By Anthony Olivieri
Jerry Colangelo, take a bow – you helped resurrect USA Basketball, culminating with the 2008 Olympic gold medal.
But you may need “The ‘Brow” if you want to do it again.
There is perspective for all this. If you watched “The Dream Team,” NBATV’s excellent documentary about the 1992 United States Olympic basketball team, you came away with excellent nuggets on Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.
But what I found most interesting was the dynamic of Christian Laettner, the lone college player on a team full of Hall of Famers and A-Listers, who was there almost as if he had won an online auction.
It couldn’t be more different for this summer’s Games, where the United States should add Kentucky’s Anthony Davis to the final roster before he has played a game in the NBA out of necessity.
Simply, Team USA needs size to combat the frontline of Spain in what seems to be an inevitable gold-medal matchup – a rematch of the golden game four years ago.
This version of Team USA is incredibly strong – even with a multitude of injuries – and had spawned some debate about who would win a hypothetical game between the 2012 team and that famed squad from 1992, widely considered the greatest team ever assembled.
However, there should be no debate about adding Davis, an impossibly long, shot-blocking machine who would add depth to a United States frontline that will be without starting center Dwight Howard and could be missing power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Most NBA talent evaluators agree that Davis is a franchise-changing player who will have an immediate impact on the NBA as soon as he enters it.
He also could have a similar impact this summer, despite being a few years removed from being a 6-foot-3 high school guard. That’s the past, and the future holds promise – but why throw away the present?
There are basic similarities between Davis and Laettner, who had just been drafted with the third overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves just before the Olympics after winning consecutive national championships at Duke in perhaps the best four-year college career in history.
Davis played one season in college, led Kentucky to a national title, swept every major award in the process and is expected to be the top pick in Thursday’s NBA draft after one of the best collegiate cameos in memory.
But despite Laettner’s historic days on campus, he carried no weight for that particular American hoops squad, which had big men in abundance. Laettner wasn’t your prototypical 6-foot-11 player, either, but Team USA wasn’t about picking and popping in 1992.
And Laettner admitted that during the documentary.
In the most poignant part of the film, Laettner remembers one of the first practices he experienced with that team – a traveling All-Star squad whose members faced their fiercest competition when they were going against one another.
Laettner remembered a particular play during a practice in which Barkley and Karl Malone engaged in a back-and-forth battle for power-forward supremacy. The battle was unspoken, but nothing needed to be said when Barkley drove baseline and dunked hard on Malone while hanging on the rim.
What was Laettner’s response? Two decades later, he said the following in his interview for the documentary: “I can’t believe I’m a part of this practice.”
And that’s the difference. I don’t see Davis feeling out of place, overwhelmed or in awe if he were to make the final roster of this year’s star-studded team, on which he would provide a truly unique skill-set – sort of a more imposing Kevin Durant. He won’t be the guy who is struggling to stay afloat in the deep end of the pool.
Ask anyone from his college coach, John Calipari, to Kentucky supporter LeBron James, a potential Olympic teammate. The man is ready for the bright lights and big stage.
If you think such an immediate impact is impossible, look at what Kyrie Irving did. After playing just 11 games as a freshman at Duke, he won Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA and was even mentioned as a potential All-Star.
Sure, the United States can win games with or without Davis; a Euro-style lineup with Kevin Love as a face-up four or five and the shot-blocking Tyson Chandler can get them past most teams in international competition as many have suggested.
But when Paul Gasol, Marc Gasol and, wait for it, Serge Ibaka line up in front of the Americans in that expected gold-medal clash, they will need Davis as an interior presence – not just the token college guy as Laettner once was.
Magic Johnson remembered a classic scrimmage between members of the 1992 Dream Team, on which part of a soon-to-be-released book, “Dream Team,” from former Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum is based. McCallum calls it “The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw.”
Jordan, Pippen, Bird, Ewing and Malone.
Magic, Mullin, Robinson, Barkley and Laettner.
Those were the teams for the scrimmage. Magic said in the documentary that, when they were chosen, his side said you can have the college guy.
And if you want an indication as to why Davis should be on this year’s Olympic team, it’s clear that no one would be giving a player of his caliber away – 19-years old or not.
Anthony Olivieri is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each week.