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Preseason a Foreign Affair

Basketball: College teams use obscure competition to assess their squads; opponents try to open eyes of scouts.

November 13, 1998|WILLIAM GILDEA | WASHINGTON POST

This is the time, with the college basketball season just beginning, that teams rarely heard of 50 weeks of the year hit the road relentlessly to play a compressed schedule of exhibition games against college teams. These fleeting days add up to a whole season, an ephemeral show time, for those foreign and domestic squads with often exotic-sounding names that help fine-tune the college teams and then fade again to obscurity.

The names have been dominating the results columns recently, usually appearing on the loss side: Korabel Travelers of Ukraine, SKS Pakmet of Poland, Zwolle Dutch Select, Klub Levice of Slovakia and Sakalai Lithuania to name a few; state-side stalwarts include the Delaware Dynamite, the Arkansas Express (with three players who won a national 3-on-3 competition), Brewster Packing, Pella Windows, the Shooting Stars, and the One World All-Stars with a phone number in Stroudsburg, Pa., featuring 10 players from eight foreign countries and a coach from Slovenia.

It can get rough on the road for these giants from other lands and former college players, many hoping an NBA or WNBA scout will see them in what amounts to the wink of a spotlight. Slovakia made it all the way to Evansville, in the lower left corner of Indiana, before losing. The Aussie All-Stars were scheduled by Duke last Saturday night before playing North Carolina Sunday afternoon, losing 108-76 and 90-71 on short rest. What to make of another Australian team, the Geelong Supercats, who were run down Tuesday night by the merciless Kansas Jayhawks, 140-78, before 15,200 roaring partisans?

That same evening, at American University's Bender Arena, Coach Art Perry braced for the coming -of Court Authority, from Richmond. With a 7-4 record, including a one-point victory at George Mason the previous night, Court Authority is one of the few winning teams among the proud road warriors crisscrossing America. The roster included Harold Deane, former Virginia star coming off a season as point guard for the Bank of Sardinia on the island of Sardinia. Court Authority is so deep it split its squad one night and beat both Old Dominion and Navy. Court Authority's vans reportedly were on the way. On a recent late afternoon they had been trapped by gridlock on I-95 and arrived at East Carolina five minutes before game time.

"This is a quality team, well-balanced," said Perry, awaiting the visitors. "You try to schedule teams you want to play," ones that would be helpful in assessing the college squad. Still, Perry added: "I think we need wins. We need to establish a winning attitude and winning environment." AU would see if the older guys could run.

Meanwhile, over at Georgetown's McDonough Gym, the Hoyas women's team took on the Russian national juniors. Like Court Authority, the Russian women had proved to be winners--4-2 on a mixed-bag schedule that included victories over Boston College, Connecticut, the Philadelphia Belles and the Midnight Express in Hampton, Va. One young woman easily stood out -- the 6-foot-8, 20-year-old Maria Stepanova. She joined the Moscow contingent from Phoenix, where she played last season for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury. Even Russians have agents; hers is Boris Lelchitski. He has been interpreting for the team. He works out of Irmo, S.C.

"We are grateful to Chevron for making this trip possible. Otherwise we couldn't have come," said Evgeny Gomelsky, the coach who also coached the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winners in women's basketball for what was then called the Unified team. Ordinarily, preseason exhibition opponents enjoy not even a hint of pampering and usually have to overcome serious obstacles even to get to the games. The players hold jobs. Many travel to meet their team and then keep on traveling with it. They're the visitors every game.

"You're on the road for all of them," said Scott Barker, coach of the Delaware Dynamite, which also plays under the name Delaware Blue Bombers in the United Basketball Alliance, a minor pro league. The Dynamite's record is 0-6, compiled in nine days. Princeton popped three-pointers and back-doored the Dynamite so well that the Dynamite wouldn't have won even if one of its best players hadn't had to stay home and prepare a report for work.

"There's no shame in losing to Princeton because they beat some of the best teams in the country. Playing them is always our pleasure," said Dave Tillman, whose Pennsylvania Sundance All-Stars, like the Dynamite, lost to the Tigers and have an 0-6 record.

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