Angola bent on avoiding rerun of Barcelona rout Memory of Barkley elbow still rubs team wrong way

Atlanta Olympics

July 22, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Their coach got the job a decade ago after being a national war hero. Their most-recognized player found his piece of the spotlight at the 1992 Olympic Games after being elbowed by Charles Barkley. And their best player is nowhere to be found, perhaps back home in Luanda or maybe in Portugal.

The Angolan national basketball team is once again at the Olympic Games, bringing memories of Barcelona into tonight's mis-matchup against another Dream Team at the Georgia Dome (10 p.m.). "It will be something special for us," said Justino Victoriano, a 22-year-old forward, "and something very difficult."

Victoriano now lives in Bloomington, Ind., where he takes courses in math and English that he hopes someday will allow him to continue his education at an American university and, perhaps, help him earn a college basketball scholarship. But four years ago, Victoriano was watching his countrymen take it on the chin -- and in Herlander Coimbra's case, the chest -- from Barkley and the original Dream Team.

"If he does that to me, I will do it back to him," Victoriano said, motioning with his left elbow. "It was a stupid gesture."

Down the narrow hallway in the basement of the Morehouse College gymnasium, where the Angolans had lost a heartbreaking opening game to China on Saturday afternoon, Coimbra was being surrounded by American reporters wanting to know how his life has changed since getting 'bowed by Barkley in Barcelona.

"A lot of these people recognize me on the street," said Coimbra (pronounced Quim-bra), a skinny 6-foot-6 forward. "It's not a great way to be famous. Sometimes it's good, but most times it's bad. I have my identity. I have my pride."

While Barkley has made repeated jokes about the incident and about his reputation for getting into altercations with foreign players -- he hit an Australian guard during the Dream Team's pre-Olympic tour earlier this month -- the Angolans do not treat the incident of four years ago with the same levity.

Vladmiro Romero, the team's coach, said that while he respects Barkley's playing talents, the player's character does not quite match up. "We don't teach our players to play that way," said Romero, who has won four African championships while coaching Angola. "And I don't think he [Barkley] has to play that way."

If the incident with Barkley made Coimbra something of a national celebrity back home, playing in the Olympic Games four years ago spurred an interest in Luanda, the capital of the country on the southwest coast of Africa. There are 1.5 million people in Luanda, and most grew up playing soccer or volleyball in school. Now basketball has been added to the mix.

"Now you see the kids playing all the time," said Romero. "There are many baskets in the streets."

There is not much money to be made playing basketball in Angola, so many of the national team members go elsewhere or work a regular job at home. Because they are comfortable with the language, the better players often wind up in Portugal. Some make as much as $30,000 a year, the kind of money Barkley and his Dream Teammates can earn in one-half of one NBA game. Or maybe a quarter.

"I would like to be rich like that," Coimbra said with a laugh.

The Angolans came here hoping they'd take some confidence from their opening game against China into their rematch with the Americans. But after blowing an early 13-point lead and losing, 70-67, in the last minute, Angola only takes confusion into its next game. Much of it centers around Angola's best player, 6-6 forward Jean-Jacques Conceicao. There were reports last week that Conceicao was with his pregnant wife in Portugal, awaiting the birth of their child.

But even Romero isn't sure. He spoke with Conceicao last Tuesday, but he hasn't heard from him since. "I would like to know, too," the coach said with a shrug. "He was supposed to be with the team. I don't know where he is."

Not that it would matter. With the way the Dream Team struggled in its opening game against Argentina, leading by only two points at halftime before pulling away to a 96-68 victory Saturday night, you would expect the Americans to turn it up against the Angolans.

"I hope we can do better than the last time," said Coimbra, recalling the 116-48 loss to the United States in Barcelona. "But they have a lot of great players."

Coimbra is also hoping to stay out of the spotlight, not to mention out of the way of any flying elbows from Barkley.

"I am famous enough," he said with a smile.

Yawners?

The Dream Team won its opener Saturday night over Argentina, 96-68, but it was a smaller margin of victory than any of the original Dream Team's wins four years ago in Barcelona, and the first point total under 100 by either of the Olympic teams composed of pros.

1992 results:

Opp. .... .... Score .... .... Margin

Angola ... ... 116-48 ... .... 68

Croatia ... .. 103-70 ... .... 33

Germany ... .. 111-68 ... .... 43

Brazil ... ... 127-83 ... .... 44

Spain ... .... 122-81 ... .... 41

Puerto Rico .. 115-77 .... ... 38

fTC Lithuania .... 127-76 .... ... 51

Croatia ...... 117-85 .... ... 32

Avg. margin of victory: 43.75

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