MANILA, Philippines - Meralco skills coach Alton Lister, a 16-year NBA veteran, yesterday hesitated to guarantee a US gold medal finish in basketball at the London Olympics but said he’s 99.9 percent sure the Americans will get the job done because the world’s best players are on the team.
“It’s tough to beat the US with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James,” said Lister. “But with other countries enlisting NBA players, the gap is closing. What made the ’92 Dream Team the best ever was they had a deep bench which I think is the key to staying competitive in playing every day like they do in the Olympics. I’m old school so I like the ’92 team over this year’s team. That’s open to debate though. Once this year’s US team gets the gold, then we can discuss which team was better.”
In London, 12 countries will slug it out for the gold medal in men’s basketball. The competitions begin July 28 and end Aug. 12. Games will be held at the 12,000-seat Basketball Arena, north of the Olympic Park, and the O2 Arena, renamed the North Greenwich Arena, the venue for the first NBA game played in Europe – New Jersey against Toronto last year. The 12 countries are Argentina, France, Lithuania, Nigeria, Tunisia and the US in Group A and Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia and Spain in Group B.
Lister, 53, would’ve played at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 but the Free World boycott kept him out of the Summer Games. The US team would’ve been coached by Dave Gavitt and Larry Brown with a cast made up of Isiah Thomas, Buck Williams, Sam Bowie, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Al Wood, Darnell Valentine, Rodney McCray, Danny Vranes, Bill Hanzlik, Michael Brooks and Lister.
“I was a junior at Arizona State at the time and went through tryouts at the University of Kentucky and hard training in Colorado Springs,” said Lister. “I was excited for the chance to bring the gold back to the US. Then came the decision to boycott which was anti-climactic. We went from a high to a low. Instead of playing in Moscow, we did a six-city US tour playing against NBA players and the last game was in North Carolina featuring our team against the 1976 team. That was called the gold medal series.”
Lister enjoyed a 16-year NBA career with Milwaukee, Seattle, Golden State, Boston and Portland and retired in 1997-98. He was an assistant coach with Atlanta when Meralco import Mario West played for the Hawks.
Lister said he loves the Philippines and plans to settle here for good with Fil-Am wife Nova and their 8-month-old daughter Avery. “I love it in the Philippines,” he said. “I love my job in the PBA. Finishing the season with back-to-back wins in the semis showed Meralco’s character, battling even if we were already out of contention. We made our first semis and coach Ryan (Gregorio) has set us in the right direction.”
Because of the PBA’s 10-month schedule, Lister is not inclined to return to the NBA. “It’s all about being seen, whom you know and talking to the right people to get into the NBA as a coach, scout or whatever,” he said. “This is my fourth year in the Philippines and I’m hoping to be able to stay longer working in the PBA. At least once a year, I visit my kids in the US.”
Lister’s job as Meralco skills coach is full-time. “I work with guys who play three, four and five, basically the bigs,” he said. “Take Asi Taulava. He shows up an hour before 9 a.m. practice everyday and we do drills. Hard work is the key. I also work with Reynel (Hugnatan), Dennis (Daa), Jason (Ballesteros), Jay-R (Reyes) and Gilbert (Bulawan). We do skills work to get them ready for when coach Ryan calls.”
Lister has four children in the US. Two of them, Alton, Jr. or A. J., 16 and Alexa, 14, were recently in Manila for a three-week visit. A. J. is 6-7, wears a size 17 shoe, has a 6-9 1/2 wingspan and weighs about 155 pounds He’s an incoming high school junior, cut from the same mold as his father. Alexa is 6-2 1/2 and plays volleyball. Both are relocating from Serra High in Boulder City, Nevada, to California this year with their mother Elaine.
“A. J.’s body is built for basketball,” said Lister. “I worked with him on the court for an hour every night during his visit. I want to develop him as an all-around player who can post up, face the basket, put the ball on the floor and handle. I see him growing up to seven feet like me. The future is wide open for him. At his age, he’s way ahead of how I was. I’d like to find out how much interest there is for him to play in Division I but A. J. and Alexa may enroll in a Philippine school and play here. I miss them a lot and wish I could mentor them closely as they grow up.” Lister’s other children in the US are JRoss, 22, and Amari, 7.