Dream Begins All Over : Basketball: Dream Team II, claiming to be greatest ever, opens against Spain tonight in World Championships.
Young, trash-talking Son of Dream Team, having already nominated itself as the greatest in basketball history, plays its first game of the 1994 World Championships tonight as Coach Don Nelson throws a three-guard lineup at Spain.
Nelson says the unit with 6-foot-7 Reggie Miller at forward plays well together and maintains he didn’t pull the names out of a hat.
Of course, he could beat poor Spain with five guards, which would be a good option if suspense were an objective. However, Son of Dream Team wants to show the world that in this game the big dog still wears the Stars and Stripes and also to prove it’s better than the Real Dream Team.
Several members of this squad say they would beat their elders, with Shaquille O’Neal adding, “Easily.”
Nelson, acknowledging graciously that this is a junior varsity compared with the Michael-Magic-Larry-Charles team that dominated the Barcelona Olympics, has his own harp to play: reminding an NBA increasingly mired in macho slowdowns what fast-break basketball is like.
His U.S. players will press and force the pace. Chuck Daly’s staid Dreamers beat Olympic opponents by an average of 44 points a game, but if they elbowed the occasional Angolan, they didn’t hound teams as Nelson intends to.
The NBA competition committee will soon meet to recommend rules changes. Nelson hopes to preserve his vision of basketball as opposed to, say, Knick Coach Pat Riley’s. “Our scores have come down every year for the last 10 years,” Nelson said recently at the Chicago training camp. “It’s to the point where it’s becoming boring. We’re getting into these 70-point games that are total control.
“Guys pound it inside and take time off the 24-second clock. It’s become so predictable, it’s almost sickening occasionally. Where is the basketball, the things that we have done for years?
“It’s bunk to say the Knicks don’t have offensive players. That’s a bunch of baloney. . . . Take Charles Smith. He could have averaged 20 points and he has averaged 20 points, but he’s been limited to a seven-point scoring average and they’re making him a brute. That’s just an example. It’s so boring.
“Michael Jordan the last three or four years wasn’t driving to the goal as much because he was getting punished. He didn’t want to do that any more. He didn’t want to take that beating.
“There’s been a few of us warning the league in meetings the last four or five years, ‘Hey, this game is headed in the wrong direction.’ They always said, ‘Well, look at the ratings. Look at the popularity. You guys are crazy. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken.’
“Well, now for the first time, they’re starting to take a look at it because they’ve been taking some criticism and rightly so.”
If the cocky Americans can actually walk the walk, this tournament will be a U.S. clinic with the other participants happy to go home with a photo of themselves with O’Neal.
For what it’s worth, here’s a look at the field.
--In Pool A with the Americans:
Spain--A European power in the 1970s, it aged and stumbled to ninth in the Barcelona Olympics two years ago.
Brazil--Hot-shooting Oscar Schmidt and fast-talking Marcel Souza are gone, so this high-spirited, high-scoring team is a memory.
China--Coach Jiang Xingquan says he saw the Dream Team crush opponents “as easily as eating bean curd” and knows what to expect.
--In Pool B:
Croatia--With the late Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja, they played the Dream Team even for 15 minutes of the ’92 Olympic final. But Petrovic died in a car crash last summer.
Australia--Andrew Gaze, borrowed by Seton Hall for a year, is the leading scorer, but NBA scouts want to see 6-10 power forward Mark Bradtke.
Cuba--Athletic but inexperienced at this level.
South Korea--The tournament’s smallest team, it qualified when North Korea dropped out.
--In Pool C:
Canada--Celtic Rick Fox joins 6-10 warhorse Mike Smrek on a well-coached team that should advance.
Russia--A far cry from what it was before the Soviet breakup, since its best players--Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvidas Sabonis--were Lithuanians. In ’92, Marciulionis organized Lithuania’s Olympic entry (with help from the Grateful Dead, who played a benefit), but this time he has been convalescing from a knee injury. Russia was fourth in its own Goodwill Games. NBA scouts are checking out guards Sergei Babkov and Sergei Bazarevich.
Angola--After Charles Barkley elbowed one of them, they went on to finish 10th at Barcelona, upsetting host Spain in what was deemed a miracle.
Argentina--Forward Marcelo Nicola was a second-round draft choice of the Houston Rockets.
Puerto Rico--Won the gold at the Goodwill Games with a veteran team headed by former U.S. collegians such as Jose Ortiz.
Greece--Coach Efthimis Kioumourtzoglou clashed with center Panayotis Fasoulas and went home, leaving the team to assistant Makis Dedrinos. If nothing else, the Greeks still lead the tournament in syllables.
Germany--Detlef Schrempf and Chris Welp aren’t playing, so former Tar Heel Henrik Rodl is their star.
Egypt--Two African teams are guaranteed invitations, but there are few professional leagues on the continent. Egyptian Coach Robert Taylor, a native of Cleveland, says they’re here for the experience.