The 1980 United States Olympic basketball squad has speed, enormous quickness , loads of firepower, and three experienced coaches in Dave Gavitt of Providence (the head man), Larry Brown of UCLA, and Dee Rowe of the University of Connecticut.
But with President Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympics in force, this year's US team did not attract the heavy number of top-notch college seniors that it generally does. In fact, three US players (Sam Bowie of Kentucky, Isiah Thomas of Indiana, and Rod McCray of NCAA Champion Louisville) were freshmen last season.
Youthful enthusiasm and intensity made up for a lack of experience during the just-completed "Gold Medal" series, in which the Olympians won four of five games against a group of pro stars. A constantly changing mixture of National Basketball Association players donated their services, minus expenses, to challenge the Olympic squad in a week-long tour that began in Los Angeles and concluded in Indianapolis after stops in Phoenix, ariz.; Seattle; and New York.
A final game for the Olympians will be played Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., against the 1976 US Olympic squad that won the gold medal in Montreal.
"Under normal conditions, half the kids on this year's US team wouldn't have made the squad," said Paul Silas, the new coach of the NBA's San Diego Clippers. Silas, assigned by the league to do a little advance scouting, intended no criticism by his remarks. They simply were an acknowledgement that several college seniors, including Joe Barry Carroll, Darrell Griffith, Kyle Macy, and Kevin McHale, bypassed the Olympic opportunity with their pro careers in mind.
Asked how he thought the US team would have done in the Olympics if it had gone to Moscow, Brown replied: "It's difficult to predict something like that because of the age of this team, which is the youn gest the United States has ever put together. Maybe it would have been a little awed by the situation over there. I don't know; kids have a way of maturing overnight sometimes.
"Everybody talks about how strong the Russians are, but Dave [Gavitt], who has contacts over there, told me that Yugoslavia has beaten the Soviets 13 of the last 14 times they played. I know one thing: It wouldn't have been easy for us, and basically we have only average height as a team."
Gavitt, Brown, and Rowe, all of whom like players who can get out and run on the break, have obviously put together a team that can shoot. It twice scored in the 90s, something the NBA never did in the series.
Admittedly few of the NBA players were in shape, but they were only 40-minute games (as opposed to the 48 played in the pros); zone defenses were allowed; and there was a 30-second shooting clock. Still, the ball didn't get into the Olympians' basket by itself.
"Considering that we had only been together for two weeks as a team, I thought we played pretty well on defense," Gavitt said. "We lost some battles on the boards, but at the same time you have to remember that we were playing against pros. Overall we were pleased with what we saw." His team's four victories were by scores of 94-87, 97-66, 77-75, and 82-76, with the lone defeat a 78-76 cliffhanger.
Gavitt's starters have been 7 ft. 1 in. Sam Bowie of Kentucky at center; 6-7 Michael Brooks of La Salle (the team's leading scorer) and Mark Aguirre of DePaul at forward; plus Indiana's Isiah thomas and Rolando Blackman of Kansas State at guard.
Backing up Bowie at center is 6-10 Alton Lister of Arizona State. The reserve forwards are Rod McCray of Louisville, Dan Vranes of Utah, Buck Williams of Maryland, and Bill Hanzlik of Notre Dame.
Rounding out the back court are Darnell Valentine of Kansas and Al Wood of North Carolina. The only seniors on the team are Hanzlik and Brooks.
Aguirre, who led DePaul to a 26-1 record last season and a No. 1 national ranking before being upset by UCLA in the NCAA regional playoffs, has been among the nation's best offensive players the last two years. Mark is a power forward who could have gone into the NBA draft this year under its hardship rule, but will play one more season for Ray Meyer's Blue Demons instead.
Bowie, coming off a season in which he averaged almost 13 points and 8 rebounds a game, looks like a future first-round NBA draft choice. His father, Ben, once played with the Harlem Magicians.
After the Team's final game, the 1980 squad goes to Washington, where it will be honored in special ceremonies at the White House and given a wardrobe of brandname sports clothes.