Dave Gavitt, coach of the United States Olympic basketball team, is spending most of June in Europe. He will be touring, scouting and relaxing.

He also will be spending a good deal of time with Mirko Novosel, an old friend who just happens to be the man who coached the Yugoslavian Olympic team in 1976.

That time with Novosel may be extremely important to Gavitt. Although many basketball fans already are anticipating a U.S.-Soviet Union showdown for the gold medal in Moscow, there are many who think Yugoslavia can beat both teams.

"Don't forget it was Yugoslavia, not the Russians, who played for the gold medal in 1976," said Dean Smith, U.S. coach in Montreal. "And they've beaten the Russians the last 12 times they've played them. Even in Moscow, you have to count on them to be tough."

Almost everyone connected with basketball in the U.S. is anticipating a rugged time for the American team in Moscow. The U.S. recaptured its pre-eminent position in international basketball with a march to the gold medal in Montreal. But playing behind the Iron Curtain could make a big difference.

Playing in the Soviet Union will also make it extremely difficult for the U.S. women's team, coached by Sue Gunter of Stephen F. Austin, to upset the awesome Soviet women. The Soviets easily won the 1976 gold medal, despite a game effort by the U.S. women, who finished second.

For both men and women, playing in Moscow will quite possibly but them in the position of being the visiting team playing before a hostile crowd in a championship match with the host team.

"The location is definitely going to make a difference," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who was Smith's assistant in 1976. "I think it helped us quite a bit to play in Montreal in '76. Over there it's going to be a lot tougher for us to win."

Al McGuire, the former Marquette coach who now is an NBC-TV commentator, spent most of the winter telling fans that the U.S. would not win the gold medal in Moscow. He stuck by that statement recently.

"I'm not saying we can't win it," he said. "But if we have to play the Russians in the final, that will be like playing Kentucky, Notre Dame or Marquette on their home court - and any coach can tell you what that's like.

"The thing the Russians and Yugoslavia have going for them is experience. These guys have been together for years. They know each other and they know international basketball. That's important, too.International basketball is to American basketball what softball is to baseball. They're completely different games."

What the U.S. does have going for it is depth in young, raw talent. "If everybody had to put six teams in, we'd win hands down," Smith said.

But only 12 players will be selected next spring by Gavitt, who coached at Providence the last 10 years before becoming athletic director at the end of last season, and the 10-man selection committee.

Harrisonburg High School's 7-foot-3 3/4 Ralph Sampson, who will have this year's Pan American games and a season at the University of Virginia under his belt by the time the Olympic trials roll around, should make the team easily.

"I look upon Ralph as a natural resource for this country as far as the Olympics are concerned." Thomson said. "He just has so much potential you have to figure him to be on the team."

Thompson has two players at Georgetown who will be strogly in the running for slots - forward Craig Shelton and point guard John Duren. The 6-3 Duren made the Pan American team and, although Thompson admits his bias, he said, "I think John is as good as any point guard around."

Other local players with a slot at the team are Albert King, 6-5, from Maryland and Jeff Lamp, also 6-5, who will be a teammate of Sampson's at Virginia.

ACC players dominated Smith's 1976 squad, with four players from his North Carolina team and a total of seven from the conference making the squad. Although the ACC does not figure to be that dominant, it should be well-reepresented in 1980 with Sampson, Lamp, King, Mike Gminski and Eugene Banks from Duke, Mike O'Koren and Al Wood from UNC and Charles (Hawkeye) Whitney, the De Matha graduate from N.C. State, all strong contenders for the team. Gminski and O'Korean are on the Pan Am team.

"Selection is so important," Smith said. "We took a lot of heat for the way we selected our team but I think the results in the Games and the way the players chosen have done in the pros has justified our picks.

"I'm not saying that we absolutely chose the 12 best athletes who showed up for the trials," Smith continued. "I don't think it does you any good to have a player who has scored 35 points a game on your team if he's sulking because he's sitting on the bench.

"We tried to take the players who would give us the best team. I think Steve Sheppard, who only played about two or three minutes a game, had as much to do with our winning the gold medal as anyone because of his hustle and his enthusiasm."

The Smith method, criticized by many right after the '76 trials, is now accepted by most as the best way to go about picking a team.

"Give Dean a lot of credit," McGuire said. "A lot of people were down on him when he picked four of his own players and seven from the ACC. But they did the job. He knew what he was doing all along."

McGuire would also like to see the NBA help out by pushing back its college draft, "so the seniors will be thinking about the Olympics instead of paychecks."

Thompson said he had one final word of advice for Gavitt: "Pray. Playing over there against either Russia or Yugoslavia, he's going to need to pray a lot."

Gunter may need to do some praying, too. The U.S. women appear to be at least as talented as the team that won a silver medal in Montreal. But trying to win the gold in Moscow against a Soviet team anchored by 7-2, 270-pound Ulana Semanova may be an impossible task.

"We're simply outmuscled and outmanned when it comes to playing them," Gunter said of the Soviets. "We think and hope that one of these days the Soviets are going to stumble and we want to be playing them when they do.

"But there's no question that right now the Soviets are the finest women's team in the world. There's no conjecture."

Top women candidates include Carol Blazejowski, a 5-10 Montclair State graduate; 5-9 Ann Meyers, a UCLA alum; Nancy Lieberman, 5-10, of Old Dominion; Jill Rankin, 6-3, of Weyland Baptish, and two local standouts, Tara Heiss, a 5-6 Maryland graduate, and Chris Kirchner, a 6-3 Maryland undergrad. CAPTION: Picture, Ralph Sampson