YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Australia Just Another Bump for Dream Team

Basketball: It gets physical, but U.S. men roll, 101-73, to move into Saturday's gold-medal game against Yugoslavia.


ATLANTA — Anyone get the number of that Mailman?

One began to sense the Australians were an improvement over cringing Croatians and loafing Lithuanians when their little blond tyke, Shane Heal, stepped in front of a fast-moving Karl Malone to draw a charge. Eyes widened on the U.S. bench where no one had seen anything like it.

"That little kid's tough," said Charles Barkley after Heal was dug out of the floor and the Americans finished Thursday night's 101-73 rout, sending them into the finals against Yugoslavia.

"I hope he comes and plays in our league, but he doesn't have good common sense. He'd fit in with those guys like J.R. Rider. You take a charge on Karl, you know you're not all there."

Said Heal of Malone: "Like a rock. He's a big man, isn't he?"

Welcome to the big time, mate. This was one of those collisions of cultures, literally, the famous, rich American superstars against the unheralded, overmatched Australians who hadn't learned to be cool like the Croats and Lithuanians, who rested their stars and tanked their games with the Dream Team. To the Aussies, it was just basketball and they were supposed to try.

"We had nothing to lose," Heal said. "The greatest optimist in the world, my mum, wouldn't have picked us to win this game."

The Aussies gained the privilege of this beating with the biggest win in their basketball history, beating Croatia which put up a typically limp effort in the quarterfinals. Croat star Dino Radja played only four minutes of the second half. Asked about it later, he shrugged it off. "C.D.," he said. "Coach's decision."

Australia was upset at missing the Dream Team at Barcelona--"People might think we're masochists," said Coach Barry Barnes--but met this American team in an exhibition shortly before the Games. Heal scored 28 points, hitting eight three-point baskets. Barkley paid him the compliment of bowling him over after he fired one off from behind the arc.

Heal was asked later if playing the U.S. players made them seem less awesome.

"We've grown up watching all the guys on the Dream Team play," he said. "To get out there and realize that they are human was a good thing.

"The bad thing was that we did play very well and lost by 28."

The Aussies are a muscular bunch, themselves, although with Luc Longley sidelined because of ankle surgery, their front line tops out at 6-9, 6-6, 6-6. They came into Thursday's game shooting 41% on three-pointers and let more fly.

With Andrew Gaze, the former Seton Hall star, scoring 21 points by halftime, they made it a game for a while, taking a six-point lead, the largest deficit for the Americans here.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a long while. Pretty soon, the bigger, stronger and faster U.S. team got to them and the usual second-half garbage time ensued.

Afterward, Barkley, who led the U.S. with 24 points and seemed to spend the second half running fastbreaks at Heal to see if he'd step in front of him too, hugged the 6-foot, 170-pound Aussie.

"He's a good bloke," Heal said. "After the game, he said he hopes I get a game in the NBA. I thought that was great of him because a player of his stature didn't have to say anything."

Heal finished with 19 points, making four more three-point baskets against some of the NBA's toughest defensive guards. He has a tryout coming up with the Minnesota Timberwolves and learned many other things about NBA players.

"Gary Payton never shuts up," Heal said. "He speaks more trash than any man I've ever heard in the history of sport. It's not worth repeating. He just spoke trash the whole game and didn't let up. And that's disappointing because he was probably the only player on their team that didn't act as classy as what the rest of them did, I thought."

Sounds like he's got the basics down. Don't step in front of Mailmen. Wear earplugs when Payton is around.

"We stayed as close as we did, considering the size they are and the money they earn," Heal said, laughing.

"It doesn't mean anything that Shaquille O'Neal only makes $120 million. That's some amazing stuff, these guys and what they earn and how big it is over here in the States. But when you get out there on the court, it means nothing. Except when they go home, they can afford what they want."

He passed the course and survived the night. Good luck in Minnesota.

Los Angeles Times Articles