hansel had an excuse, though, after suffering an injury to a left front tendon during the stretch run.
At 7-1, Corporate Report was the fifth pick in the six-horse field. He was winless in seven stakes this year, but he had finished second in five of them and was beaten by only a head in his last start, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, a race in which Hansel came in third. Horsemen who saw Corporate Report's final workout at Saratoga on Aug. 13, a five-furlong buzz in 1:01.9 over a deep training track, loved his chances.
A resolute front-runner, Corporate Report sailed to the lead out of the gate, battled Hansel head-to-head around the turn for home and then held on gamely through the stretch.
The Travers further muddies the race for 3-year-old Horse of the Year. The leader of the pack appears to be Derby runner-up Best Pal, who humbled some of the best older horses in America in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 10 at Del Mar. Strike The Gold seems to be going backward. Not so Corporate Report.
"Our colt proved he belongs at the top level of his generation," said Lukas. "He still has the fall to prove that he's the best."
Maple Leaf Peter Zezel tries his foot at pro soccer
Move over, Bo. Later, Prime Time. Canada now has Zez, its own two-sport star to rival Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Zez is short for Peter Zezel, the Toronto Maple Leaf center who made his debut with the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League on Aug. 7.
Actually, Zezel's appearance with the Rockets marked the resumption of a dual career that he abandoned at age 18 in 1984, when he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. Early last season, Zezel was traded to his hometown Maple Leafs. This summer, he decided to attend a few Rocket games in North York, a northern suburb of Toronto. General manager Hector Marinaro, who coached Zezel as a teenager, noticed him in the stands and asked him if he would sign autographs at one of the games. "Then he asked me if I wanted to train with the team," says Zezel. "I said, 'Why not?' I thought it was a good way to stay in shape." It soon became apparent that Zezel could help the Rockets as a striker. "He's a very good player," says coach Fiorigi Pagliuso. "He has all the skills." Marinaro also knew that Zezel would be a gate attraction. In his first match, the Rockets drew 3,100, about twice the size of their average crowd. In six games, Zez has yet to score, but he has played well.
Unlike Bo and Prime Time, Zezel has the blessings of his principal employer. "I had to ask [Maple Leaf G.M.] Cliff Fletcher for permission, and he said, 'Just don't get hurt,' " says Zezel. "I took out a little more insurance, though, just in case."
Who knows? Maybe ZEZ SEZ T-shirts will become hot in Canada.
[Thumb Up]To PGA champion John Daly, for donating $30,000 of his $230,000 first prize to establish a scholarship fund for the two daughters of Thomas Weaver, a spectator who was killed by lightning at the tournament. Daly will also host a pro-am for the fund.
[Thumb Up]To Jim Catalano, basketball coach at New Jersey Tech, for creating an "athalemics" camp for 250 academically deficient inner-city kids from Newark. The camp, now in its third year, uses basketball to teach reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
[Thumb Down]To Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, who recently blamed the track team for his team's lack of speed. "We're never going to have great speed at Iowa until we have a great track program," said Fry, unmindful that Miami, for example, has an inferior track program.
THEY SAID IT
Roger McDowell, reliever recently traded by the Phillies to the Dodgers, when the Phils won their first 12 games after dealing him: "If they had just traded me the day before the season started, they'd be 120-0."
Bill Parcells, recently retired coach of the New York Giants, after spending a day at the races in Saratoga Springs: "So this is what real people do in August."
Jim Wacker, TCU football coach, was talking about some of his players the other day: "Roosevelt Collins is a commercial graphics major and says the course he's enjoyed most is nude painting. When word got around, 23 players signed up for it. Mike Noack, one of the best students on our team, wanted to take it, but he was afraid he'd catch a cold."
Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and Washingtonian magazine recently reached an out-of-court settlement of Cooke's $30 million libel suit over a 1989 article entitled "Driving Mr. Cooke." The source for the article, a former chauffeur of Cooke's, Harry Turner, lost some credibility when it was discovered that he once told the Winchester, Va., Evening Star that he had been held hostage by aliens from space and had spent a night 2.5 light-years beyond Alpha Centauri.
Replay: 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Alabama coach Paul (Bear) Bryant, along with his trademark hat, made the Aug. 15, 1961, cover. In the first of a five-part series, Bryant recalled a letter he once received from Bob Gain, one of his former Kentucky players. Gain, who became a great NFL defensive tackle, fought in Korea, and the night before a battle, he wrote Bryant, "I love you tonight for what I used to hate you for."