HAVANA — HAVANA -- They soaked their aching bodies in Jacuzzis and watched videos in the privacy of their rooms during their three-night stay at the Mayfair Hotel in Miami. They ate chicken wings at Hooters. They filled their bags with Doritos, Ritz crackers and jars of peanut butter.
They practiced and practiced and practiced.
All this to beat the Bahamas?
The United States men's basketball team hopped aboard the Pan American Games shuttle, returned to Cuba and routed the Bahamas, 116-58, last night at the Sports City Coliseum. The easy victory was preceded by three days of smoldering controversy touched off when the team bailed out of the athletes' village.
"If we're spoiled and arrogant, so be it," said Bill Wall, USA Basketball executive director. "The days of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in the village are over. We're going to stay in the best properties."
While the United States' elite college players enjoyed only the best of service and food and lodging in Miami, others left behind in Havana at the Pan Am Games were grumbling.
"You should rip these guys," wrestler Bruce Baumgartner told a reporter. "These games aren't just about winning a gold medal, they're about making friends and having camaraderie among the athletes."
Apparently, the U.S. men's basketball team is interested in only one thing: winning the gold. After emerging with a 4-0 record in pool play, the United States moves into Monday's seeded quarterfinals against the loser of today's game between Mexico and Uruguay.
"When you're the Yankees, everyone takes a shot at you," Wall said. "Hey, everybody in the hemisphere takes a shot at us. Ask them if they like George Bush."
The 60-minute shuttle flight from Havana to Miami was planned months ago, according to U.S. coach Gene Keady. Pounding a table, Keady said: "I don't know why it is an issue. We just wanted to practice. We want to get a gold."
Was Keady concerned that the bumpy flight could rock his players?
"Kids at this level are always traveling," he said. "It's 90 miles away. A young club would have trouble. These guys are seasoned. They've been through this travel thing before."
The players enjoyed the flights, but said they were befuddled by the controversy.
"We didn't come to Havana to sight-see," said Maryland's Walt Williams, who had 19 points. "We like the people. In Miami, we pretty much stayed in the hotel. The rooms were as nice as any other rooms in any other hotel."
Terry Dehere, who scored a game-high 21 points last night, said: "I took it as a positive thing for us to go back and regroup and get our mind focused."
The team arrived in Havana at 11:15 a.m. yesterday, and by 6:15 p.m. it was beating up on the Bahamas, 18-0. All work and no play in Miami paid off in Havana.
"There were no parties," Keady said. "If there were, I would have sent them home."
The team trained at the University of Miami, enjoying air conditioning and a full complement of baskets. Meanwhile, back in Havana, there weren't even any goals at the practice site, thanks to American Thomas Hill. After Hill opened the tournament by shattering a backboard, officials were forced to scavenge for replacements at the practice gym.
"We didn't leave Cuba because of the living conditions," Keady said. "The kids played together and played hard."
Wall said the controversy was much ado about nothing. The American basketball team always stays at luxury hotels during international tournaments. When the 1987 Pan Am Games were held in Indianapolis, the U.S. team skipped the village and headed straight for a Marriott.
"Every one of these kids is probably going to be a multimillionaire in two years," Wall said. "That is why you can't equate these kids with team handball. I guess you can say we always take care of the kids. When you look back, if we have had a chance to move them out of the village into air-conditioned rooms, we've done that. We flew to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul first class. Of course, we didn't win the gold."