Without long-range approach, U.S. will suffer in international basketball

Phil Jackman

August 06, 1991|By Phil Jackman

After watching the Pan American Games the last few days on television (ABC and TNT), these reflections:

* One of these years -- hopefully, next year when Chuck Daly has the Olympians -- the coaches who handle our national teams will get around to fully understanding the international game. Gene Keady (Purdue) is just the latest in a long line of collegiate mentors who grossly neglect the perimeter game.

Any suggestion that Uncle Sam's hoop representatives are hell-bent on atoning for the U.S. losing the gold medal to Brazil in '87 is hogwash. Players today, rightly or wrongly, lack a sense of history, or, as Kenny Anderson put it during last year's Goodwill Games, "What happened before has nothing to do with us."

One of the best things that could have happened to the U.S. women's basketball team is losing to Brazil after going unbeaten (through 42 games) since the 1982 World Championships. The gals had gotten to parading around as if they were the greatest thing since the glass backboard.

One of the worst things that could have happened is the women coming back and pummeling Argentina, 97-40, yesterday. The Games always come down to the Latin countries vs. the U.S. and Canada and this further cements it.

The massive montage of Che Guevera in the Arena-de-Hoops sort of reminded of the feeling you get when you enter the Smith Center (Dean Dome) in Chapel Hill.

* If they held a free election tomorrow in Cuba, Fidel Castro would be elected (dictator) hands down. Times are tough and the visionaries complain, but the rank and file goes along and along. Believe it or not, Fidel's "Let them eat medals" stand actually works.

* Love him or hate him, Brent Musburger still is the master sitting there in the anchor chair keeping things going.

* The staging area for the trip to Havana was located at the University of Tampa and many of our pampered athletes complained about the spartan dormitories they were billeted in and the fact they had to sit through a two-hour briefing on the experience they were about to undertake.

Hopefully, most listened. Remember the incident of the two American swimmers swiping a statue out of a bar and the run-in half-miler Johnny Gray had with a cab driver at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul?

* That expert on everything, George Steinbrenner, couldn't wait to take off on the fact that the U.S. is not represented by top-of-the-line athletes in every sport. Depth, George, depth. The fact that we have lots of traveling teams for the score of big-time events conducted around the world has always kept the numbers involved and interested.

Besides, as competitions go, the Pan Ams draw a grade of about C.

When someone, it has never been determined who, named "Boss" to the U.S. Olympic Committee during the Winter Olympics of '88, many predicted the guy would rhapsodize on subjects he knows less than nothing about.

* So there were no toilet seats in the Athletes' Village dorms in Havana. The young travelers can treat it as a learning experience, knowing what it was like in a boot camp Army barracks back before the draft was done away with.

* It cannot be overstated how important baseball is to the Games, not only Cuba but all the Latin countries ascribing World Cup soccer-like importance to the tournament.

* As good as the Cuban boxers are, they often prove poor representatives of their country if they are sent forth to serve as goodwill ambassadors of the island nation. Repeatedly, in international competitions and dual meets here, they have come across as suspicious and nasty whiners even when they win.

Strangely, the track and field people and the more mature baseball players are just the opposite. Maybe they not as easy to brainwash as the punchers whose every breath is monitored by the coaches.

* Good thing Havana's populace doesn't get a chance to see "The Godfather" and other films depicting the city in bygone days, it would no doubt pine for the wild and prosperous days of the '50s.

* This event having nothing to do with Ted Turner's Goodwill Games, the thinking was that we wouldn't be inundated with Ted & Jane (Fonda) at a basketball game, Ted & Jane at the fights, Ted & Jane eating nachos during network and cable telecasts. No such luck.

* One drawback of having so many Turner Broadcasting staff announcers assigned to Havana is it opened it up for Larry King to play at being a baseball commentator for Atlanta Braves games over the weekend and Mr. Wonderful wouldn't shut up.

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