INDIANAPOLIS, AUG. 21 -- Former Navy all-America David Robinson, the college basketball player of the year for 1986-87, is writing a diary of his experiences for The Washington Post during the Pan American Games. Ensign Robinson is a member of the U.S. basketball team.
Any time you compete in international competition, there is a basic goal: to win a gold medal. But for me, practices have been the athletic highlight of these Pan American Games.
I certainly don't want to sound critical of the other players or teams here, but the practice sessions the U.S. team has are definitely the toughest competition. Practice, in fact, is 2 1/2 hours of highlight film. It's been the most exciting thing because there is so much talent, so many jumpers, so much endless energy.
People have made a big to-do about some of the games being lopsided; I don't know if I'm surprised about that, though. I felt coming into the competition that we should wear teams down because we have so many guys coming off the bench and everybody can play full out for only 20 minutes a game. We should be pounding people.
There are teams that can beat us, however. Brazil scored 130-some points in its semifinal victory and can beat us. Puerto Rico, as we found out in beating them in a close game (85-80) Friday, is also capable of beating us.
But for me, getting to play a big man like Jose Ortiz of Puerto Rico, who is 6 feet 11, is the exception rather than the rule. The teams in Central and South America are more forward oriented, and it's seldom I get to focus on playing a big center. And that's the reason practice is so incredible for me.
No two of the big men on the U.S. team are alike. Playing against Danny Manning, the 6-11 all-America from Kansas, has really opened my eyes and helped improve my game. He makes you much more conscious of passing the ball and playing defense. He has a lot more ways to score than I do. Dean Garrett from Indiana and Pervis Ellison from Louisville also have different styles, and we each seem to be able to bring a different skill to practice that another guy can benefit from.
I discovered in practice that, if I start to be more aware of the whole court, Danny can move around into the lane for some of the most wide-open shots. I'm so used to having the ball, because that's what was required of me at Navy, that it's refreshing -- even a relief -- not to have to score 30 points a game
It's a weird feeling, totally different for my game. Everybody has been talking about my statistics being down, but we have been winning by 30 points. I'm my own worst critic and it has been something that I had to come to terms with.
And when I did, I realized that the contribution here is based on need. As everybody found out in the game against Puerto Rico, I'm the person the team looks to in the final minute or two with the game on the line.
Not having to do as much also has allowed me to concentrate on specific areas rather than just being so shot-oriented. I've been really working on offensive rebounding and passing.
People have asked if we find ourselves looking forward to tougher games, against teams that would push us more. My answer to that is "a little bit." Any team wonders a little just how good it is.
A lot is expected of American basketball, not just this Pan American team but any team that represents the United States. I think, as soon as you're selected, you tend to put similar pressure on yourself. But those kind of expectations are really a compliment.
Even though people sometimes come away from our games saying, "Well, the U.S. team should have beaten that team," I still think they appreciate what we're doing. What they're saying, indirectly, is that we've set a certain standard. Actually, maintaining that standard is probably more difficult than getting there and doing it once. And I think that has to be a credit to the U.S. team.