Marquette Men's Basketball In the Summer Olympics
Aug. 11, 2008
By Michael Wittliff, Marquette Athletics Media Relations
Marquette men's basketball has produced three athletes who have gone on to compete in the Olympic games spanning back over a half-century. Frank McCabe won a gold medal with the United States' 1952 entry, Naismith Award winner Butch Lee competed in the 1976 Olympics and Dwyane Wade is currently helping the perhaps properly-labeled "Redeem Team" in their attempt to bring back the gold medal for the U.S.
The first Marquette basketball player to participate in the Olympics should have been Walter "Whitey" Budrunas (Budrun). A letterwinner at Marquette from 1930-32, Budrun was the team's leading scorer in 1931 (8.8 points/game) and 1932 (8.9 ppg). The highlight of his playing days at Marquette came in February of 1931 when Budrun scored nine points against Grinnell in the game's first 55 seconds. That feat was so shocking at the time that he was featured in a newspaper cartoon by Ripley's "Believe it or Not."
Following his graduation from Marquette, Budrun was contacted by the Lithuanian government to play and coach their national team. Upon reaching the country, Vytautas Budriūnas, as he was known, helped the Lithuanian National Team capture the EuroBasket Championship in 1939. As 1940 neared, Budrun and his teammates prepared for the Olympics in Tokyo and were expected to put up a strong competition.
But an unfortunate turn of events occurred in 1939 that presented a problem to the Lithuanians' plans and effectively ended the chance for Budrun to be Marquette's first basketball Olympian. When Hitler ordered the German advance on Poland in September of 1939, the Lithuanian government decided against sending an Olympic squad to Japan as all of Europe readied for war.
McCabe, a native of Grand Rapids, Minn., became the first Marquette athlete to play Olympic basketball when he played in the 1952 Helsinki games on a front line which featured Basketball Hall of Famers Bob Kurland and Clyde Lovellette.
During the Olympic tournament, McCabe scored a personal-high seven points against Uruguay in the second game and pitched in four points the next day as the Americans downed the Soviet Union, 86-58. The U.S. eventually captured gold on August 2, 1952 when they overcame the attempts of the Soviets to control the ball and won 36-25.
McCabe donned the blue and gold from 1946-49 before playing AAU ball with the Peoria Cats, a team in the NIBL sponsored by Caterpillar Inc. While at Marquette, the 6-foot-8 McCabe served as team captain as a senior, averaging 12.7 points during that season. Playing with the Peoria Caterpillar team, McCabe won three straight AAU national titles from 1952-54 and was named an AAU All-American from 1951-54. This was at a time when many of the country's top basketball players chose to play in the National Industrial Basketball League, of which the Cats were a member, instead of playing professionally.
After leading Marquette to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance during the 1954-55 season, Terry Rand was named as a member of the 1956 United States Olympic team along with Hall of Famers K.C. Jones and Bill Russell. Even though Rand was a member of the Olympic squad, he did not go to Melbourne as budget issues forced the team to send only 10 of its 12 members.
In 1958 the U.S. sent Rand on the first national team to go behind the Iron Curtain when they went to Russia and played the Russian Olympic Team. Rand was also sent by the State Department with the U.S. National Team on a goodwill tour of South America.
Rand is Marquette's third leading rebounder in school history and one of its first All-Americans. In 1956 Rand was also taken in the NBA draft by the Minneapolis Lakers but he decided against playing in the NBA and joined the Denver Truckers of the NIBL where he was able to pursue other career opportunities.
During his time at Marquette Rand's play was lauded by national teammate Russell, when Russell told Chris Edmonds of the Associated Press, "Rand is far and away the best center I've faced in three years of college ball. He's the best jumper and the best all-around player."
After McCabe went to Helsinki in 1952, it was another 24 years until Lee appeared in the 1976 Montreal games wearing Puerto Rican colors. Lee's name is well recognized in Marquette basketball circles as the only MU player to win the Naismith Award when he captured it in 1978 and as the starting point guard on the 1977 NCAA title team.
It would make sense that such a player would have at least received an invitation to tryout for the U.S. Olympic team, but that was not the case. Five Marquette players were invited to tryouts but Lee was not one of them; Lee was eligible because he was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in New York City.
Lee got his chance to show the U.S. Olympic Committee what they had missed out on when Puerto Rico played the U.S. on July 20. The U.S. won the game 95-94, but it was not because of Lee as the MU star torched the Americans for 35 points on 15-of-18 shooting from the field. Lee had a chance to win the game with 18 seconds left but was called for a charge and the Americans were given the ball.
After being drafted tenth overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 1978, Lee played in the NBA for the Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and won a NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers and former MU All-American Jim Chones in 1980.
Current NBA superstar Wade is back in the Olympics in a more prominent position this year after playing a reserve role on the 2004 squad which won the bronze medal. In the United States' first game of the 2008 Olympics against China, Wade led the U.S. in scoring with 19 points in a match touted as the most watched basketball game in the history of the sport. As he continues his quest with the American team to capture the gold medal, Wade hopes to join McCabe as the only MU basketball players to win an Olympic gold medal.
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