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U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Trials : The Real David Robinson Surfaces Again

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Times Staff Writer

David Robinson is back in town, or back in shape, or back from wherever he has been.

After starring at the Naval Academy, Robinson had disappeared into the Navy, where the brand of competitive basketball was a little slow. He was a mild disappointment in the World Games in Madrid in 1986, a bigger disappointment on the Pan-Am team that lost to Brazil last year at Indianapolis and clearly out of shape in an outing with the Armed Services team last month.

After that, Olympic Coach John Thompson asked him in to discuss the situation.

“He was concerned with my intensity,” Robinson says. “He’d gotten some bad reports about me and heard a lot of things about my conditioning.

“He wanted me to know nothing is free in this world and that he didn’t have any qualms about cutting me.”

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Said Thompson: “I’ve never been accused of not saying what I feel. But after the meeting, I felt that such a conversation was not necessary. That’s what I didn’t know. I’d never met David.”

Robinson, who had been working as a Naval engineer and traveling, had already requested assignment to Annapolis, where he spent the month before the men’s trials working out under Navy Coach Pete Herrman.

“I went to the Navy,” Robinson said, “and said, ‘If you want me to participate in the Olympics, I can’t make it like this.’ They asked me how I needed to train. It was a mutual decision.”

In the first day’s drills, only Danny Manning could challenge Robinson as the best player on the floor. Robinson shot well, rebounded well, ran the floor, dunked repeatedly and reduced North Carolina’s J.R. Reid to a puddle. Thompson says he is pleased with his ensign, and presumably would now have many qualms about cutting him.

Thompson would like a tall point guard--Bob Knight used 6-foot 5-inch Vern Fleming four years ago--but they’re in short supply here.

Instead, Thompson has a gaggle of candidates who top out at 6-even: Sherman Douglas, B.J. Armstrong, Keith Smart, David Rivers and Pooh Richardson. Purdue’s Everette Stephens, who is 6-2, may have an advantage--if he plays well. Stephens can shoot and defend, although he isn’t generally considered as good a ballhandler as the others.

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Says Thompson: “I’d like a big one, but Muggsy (Bogues, the 5-3 Washington Bullets guard who played in the ’86 World Games) makes me a little leery. He made people adjust to him.

“Height is important because you have to stop jump shooters, but Muggsy played so well. But you can’t take a lot of little people.”

Thompson is very concerned with stopping outside jump shooters. Since the last Olympics, international ball has added a three-point shot, at 20 feet 6 inches, which is nine inches farther out than in college.

Many of the top foreign players are crack outside shots. One of them, Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt, used the three-pointers to gun down the U.S. in the Pan-Ams.

Late Friday afternoon, Thompson’s assistant, George Raveling was overheard telling Clipper Coach Gene Shue, “We need a point guard.”

“I’ve got an answer for you,” said Shue.

“I know what you’re going to say,” said Raveling. “Willie Anderson.”

Anderson is a 6-6 point guard from Georgia who played on the Pan-Am team. He was said to have played well Friday--at the point.

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And an early form chart on the other spots:

CENTER--Robinson. Big battle for the backup spot. Dean Garrett? Maybe even the high school kid, Alonzo Mourning, who dominated Jack Haley Friday, blocking three shots, including a dunk try by Chris Morris.

BIG FORWARD--Manning. Reid could be a force if he plays to form, which isn’t a certainty. A year ago, he was cut in the Pan-Am trials by Denny Crum, and he has been a big disappointment here so far. But Thompson, eager to find bulk, could use J.R.’s 260 pounds. Charles Smith figures to make it, too.

SMALL FORWARD--Chris Morris would seem to have the early lead over Sean Elliott, who still has to rank as the favorite. Or could Manning play here, with Reid or Smith at big forward?

BIG GUARD--Hersey Hawkins, who has had a hot start, over Rex Chapman who is out of the box slowly and Mark Macon, who is struggling. Kansas State’s Mitch Richmond is looking good.

Olympic Trials Notes

John Thompson: “I’m impressed with the kid (6-4 guard Jeff) Martin from Murray State. He’s shot the ball very well. That doesn’t mean he’ll make the team, but a lot of people have whispered to me, ‘Have you seen this kid Martin shoot?’ Everybody’s buzzing about the kid (6-0 guard Greg) Anthony from Vegas because of his quickness. He’s an excellent defensive player.” . . . Latest returns: Only 9,400 tickets have been sold for Sunday’s practice games in Denver’s McNichols Arena. . . . Gary Payton’s medical problem, which sent him home to Oregon Thursday, is an irregular heartbeat. Payton, a 6-3 point guard with the kind of ability that might have given him a chance.

One useful feature of the trials is that players are measured and weighed, rather than listed at their media-guide sizes, which are usually inflated. Thus, David Robinson, heretofore listed at 7-1, 235, is down to 7-0, 226. Danny Manning, once listed at 6-11, is now 6-9. Georgetown recruit Alonzo Mourning, once 6-11 or 6-10 at Indian River High in Chesapeake, Va., is down to 6-9, 230. . . . Kevin Magee, the former UC Irvine player now competing in Israel and invited here, went home with flu. . . . And the Charles Barkley Look-Alike Award goes to Orlando Graham, a 6-6, 253-pounder from Auburn-Montgomery. Golden State Warriors personnel director Jack McMahon told Philadelphia 76ers Coach Jimmy Lynam to sign Graham and pair them up. . . . Today’s scrimmages will be open to all accredited media, unlike Thursday and Friday, during which only eight members of a media pool were allowed to observe the scrimmages.

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