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US Basketball Head Sees Challenges in Barcelona

ALLOWING National Basketball Association players into the Olympics could lead to a laughably one-sided competition in Barcelona this summer.

"I hope that's the case, but I don't believe it will be," says Dave Gavitt, who, as president of USA Basketball, the sport's national governing body, assumes ultimate responsibility for the United States effort. "I think we will win, and we should win," he adds, "but I do not believe that every game will be a laugher."

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The biggest challenges to the Chuck Daly-coached team, he suspects, could come from Lithuania and Croatia, whose players led the Soviet and Yugoslav squads to the 1988 gold and silver medals, respectively (the US won the bronze).

A quality opponent might benefit from greater familiarity with international rules, the three-point shooting line, and a shorter game (40 minutes vs. 48 minutes for an NBA game).

The pace could be slowed down a bit, too, given a 30-second shooting clock instead of the 24-second NBA model. "A team can bleed the game out a little bit and play a closer game that way," said the basketball boss in the Boston Celtics offices, where he presides as senior executive vice president.

Mr. Gavitt, a lifelong New Englander, gained national prominence as a coach and administrator at Providence (R.I.) College and was the founding father and first commissioner of the highly successful Big East Conference.

In 1980 he was coach of the US men's Olympic team, which stayed home after President Carter's decision to boycott the Moscow Games.

One might assume the US pushed to get pro players in the Olympics, but Gavitt says he cast the US vote against such a measure at an international basketball congress in 1982. The impetus for "opening the doors to let everyone play," he adds, came from the sport's world governing body, the 179-member Fration Internationale de Basketball (FIBA). The initiative was passed in 1989 as a means of ending what Gavitt calls the "hypocrisy" of allowing million-dollar pros from European leagues to compete, but not US pros.

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