Editors Note: In case you missed it. A link to Part I
Last week we looked at the 1992 US Olympic team, had it existed outside of The Dream Team. Today we look at how 1996 would break down. 1992 might have been one of the most dominant college based Olympic teams ever. Heck, here’s the short list:
1984: MJ, Ewing, Mullin, Steve Alford, Wayman Tisdale, but also so really, really odd choices.
1960: Oscar, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy and a host of solid role players.
1976: Adrian Dantley, Phil Ford, Walter Davis, Quinn Bucknor, Scott May. Solid lineup and rotation, heavy on the wing though.
Without breaking it down in detail like these are, a 1980 team might look like this:
Joe Barry Carroll, Kevin McHale, Buck Williams, Tom Chambers, Mark Aguirre, Orlando Woolridge, Kelly Tripucka, Kiki Vandeweghe, Andrew Toney, Ronnie Lester, Darnell Valentine, Isiah Thomas, Darrell Griffith
That team is one person heavy, and I couldn’t decide on whom to cut. McHale and Zeke are hall of famers. Everyone but Griffith, Woolridge, Lester and Valentine were all stars at least once, and Griffith and Woolridge were among the best college players in the game at that time (Griffith #2 overall pick in 1980, Woolridge #6 overall in 1981). That team has a dynamite post game, tremendous outside shooting, tremendous point guard play, can play big or small, and can run anyone off the court. The only real flaw is a lack of defensive stopper at the small forward position, but you could easily ask any combination of Aguirre, Woolridge, Tripucka and Kiki to just outscore their position.
(Edit: As reader JB points out below, Ralph Sampson would have been the starting C on this team. Sampson goes on the team and the four SFs are fighting for 2 spots. Mercy)
You know, Zeke might have a bigger complaint against Jimmy Carter than he does against the group of people who left him off the Dream Team.
But on to our next non-Dream Team. 1996 gives us, maybe, the most bizarrely balanced college team that the Olympics would have ever seen. Like last time, we’ll have a college head coach, and a tryout camp with up to 30 invitations.
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim. This is a very, very difficult choice. Rick Pitino might have been the obvious choice, but the USOC could definitely see giving a long time favorite like Boeheim the spot (especially after he works as an assistant to Coach K in 1992. Because of the Pitino situation, it’s safe to assume the assistant coaching staff is Boeheim’s Syracuse staff, and no other head coaches like Boeheim was in 1992.
First, a note on how decided on which players to invite to my made up Olympic tryouts. I tried to find a balance of what the college and amateur basketball scene looked like around June of the Olympic year. We have a couple of resources available, NBA drafts, college basketball All American and player of the year votings, etc. I skewed the 1992 and 1996 teams a little more to the upperclassmen, excepting where the obvious choices were going to be made (think Shaq in 1992, some of the choices below). Stats were considered to a point, but rather to focus on what players did well. In 1992, for example, there was a lack of outside shooting on the wings, which gave Allan Houston the edge, in my mind, over the other backup SGs. A different problem arises in 2000, and you’ll see the adjustments in that column. Without further wait…
1996 US Olympic Tryout Camp Invites:
Centers: Marcus Camby (UMass), Tim Duncan (Wake Forest), Othella Harrington (Georgetown), Erick Dampier (Mississippi State), Todd Fuller (NC State), Adonal Foyle (Colgate)
Forwards: Walter McCarty (Kentucky), John Wallace (Syracuse), Keith Van Horn (Utah), Roy Rogers (Alabama), Raef LaFrentz (Kansas), Brian Evans (Indiana), Charles O’Bannon (UCLA), Jerald Honeycutt (Tulane), Ron Mercer (Kentucky), Austin Croshere (Providence), Dontae Jones (Mississippi State), Antoine Walker (Kentucky)
Guards: Kerry Kittles (Villanova), Allen Iverson (Georgetown), Ray Allen (Connecticut), Jacques Vaughn (Kansas), Jeff McInnis (UNC), Tony Delk (Kentucky), Drew Barry (Georgia Tech), Stephon Marbury (Georgia Tech), Derek Anderson (Kentucky), Brevin Knight (Stanford), Derek Fisher (Arkansas-Little Rock)
That’s 29 invites. For the 30th invite, I had a really strong list of guys I wanted to add: Malik Rose, Jason Sasser, Travis Knight, Mark Pope, Shandon Anderson. But in the end, I decided that the 30th invite would go to a high school player who had a lot of buzz, especially going into the draft: Kobe Bryant.
Like the 1992 team, the 1996 team has a solid nucleus that won’t have to fight too hard to make the team: Camby and Duncan at center, able to play man defense against bigger centers and anchor a 2-3 zone should Boeheim decide to push that in international competition. Keith Van Horn has a forward spot locked down, a nice inside-outside combo player who can stretch the defense. A perfect international player, really. Allen and Kittles were probably the best wing players at this time, and complement each other nicely, Allen a deadly outside shooter, Kittles a very good slash and kick player. Wallace was a tremendous player coming off a strong 1996 year and probably doesn’t have to fight too hard with his coach getting an important say. McCarty was the best senior on the Kentucky team and was more versatile at the time than any of the other Kentucky players. His size and ability to play down low puts him on the team.
The point guard and rest of the wings is a deep but flawed group. Iverson, of course, is an easy choice, but is he a point guard or shooting guard? I think Vaughn and McInnis separate themselves as the top two true point guards and get spots on the team. So we’ve got a solid ten man start:
C: Duncan/Camby, F: Van Horn/Wallace/McCarty/Kittles, G: Allen/Iverson/Vaughn/McInnis.
That leaves two spots and three more for the traveling pre-Olympic team. This team is deep with tremendous flexibility between positions. Duncan/Camby is interchangeable and able to carry this team offensively down low and defensively in either man to man or zone. They might be a little soft if they don’t play together or if there’s foul trouble, so another center isn’t a terrible choice. And I’m picking an upset, as Adonal Foyle’s defense and shot blocking give him the edge over the others. Foyle was one of the best shot blockers in college basketball. If he’s asked to just give the team 5 minutes a half as a shot blocker in the 2-3 zone, or with Camby/Duncan to put a big lineup out there, they’d have the paint locked down.
The second spot goes to a wing player and really it’s a battle between Evans (bigger body with an outside shot), Walker/Mercer/Anderson (off the National Championship team who bring defense and scoring) and Rogers (another guy who can bang). The team is light on outside shooting (Allen the only really good shooter, Van Horn solid, Iverson and the Point Guards shaky). I think that gives Evans the edge, especially as a guy who can come in should Van Horn’s shot be off. Anderson and Walker make the traveling team along with Rogers as the last three cuts.
I have no idea what Bryant would have done with the camp invite, but I think he would have risen to the challenge and made a memorable impression. Whether that would have swayed anyone besides Jerry West to take a chance on him is a mystery though.
Final Roster: Duncan/Camby/Foyle, Van Horn/Wallace/McCarty/Evans, Kittles/Allen/Iverson/Vaughn/McInnis.
How would they fair? 1996 was still a transition year in international basketball. The Soviet bloc countries were solid, but they were just parts of what would have been a strong Soviet team. Lithuania won the bronze medal, but under the old rules loses Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis from that team, though they still have a number of players who played on both the Soviet and Lithuanian Olympic teams in 1988 and 1992. Croatia (who was upset by Australia in the medal rounds) is gutted: Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Stojko Vrankovic, and Zan Tabak are all in the NBA by 1996. I can’t see a team that lost to the United States, Lithuania and Australia lose all those players and reverse any of those decisions. Yugoslavia loses Vlade Divac, and Sasha Danilovic, but still has a solid core of European professional players; the silver medal is still theres.
For the first time, we see the start of a non-Brazil South American team rising up. Argentina only featured future pro Fabricio Oberto in 1996, but by the 1998 World Championships, Manu Ginobli and Pepe Sanchez were on the team, and though they didn’t qualify for the 2000 Olympics, the 2002 World Championships team include Oberto, Ginobli, Sanchez and Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni. Greece and Brazil were going in opposite directions, Greece laying the foundation for teams that would perform well in the Worlds and European tournaments, Brazil trying to send off the legendary Oscar Schmidt with a medal.
There’s no doubt, to me, that the United States would win a gold medal with this team, in as easy a fashion as the team of pros did.