It’s easy to dismiss the Rio Olympics as an apocalyptic landscape filled with the Zika virus, garbage-filled bodies of water and threats of terrorism. It’s also easy to dismiss the USA men’s basketball team as a glorified All-Star team that will inevitably steamroll to a third consecutive gold-medal.
Yet, throughout its history, USA basketball has been a premier showcase of some of the best talent to come on the Big Ten. This team is no different with former Michigan State star Draymond Green playing an important role on the team.
Let’s now take a look back at some of the top Big Ten players and coaches to represent the United States at the Olympics.
Green is the latest player at the Big Ten to have a chance to make a major impact on the USA basketball run to yet another gold medal. As he does for Golden State, Green will be one of the defensive motors for the team in Rio. He also promises to be the energetic, vocal on the floor—even if he won’t be as flashy as his other teammates. Let’s just hope he doesn’t kick anyone below the belt, causing an international incident.
The former Illinois star is in the elite company of basketball players that have won multiple gold medals at the Olympics. Williams was selected for the national team on the gold medal-winning squads in 2008 and 2012. In 2008, he averaged eight points and 2.8 assists per game, while in 2012, he averaged nine points and 4.6 assists.
It may be ancient history now, but at one point in recent NBA history, former Ohio State Buckeye Michael Redd was once an elite three-point shooter in the league. As one of the NBA’s top shooting guards, Redd was selected in 2008 to be part of the "Redeem Team." En route to a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, he averaged 3.1 points per game in a reserve role for the team.
Magic, perhaps the greatest Big Ten basketball player ever, played an instrumental role in the game-changing impact of the "Dream Team." Though he did not make as large an impact as other players on the team, Magic still averaged 9.7 points per game. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics are also significant as it came in the months following Johnson’s retirement after testing positive for HIV.
Prior to a brief stint in the NBA and as a college coach at Iowa, New Mexico and now UCLA, Alford was a decorated player at Indiana. As a 19-year-old sophomore in 1984, he was selected to the USA basketball roster for the Los Angeles Olympics. He averaged 10 points game shooting on 64 percent shooting in the tournament, playing alongside Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin on the gold medal-winning team.
In 1980, the United States chose to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, USA basketball hosted a series of exhibition games against NBA All-Star teams called the "Gold Medal Series." The 1980 men’s basketball team was the youngest team in the history of Olympic basketball. One of the participants on the team was 19-year-old Indiana Hoosiers standout Isaiah Thomas. Throughout the series, he averaged 9.7 points per game as the squad went 5-1.
The legendary Indiana head coach was on the sidelines at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, leading USA basketball to the gold medal. The 1984 squad included Michael Jordan and Knight’s player at Indiana, Steve Alford.