U.S. centers are coming up all (injured) thumbs

June 26, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

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 thumb surgery of his own 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 fastbreak 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.

Today marks the team's fifth day of practice. Daly has divided the players into two groups of six each day. They take turns scrimmaging a group of collegians that includes Duke's Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill and North Carolina's Eric Montross.

The collegians actually outscored the pros in one of the scrimmages, but Daly expected a period of adjustment. "These are 12 go-to guys," he said. "Now, all of a sudden, [each one] is on the floor with four other go-to guys.

"At some point, you've got to back off your game. You're playing basketball with a talent level you've never had before. We started with the mentality of an All-Star Game. Now, we're drifting back to reality, playing more and more as a team."

If anything, Daly said the team members have been too unselfish, at times over-passing. Egos have not been a problem. Daly consulted with Michael Jordan before naming Magic Johnson and Larry Bird co-captains. Jordan applauded the move.

As for a starting lineup, Daly said, "I haven't made a decision on that.

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