THEY'RE TRYING TO GET IT TOGETHER : Loose-Knit Group of Local Stars to Challenge Soviet Basketball Team

Bill Peterson stands courtside, taking a mental roll call as San Diego's young basketball players fire off shots.

"(Tony) Clark had a baseball game, but he usually gets here by 7:15," Peterson says. He pauses, and a grin breaks across this face. "At least no one locked themselves in their house tonight."

As if Peterson didn't have enough to lose sleep over. Peterson was referring to a player who said he couldn't get out of his house to attend practice.

"What, you locked yourself in?" Peterson asked, tongue-in-cheek. The same player later told Peterson that he had to miss practice because he was in a fashion show.

And so it goes.

Peterson is coach of the San Diego Select basketball team that will play host to the Soviet junior national team Saturday night at San Diego State's Peterson Gym. And Peterson is wary of what type of glasnost these ambassadors will be trying to spread.

"You're looking at pre-Olympians," Peterson said. "These kids are the top juniors in their country. One of our problems is that I don't think our kids realize they're as good as they are."

Emphasize one of the problems. Others include the Soviets' two 7-foot starters and the fact that this team has two solid months of practice behind it.

San Diego has practiced just six times--only once with everybody present--since selections were made April 27. And its tallest player is San Pasqual sophomore Eric Meek (6-10).

The AAU-Soviet Junior Tour is new to San Diego, but the Soviets have been playing in the United States for 15 years. The two-day San Diego stop is their fourth on an 11-city tour.

The Police Athletic League is the local sponsor. Michael Brunker, the PAL director and former Detroit Piston and San Diego State assistant coach, said the PAL petitioned the AAU in January to land the game.

"Our strength," Brunker said, "was the fact that we had come off a successful Super Bowl, America's Cup and the fact that San Diego was hosting a Russian arts festival."

No stranger to the tour, Brunker coached the Michigan state all-stars to victory in 1974.

"This game is unique," Brunker said, "because 45 cities bid on it, and we were the ones who got it. Only 11 cities were granted this chance. If we do a good job, we'll get it back."

Proceeds from the game will go toward sending children to Junior Olympic basketball games across the country.

While it is a world and athletic superpower they are playing, not a cross-town rival, San Diego team members see the game not as a political event but as a chance to play against some of the top juniors in the world.

"The international play is awesome," said Clark, a Valhalla junior. "You can't get any better competition. I have a chance to label myself in comparison with them."

Said Brunker: "The only better team would be if you got an American all-star team to come in and play."

Clairemont's Ray McDavid said this game is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"Nobody ever thinks you could just go out and play against the Russians," McDavid said. "It's going to be pretty tough, but I'm ready. It's a big thrill to play against them."

Two-sport commitments have forced five players to divide their practice time. It hasn't been easy for for Peterson and assistant coaches Dennis Kane, John Farrell and David Ybarra.

"Getting them together has been a monumental task," Peterson said.

Clark and McDavid are playing baseball, Terrance Hamilton (Patrick Henry) and Joe Temple (Lincoln) are high jumping, and Brooks Barnhard (Escondido) is playing volleyball.

"We get the kids after they've been jumping, blocking and concentrating on hitting a curve ball," Peterson said. "They're minds are bound to wander a little."

Other circumstances--a death in a player's family, a college prep class, injuries and that modeling assignment--have prevented optimum workouts. The coaches therefore have yet to decide on a starting five.

"Every time I get the names of five," Peterson said, "someone doesn't show (at practice). I may just let the first five dressed start."

Attendance at this day's practice is quite good. Of the 15-player roster--Peterson extended it from 12 because of the spring sport obligations--11 are huffing and puffing their way through a two-hour workout.

"(The Soviets) are in a lot better shape than we are," Peterson said. "We wanted to try and out run them, but we're out of shape ourselves, so our running game might be hurting. We'll have to be careful not to run out of gas. We'll really try and use the 30-second clock."

So players wouldn't have to acquaint themselves with a complicated offense, Peterson chose what he described as a "organized, sophisticated street game. We'll take advantage of the fact that our kids can shoot, run and jump."

With many of last season's top scorers in the county on the roster--five of the top 10 made the team--San Diego isn't lacking in the ability to score.

"When you have all-star teams like this," Peterson said, "you're usually dealing with kids who are top scorers. In this game, they're going to have to come out and play some defense and rebound.

"We're trying to tell them to play with one ball, get them to be patient, to set up some screens, to make lots of passes. Against these guys, you won't get a second chance to make a basket."

A victory by San Diego could help raise the caliber of basketball in San Diego.

"If we do well," Clark said, "maybe people around the county will realize that San Diego has some talent."

Said Peterson: "It would be a tremendous accomplishment and good for the area if we could win this game."

Peterson hopes to use as many players as possible, but says he won't sacrifice the game for an individual's chance to play.

"Some of the guys may not play at all," he said. "They know that. We're playing to win."

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