Sean Elliott's Surprising Exclusion From The 1988 Olympic Team

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 23: General view of the Basketball Arena and Olympic rings in the Olympic Park on July 23, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

These 30th Olympic Games mark the 20-year anniversary since the most celebrated basketball roster ever assembled, the Dream Team. Of course, were it not for a disappointing bronze medal finish four years prior, the Dream may never have been a reality.

It's doubtful Sean Elliott's presence at the Seoul Games would have helped the United States to a gold medal finish, even if his Arizona Wildcats had battled the mighty Soviets in the fall of 1987. Still, the exclusion of one of the nation's premiere players from the roster is a noteworthy tidbit from the most forgotten basketball team in American Olympiads.

Few college basketball players left campus with a resume like Elliott's. The first, and arguably biggest superstar of the Lute Olson era, Elliott was a two-time 1st Team All-American.

He took Arizona to its first Final Four. In his senior season, he eclipsed legendary Lew Alcindor as the Pacific 10 Conference's all-time career scoring leader. A glaring omission from the laundry list of accomplishments Elliott checked off while at UA is inclusion on the last Olympic basketball roster made up of collegians.

Elliott was as big as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in the summer of '88, coming off his first All-America nod. He led UA to the Final Four, a Pac-10 championship, and still program-best 35-3 final record. Yet, then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson did not see Elliott fit for his final Olympic roster.

Elliott and Stanford swing man Todd Lichti were both cut during the penultimate eliminations. He struggled initially, but had his best outing during trials just prior to his dismissal.

Thompson told the Associated Press: "Due to the fact we are overloaded with players at their position, regretfully we had to cut Sean and Todd today."

The Olympic team certainly wasn't lacking star power. Danny Manning was a one-man wrecking crew en route to a Kansas national championship the April prior, and in-state rival Mitch Richmond was an All-America gunner for K-State.

David Robinson was a year removed from going No. 1 in the NBA Draft, but still eligible while he fulfilled his Naval Academy obligations. Thompson also had mid-major star and All-American, Bradley's Hersey Hawkins on the team. (Aside: the addition of Hawkins rendered Elliott the sole 1st Teamer able to play -- Michigan's Gary Grant was injured during Olympics Trials -- excluded from Seoul).

Another mid-major product, Central Michigan's Dan Majerle, used his team-leading scoring average at the Seoul Olympics as a launch pad to a successful NBA career.

Indeed, there were memorable names gracing the lineup. But there were also apparent issues.

Interestingly, Thompson's roster featured only one player from a Western program: UNLV swing man Stacey Augmon. Thompson also loaded up on wings and guards. Aside from 7-foot-1 Robinson, the next tallest players were 6-foot-9 power forwards Charles Smith and J.R. Reid. Six-foot-8 Elliott would have been fourth in line.

Despite the lack of size, it wasn't exclusively 7-foot-3 center Arvydas Sabonis who took the Americans to task in the semifinals. Rather, the wing tandem of Rimas Kurtinaitis and Sarunas Marciulionis scorched the US for 47 points.

Elliott likely would not have slowed the Lithuanian tag team -- in fact, his defense was regarded as a reason for his being cut. And that turned into a blessing for UA's career scoring leader.

He told The New York Times just a few months removed from the Games that being cut due to his toughness forced Elliott to refocus his efforts away from the ball.

Elliott would go on to lead UA to a second consecutive conference championship before embarking on a decade-long NBA career that included two All-Star appearances and a title.

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