PORTLAND, Ore. -- Time to panic. The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team lost its probable starting center for the Tournament of the Americas yesterday when Patrick Ewing suffered a dislocated right thumb.
Ewing, the New York Knicks' 7-footer, was injured during a Dream Team scrimmage in La Jolla, Calif. His thumb will remain in a splint for five days, and likely will force him to miss the Olympic qualifying tournament that opens tomorrow.
The loss of Ewing means the U.S. team will compete in the 10-team tournament with one true center -- San Antonio's 7-1 David Robinson, who is recovering from hand surgery that forced him to miss the last 13 games of the NBA regular season.
"I can tell he [Robinson] hasn't played a great deal," coach Chuck Daly said on a conference call. "His conditioning is fine. He's handling the ball and shooting well. But he's just not quite as sharp as some of the other guys are."
Daly met with his staff after yesterday's practice and briefly debated adding another center before tournament rosters are frozen today at 7 p.m. EDT. But Daly said the logistics would have been too difficult, and dismissed the idea.
The void at center figures to increase playing time for Duke's 6-11 Christian Laettner, the only Dream Team member without professional experience. Daly also said the Utah Jazz's 6-9 Karl Malone could fill in "part time" in place of Ewing.
Healthy or not, the Dream Team is expected to roll through the qualifying tournament without much difficulty. All it must do to reach Barcelona is finish among the top four teams in the weeklong competition at the Portland Memorial Coliseum.
Ewing suffered the injury during a 20-minute scrimmage that simulated the length of a half under international rules. "It was one of those plays going to the basket where two people try to block a shot," Daly said.
"I was on a fast break and Magic [Johnson] threw me a pass and I went up for a layup," Ewing said. "I think it was Karl who came from behind and went for the block and got a piece of my hand and I hit it on the rim.
"If I had dunked it, it wouldn't have happened," said Ewing, who was taken to a hospital for X-rays. They were negative.
Daly said the injury to Ewing is "obviously a little bit of a concern," but teams aren't required to set their final Olympic roster until July 15. Ewing should be fully recovered by then; Daly expects he'll resume some activities by Wednesday.
The U.S. team arrives in Portland today and opens play against Cuba on Sunday afternoon. Daly said Cuba averages "6-7, 6-8" across the front line, so matchups shouldn't be a problem, not that it matters for a group with such ferocious rebounders as Malone and Charles Barkley.
As for a starting lineup, Daly said, "I haven't made a decision on that. We've kicked around different units. There's no way in a 40-minute game you're going to get everyone their time. I'll go to substitution patterns as I see fit, see how it plays out."