Legends Spotlight: Jeff Grayer

July 26, 2016

NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in NBA history, but for the next few weeks he turns his focus to those who represented the United States at past Olympic Games and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com.
First up on the list is Jeff Grayer, an All-American at Iowa State who was a member of Team USA at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea. The last US basketball team to be made up of only college players, they lost to the USSR in the semifinals before beating Australia to win a bronze medal. Never 1 to shy away from a challenge, Grayer had 1 of his best games against Brazil as he helped guard 1 of the greatest scorers to ever play the game (Oscar Schmidt). After being selected 13th overall by Milwaukee in the 1988 draft, he spent almost a decade in the NBA before eventually returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach.

Do you remember watching Olympic basketball games when you were growing up? The 1 I remember in particular was the 1984 Games with Michael Jordan/Patrick Ewing playing for Coach Bobby Knight. I vividly remember those games: I was a high school senior at the time and wondered if I would get to participate 4 years later when I would be finishing up college.

You were picked to be a member of Team USA at the 1988 Olympics: how did you find out about your selection, and were you surprised to get chosen? I was not really surprised: I felt that I was having a good year but was very excited to get a tryout. It was a goal I had set for myself and I felt that I was on the right path. My college coach Johnny Orr called me into his office to let me know that I was invited to try out.

What kind of interaction did you have with other American athletes or other non-US basketball players off the court? Korea was quite different from the US so for the most part I hung out with fellow Big 8 guys like Danny Manning (Kansas)/Mitch Richmond (Kansas State), and occasionally with Stacey Augmon. There was an Army base not far from the Olympic Village: the food in Korea was a bit different…so the pizza/hamburger/hot dogs served at the base were very popular!

How weird was it to have a pair of teammate with the same name (Charles D. Smith from Pitt and Charles E. Smith IV from Georgetown)? We ended up calling them Little Charles and Big Charles!

The Olympics that summer were in South Korea: what kind of treatment did the locals give you as a visitor from America? I felt like we were all received with open arms. I was 1 of those guys who stuck to the Village or the base and the Americans definitely looked out for us.

You were 1 of 10 players on the team who averaged at least 6 PPG: do you chalk that up to having a bunch of unselfish teammates or did the coaches emphasize the need for everyone to pass the ball as much as possible? It was a combination of those things. Coach John Thompson stressed from the start that he wanted multi-dimensional guys who played both offense and defense. He looked for well-rounded guys who did a little of everything. We scored a lot of points off of transition based on our defensive intensity.

Everyone on the team was around the same age (20-23): was it all-for-1-and-1-for-all or did the older guys on team like Richmond/David Robinson serve as leaders? We were a collective unit with everyone focused on 1 mission/1 goal. We never talked about it but in addition to winning it for ourselves we also wanted to do it for Coach Thompson.

As a member of team USA you scored 4 PTS in an 82-76 loss to the USSR:
Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career, and do you think that the outcome might have been different if Hersey Hawkins had been healthy? I am sure that Hersey would have definitely scored some points and helped us stretch the defense, which might have changed their strategy, but you have to remember that Arvydas Sabonis was at his best. We had several talented college players who would end up in the NBA but our opponents were already pros: 3-4 of them later came over to the US and had good careers.

The US switched to pro players for the 1992 Olympics: do you think that we will ever go back to using college players? I do not know if we ever will but I would love to see it happen. We have definitely proved the point over the past 20 years with our dominant pro players, but giving an opportunity to the collegiate athletes would be great. Since a lot of the best college talent leaves early it would be challenging to put together a really great amateur team.

After that painful loss how was your team able to stay focused to beat Australia and win the bronze medal? We were definitely devastated by the USSR loss and there was a huge amount of frustration on our part. After the medal ceremony I remember standing with Danny and watching him throw his medal into the nearest body of water! We did not want to end up without a medal after all of our sacrifice that summer so we had a sense of pride to compete at the highest level and end up on the podium.