U.S. women's basketball also star-filled

July 30, 1992|By Jan Hubbard | Jan Hubbard,Newsday

BADALONA, Spain -- Although the NBA-dominated men's basketball team has garnered most of the attention at the Barcelona Olympics, there is an enormously talented group of lesser stature that is prepared to win a gold medal for the United States.

It's the U.S. women's basketball team, which is on a hotter Olympic streak than its male counterpart.

The U.S. women open their quest for a third consecutive gold medal today when they play Czechoslovakia at the Sports Palace. Anchoring the United States are six players from the team that won the gold in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea. That was the year the U.S. men had to settle for the bronze.

The women, however, suffered their own setback in the 1991 Pan Am Games, when they were shocked by Cuba and Brazil and were relegated to third place. Until that competition, the women had won 41 consecutive international games and gold medals in two Olympics and two world championships. So, despite their Olympic success, they say they have much to prove.

"We have six players back from the '88 team, so this is a different team than the team last summer," said two-time Olympian Katrina McClain, who went to the University of Georgia. "Last year, we just had two [players from 1988]. It wasn't so much a lack of chemistry. It was just a really young team. We had only two weeks to work out as a team, and that wasn't much to prepare for the Pan Am Games."

The women will be led by Teresa Edwards, who will become the first American basketball player to participate in three Olympics. Edwards, who also went to Georgia, was on the 1984 and 1988 teams. The 5-foot-11 guard is regarded as the finest female player in the world.

"I think the fact that she is the only male or female player to play in three Olympics and possibly win three gold medals is evidence enough," said Olympic coach Theresa Grentz of Rutgers. "She has a fire that burns in her every day. She's the most competitive person I've ever, ever been around. She's just so fierce. If you need her to shoot, she shoots. You need rebounds, she rebounds. She does whatever it takes to win."

Edwards needs only one basket to become the all-time Olympics leader among women in scoring. She has 98 points, one behind former Southern Cal star Cheryl Miller.

McClain, 6-2, already owns an Olympic record. She is the all-time leading rebounder with 52.

Edwards and McClain will have plenty of help. Eleven of the U.S. players play professionally. Only 5-4 guard Suzie McConnell, who went to Penn State, is a non-pro. McConnell is a high school coach in Pittsburgh and has a 20-month-old son.

Grentz says she is thrilled with the talent on the team. There never has been a team with the experience or depth of the current team.

She had hoped to settle on an eight-player rotation but abandoned the idea because the players are too good. When Grentz talks about Dream Team II, she sounds a lot like someone talking about the original.

"This," she said, "could be the team of an era."

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