An Olympic What If...?
In 1992 the U.S. Olympic basketball team will for the first time feature a lineup of NBA studs. But what would the team look like if the pros were still ineligible and the squad had to be made up of the top collegians, the way it used to be? Well, SI took an informal poll of 15 coaches—12 of whom have teams in the Top 25—and several basketball writers, asking them to name the 12 college players they would choose for the Olympics. Most of the coaches requested anonymity, but here's the team we came up with, based on their recommendations. First, the starting five:
CENTER—Shaquille O'Neal, LSU. Any arguments?
POWER FORWARD—Christian Laettner, Duke. He and Shack were unanimous picks for the team.
December 30, 1991
SMALL FORWARD—Byron Houston, Oklahoma State. There was strong sentiment for Malik Sealy of St. John's and Indiana's Calbert Cheaney at small forward, but the burly Houston was named on more ballots, and we think he's a good enough shooter from the perimeter to handle the position.
SHOOTING GUARD—Jimmy Jackson, Ohio State. A superb jump shooter who also would give the team another skilled ball handler and passer.
POINT GUARD—Walt Williams, Maryland. Bobby Hurley of Duke was a narrow winner in the balloting over Williams and Lee Mayberry of Arkansas, but we were persuaded by one voter's arguments that Williams can play either guard position, make the three-pointer and, at 6'8", is tall enough to see over rival defenses.
RESERVES—Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown was picked for the team by every respondent, and we're making him O'Neal's backup at center. "I'd build my team around Shaquille, Mourning and Laettner," says one coach. The subs at forward would be Cheaney; Southern Mississippi's Clarence Weatherspoon, who was one of the most impressive players at the Pan Am Games last summer; Tracy Murray of UCLA, because the team would need a pure outside shooter and Murray is as pure as they come; and Michigan freshman Chris Webber, who may be young but is talented and fearless enough for the job.
At guard we would add Hurley. "I wasn't that impressed with him when he was a freshman, but he makes better decisions now," says one coach. Just to make things interesting, we'll also go along with Kansas coach Roy Williams's sleeper pick, high school senior Jason Kidd of St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda, Calif., who has announced he will attend Cal. "I really believe he'd push to make the team. He'd have to be considered," Williams says.
The quality of those players can perhaps best be measured by considering the players who were left off the 12-member team. Apologies go to Sealy, Mayberry, Chris Smith of Connecticut, Grant Hill of Duke, Rodney Rogers of Wake Forest, Jamal Mashburn of Kentucky, Adam Keefe of Stanford, Bryant Stith of Virgina, Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State and about a dozen others who were mentioned by the coaches and writers.
Most of those we polled agree that the U.S. might not need NBA players to win the gold in 1992, partly because of the breakup of the Soviet Union's team and the almost certain weakening of the Yugoslav squad. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs says the team he picked could "win hands down." Adds Kentucky's Rick Pitino, "We'd be prohibitive favorites."
The NBA team will be even more prohibitive favorites. The hope here is that they will win so handily the U.S. will restore the collegians, and competition, to the Olympics.
A Grinch in Defeat
There's just no figuring out Michigan State. Two years ago the Spartans surprised everyone by winning the Big Ten title, then finished a disappointing third last season when they were expected to repeat. After losing star guard Steve Smith to the NBA, expectations in East Lansing were lowered again for 1991-92. So naturally Michigan State is on a roll this year.
There are indications that the fates may be smiling on the 12th-ranked Spartans, who improved to 8-0 by wiping out an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Cincinnati 90-89 last Saturday. It was the second straight year that the Bearcats blew an 18-point lead against Michigan State, which scored the winning points with six seconds remaining on a three-point shot by guard Kris Weshinskey, who had missed the Spartans' previous two games with a mild case of mononucleosis.
Although Weshinskey was Saturday's hero, 6'10", 270-pound center Mike Peplowski and 6'3" guard Shawn Respert, Michigan State's leading scorer, have been more responsible for the Spartans' last start. Peplowski, a junior, had 20 points and 12 rebounds against Cincinnati and is having his finest season so far now that he has discarded his bulky knee brace against doctors' orders. Count Peplowski among those who aren't surprised by the Spartans' fast adjustment to the absence of Smith. "We're a better team this year," he says. "Emphasis on team."
Purdue coach Gene Keady put it more bluntly. "I predicted Michigan State would be a better team without Steve Smith," Keady told The Indianapolis Star recently. "He was biding his time [last season]. He was thinking about the millions he could make. He was thinking about driving a Rolls—and I don't blame him—instead of winning for Michigan State. They're more focused on team play this year."
The game against the Spartans was a major test for Cincinnati as well. The Bearcats lost three key starters from last season's team, and none of the current starters began his college career at Cincinnati. But after winning their first seven games for their fastest start since 1976-77, they could have made a major statement with a win over Michigan State.
That they blew a golden opportunity to do so made the loss all the more galling for coach Bob Huggins. "You couldn't print what I said after the game," said Huggins, who added that he hoped his players "have a miserable Christmas. I hope this bothers them half as much as it does me. We have to learn to play for a full 40 minutes, not just 35."
The Bulls' Run
Is it possible that the University of South Florida is the best team in the Sunshine State? The Bulls could make a convincing claim to that distinction after beating Florida and Florida State in the space of five days last week. The 92-88 upset of the Seminoles last Friday might have been the most significant victory in South Florida's history.
The Bulls, who were 6-1 through Sunday, aren't likely to get carried away by their success. They are a mature team—two starters are 23 years old and two others are 22—with at least two players who have had to deal with more important issues than winning and losing games. The leading scorer, with a 23.3 average, is guard Radenko Dobras of Yugoslavia, who has been dividing his thoughts between basketball and his 20-year-old brother, Jalenko, a member of Yugoslavia's national army who had been on the front lines of the country's civil war. The Dobras family went two months without hearing a word from Jalenko before he was able to return to his parents' home in mid-December.
Then there's 6'7", 230-pound center Gary Alexander, who scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the second half against Florida State. Four years after enrolling at South Florida as a Prop 48 freshman, Alexander picked up his diploma last week in a graduation ceremony at the Sun Dome, the same arena where he would help beat the Seminoles two days later. He'll take courses this spring to add a sociology double major to his criminology degree, and he plans to take graduate courses in criminology as well.
Alexander, who was averaging 17.9 points and 10.4 rebounds at week's end, has been a medical success story, too. He has come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which caused him to miss South Florida's 1990 appearance in the NCAA tournament. "When I was sitting at commencement, I looked around at the banners in the arena and I really felt I had succeeded here on and off the court," says Alexander.
He has mixed feelings about the Prop 48 rule, though. "It's good in a way because it makes freshmen aware that they have to live up to their academic ability, but I don't think it's fair that it takes away a year of eligibility," he says.
The fast start by the Bulls, who have four starters scoring in double figures—forward Fred Lewis and guard Derrick Sharp are the others—makes them a solid contender for the Metro Conference title in their first season in the league. That's the championship they truly want, but a state title, even unofficial, isn't a bad place to begin.
Here's to You, Mr. Robinson
Opposing centers' hearts must skip a beat when they look at Missouri-Kansas City's roster and see that the Kangaroos' starting center is David Robinson.
Of course, he's not David Robinson the All-Star center for the San Antonio Spurs. But the one Missouri-Kansas City has is no slouch. He's a 6'10" senior from Joplin, Mo., who also has designs on a professional career. He was averaging 15.2 points and seven rebounds at week's end for the 6-3 Kangaroos, who are in their third year now as an NCAA Division I independent.
"Sometimes I'll hear my name called," says Robinson, "and I'll turn to see who it is, and it'll be ESPN SportsCenter saying, '...and here's David Robinson with another monster dunk.' " Perhaps someday the David Robinson he sees on the screen will be the one he sees in the mirror.
Born Under a Bad Sign
We're putting our objectivity aside and rooting for the women's team at the College of Notre Dame, a Division II school in Belmont, Calif. Last Saturday the Argonauts dropped their 58th straight game, 52-34 to the Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz. That defeat tied the NCAA record for consecutive losses in any sport, by a men's or women's team, set by Brooklyn College's women's basketball squad from February 1987 to February 1989. The win was the first for the Division III Slugs in 13 tries this season.
The Argonauts have had to deal with a killer combination of poor play and poorer luck. They have lost their seven games this season by an average score of 68-32. They might have benefited from playing in their new, $3.5 million gymnasium, but the floor became warped after suffering damage from a water leak, and now the gym won't be ready until January.
First-year coach Steve Picchi isn't exactly blessed with great talent. Notre Dame doesn't have a player taller than 5'8", and six of the 12 players didn't play varsity basketball in high school. One player said she had never seen a game in person before the Argos' opener, a 102-14 loss to Fresno Pacific.
The toughest defeat to stomach may have been Notre Dame's 79-31 loss to Simpson Bible College. The Argos had only six players available at the start, and three of them had fouled out when Simpson seemed to forget the biblical injunction to love thine enemy and continued to employ its full-court press for the game's final 11 minutes. "I wanted to go to a four-corners offense," said Picchi afterward, "but I only had three."
The Argos may have been beaten, but they haven't been beaten down. "We're pointing for the second half of the season," says Picchi. "When we get our gym back and get some time to practice together, we'll win."
Jacksonville guard James Fuller, a walk-on, scored a game-high 28 points in the Dolphins' 98-87 upset of North Carolina last week. Give that man a scholarship....
It was a productive week for Princeton, which ventured out of the Ivy League to twice win in overtime, 50-47 over North Carolina State and 47-46 over La Salle....
Western Michigan may be the nation's most improved team this year. The Broncos were 5-22 last season under coach Bob Donewald but were 8-0 at week's end....
LSU (3-3 through Sunday) continues to struggle. The Tigers lost at home to Louisville on a 26-foot three-pointer by guard Keith LeGree at the buzzer. Two missed free throws by LSU guard Maurice Williamson with 0:07 left opened the door for the Cardinals. "We wanted to foul Maurice because he hadn't made a free throw all night," said Louisville coach Denny Crum. "In fact, I don't know if he's made one all year." Indeed, the misses made Williamson 0 for 8 at the line this season.
Who Needs the NBA?
If the U.S. Olympic basketball team were still picked the old-fashioned way—without all those unnecessary pros—an all-collegian team led by this starting five would figure to do very well in Barcelona.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Georgia's Litterial Green, a 6'1" senior guard, averaged 21 points, 4.5 assists and three rebounds as the Bulldogs knocked off No. 13 Georgia Tech 66-65 and previously unbeaten Penn State 70-54.
Niesa Johnson, a 5'9" freshman guard for Alabama, had 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and four assists per game as the Crimson Tide beat Austin Peay 97-80, Jackson State 86-60 and No. 16 Houston 93-80.
George Gilmore, a 6-foot senior guard for Division II Chaminade, scored 49 points in a 111-107 win over Central Missouri State, 42 in a 99-84 defeat of Portland and 23 in a 110-77 loss to UNC Charlotte.
Then & Now
Kansas's 6'8" center Clyde Lovellette is the only player to lead the nation in scoring (28.4 points a game) the same year that his team won an NCAA championship, a double he accomplished in 1951-52. He now counsels troubled adolescents who are assigned by the courts to White's Academy, a Quaker school in Terre Haute, Ind.