Brazil's wants pour it on Stars look forward to playing the best

July 01, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

PORTLAND, ORE — PORTLAND, Ore. -- The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team won its first two qualifying games by an average of 62 points, but that apparently wasn't enough for veteran Brazil guard Marcel De Souza.

De Souza is eager to face his NBA idols, and when the historic first meeting takes place -- probably in the final of the Tournament of the Americas on Sunday -- neither he nor his celebrated teammate Oscar Schmidt wants the Dream Team to hold back.

"I hope, honestly, that the USA-NBA, All-Pro, All-Universe team will play the best they can," De Souza said at a news conference after Brazil (3-0) qualified for the Olympics by defeating Mexico, 90-87, Monday night.

"I'm not seeing the USA team play their best. They are hiding. They are playing just for fun. I hope in the final that they play their best."

That said, De Souza turned to Schmidt.

"If they are the Dream Team, what are we, Oscar?"

Schmidt put his hand over his microphone.

"If they are the dream team," De Souza continued, "we are the nightmare team."

De Souza, a 6-foot, 6-inch guard, was just having fun -- he later told reporters he wasn't trying to make headlines -- but the Brazilians are, indeed, serious about wanting the U.S. team to be more intense.

"People playing golf, people with sunglasses," De Souza said. "What have they come here for? They came to play basketball. We want to see a 100-point difference. We want to see how good they are.

"But," De Souza added, "watch the nightmare."

Of course, no one seriously expects the United States to lose. ("I think the world will end before that happens," Canada's Bill Wennington said.) The Brazilians simply want to measure their own skills against the players they've revered for so long.

"They are our idols -- Larry Bird is my idol," said Schmidt, a 6-8 guard. "If they can beat us by 50 or 100 points, I don't care. For us, it would be beautiful to see them play their best."

De Souza said of Bird: "He's the same age as I am. He was born Dec. 7. I was born Dec. 4. I know everything about him. I want to play against Larry Bird. He can't say, 'My back's too sore.' I want to play against him."

Schmidt, 33, and DeSouza, 35, are Brazil's answers to Bird and Magic Johnson, not necessarily in their styles, but in their roles as elder statesmen. This might be the last Olympics for Schmidt and DeSouza, and perhaps that's why they were so animated Monday night.

After sitting the entire second half, De Souza returned with 48.5 seconds left to hit the three-pointer that gave Brazil the lead. With 5.9 seconds left, Schmidt made two foul shots -- "They weighed 2 or 3 kilos each," he said -- to seal the victory.

Afterward, Schmidt entered the interview area roaring, "Aaaaahhhh!" He sat down, banged the table twice, then held up four fingers. "That's four Olympics!" he cried, while De Souza and Brazil coach Jose Medalha shook their heads and smiled.

Schmidt scored 43 Monday night. He averaged 42.3 in the 1988 Olympics and a league-leading 38.3 for his club team last season in Italy. But he ranks his 46-point performance against the United States in the 1987 Pan Am Games as the highlight of his career.

Brazil's upset in that game was the spark that ignited the movement to include NBA players on the U.S. Olympic team. Schmidt said it was "the best conquest of our generation, like winning something impossible." Today, he understands the larger meaning as well.

"After that, the U.S. college players had a lot of problems playing internationally," Schmidt said. "They always got good results [first, second or third place]. But, before, they had always won. The word got out. We're proud of that."

In fact, Schmidt is elated that NBA players now form the U.S. opposition. He wasn't joking when he asked reporters, "Who is going to get me their autographs?" He said he wants their signatures for his children.

The respect goes both ways. Most of the U.S. Olympians are familiar with Schmidt, even though he never has played in the NBA. Johnson spoke highly of him Monday night and told a story of how Michigan State tried to recruit him as a teen-ager.

Schmidt declined the offer, and later declined an NBA contract when the New Jersey Nets took him in the sixth round of the 1984 draft. The Nets, he said, offered him a $100,000, no-cut contract. That wasn't enough to persuade him to leave.

The NBA now features several foreign players at higher salaries, a sign of progress for the international game. Schmidt said Brazil is one of the lowest-paid national teams, but he doesn't care. "We play for the honor of our country," he said.

The question now is how Brazil will fare against the United States. De Souza is so excited, he bought a pair of black Air Jordans for $68.70 at the Nike employee store in Beaverton. It might be like preparing a beat-up Ford for the Indianapolis 500, but De Souza can't wait.

The Dream Team is his yardstick.

"I know the distance," he said. "I want to feel the distance."

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