US women aim for Olympic basketball heights

Of all the countries who hope to place a women's basketball team in the 1984 Olympics, only the United States and the Soviet Union will have female coaches. They are also the only countries already guaranteed spots in the tournament - the Russians as the defending Olympic champions, the United States as the host nation. Most likely, unless an upset occurs during qualifying tournaments, the remaining positions in the six-team field will be filled by four of the following countries: China, South Korea, Cuba, Canada, Brazil, and Hungary.

Pat Head Summitt of the University of Tennessee, head coach of what will eventually be the 12-woman United States squad, sees her team winning the Olympic gold medal only if her charges are willing to become role players. That would mean sacrificing their offense occasionally to help out more on defense and, under certain conditions, moving to a different position.

''I think with all the exceptional women's basketball talent available in this country that the US will have a great team,'' Summitt explained. ''One thing I'll be looking for during tryouts will be players with flexibility - kids who can play more than one position. Then, if we should get into foul trouble, we'll be able to substitute with people who have already been taught how to adjust to more than one assignment.

''We'll also be trying a lot of different combinations in practice, not only to discover what we can do on defense, but which people are most likely to fit the mold of role players,'' Pat continued. ''Finding stars who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team doesn't worry me, because I know this kind of player is out there and is available.''

Asked to describe what the Soviet women's team might be like in the Olympics, Summitt replied:

''The Russians (under coach Lydia Alexeeva) understand the importance of court discipline and have a great system. Basically they try to do everything by the book, and I know they have extensive films of our best college teams and players in action. They don't overlook anything, and their players are dedicated , don't make many mistakes, and have been together for a long time.

''They also rebound well, get the ball out quickly on the break, are an excellent passing team, and have exceptional height up front,'' the US coach continued. ''For example, both of their starting forwards are 6 ft. 7 in. Nevertheless, the main difference between the Soviets and most women's teams is the size of their center.''

Summitt was referring to 7-2 Iuliyaka Semenova, who looks as though she could throw a pickup truck into a hayloft, or maybe destroy the boardwalk in Atlantic City with her bare hands.

''As opposed to someone like Ann Meyers (a former four-year All-America at UCLA) or USC's Cheryl Miller, I don't classify Semenova as an athlete,'' Summitt said. ''I don't mean that she doesn't have a lot of raw talent. In fact, her presence on the court is what separates the Russians from other teams. But it's like she's been programmed into their system to do only certain things, period.

''Iuliyaka, because of her rebounding skills, powers of intimidation, and ability to get the ball out well on the break is the key to the Soviets' success ,'' Pat continued. ''But she isn't fast or quick, nor is she a leaper. However, I disagree with coaches who question her mobility, becc7p

cause if you get the ball to her near the basket, she'll find a way to do something with it.''

China, which has a 7-foot player of its own, could be troublesome in its Olympic debut if it gets into the tournament. In fact, except for the problem of coping with Semenova, the American coaching staff feels there are several countries, including the United States, whose personnel is just as good as that of the Soviets.

''If we don't get upset ourselves somewhere along the line by looking too far ahead, our best chance of beating the Russians probably is with our consistency and our defense,'' Pat said. ''It would help, of course, if Semenova were to get into foul trouble, which happens to her occasionally and would disrupt some of the things the Russians do best.

''But I don't think it would be very smart on our part to count on anything like that,'' she continued. ''Besides, I like to think that we have the talent and the desire to be the best in the world. While we'll only have about seven weeks of practice as a unit before the Olympics start in late July, that should be enough time if our players come in mentally ready to do what we all know we have to do to win.''

Summitt, who coached in the international circuit last summer, led the US National women's team to a gold medal win over the Soviets in the pre-World University Games. In two other meetings against the Russians, the US lost both games by a total of three points.

While final tryouts for the US women's squad won't be held until April, look for the following players to make the team: Cheryl Miller and Pam McGee of USC; plus former Long Beach star LaTaunya Pollard, and ex-USC All-America Denise Curry. The other selections, at this point, are anybody's guess.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.