What one official labeled as the state's "worst-kept secret" is now official - the Soviet Junior National Team will be making a May 17 stop in Salt Lake City to play an all-star team of Utah high school hoopsters.
The contest, scheduled for the University of Utah's Huntsman Special Events Center, is one of 11 such stops in the United States during the 1989 AAU-Soviet Junior Boys Basketball Tour.The "official" announcement of the Salt Lake City contest was made at a Friday afternoon news conference by officials of the game sponsors. However, reports of the Soviet-Utah junior game have been in the media for several months now.
Also participating Friday afternoon were Emery County's Shawn Bradley, Bingham's Kenneth Roberts, and Cottonwood's Justin Weidauer. The three prep players are confirmed members of the Utah all-star team, with the remainder of the 12-player squad to be selected and announced by next week.
Coaching the Utah team will be Judge Memorial Coach Jim Yerkovich, who will be assisted by Alta Coach Ron Carling and Joel Gardiner, former coach and current athletic director at Mountain View.
Letters were sent recently to some 30 of the state's top high school players, who were asked to respond if they were interested in participating and willing to commit to the practice schedules. Roberts, Weidauer and Bradley - all underclassmen - were the first to respond and be confirmed as participants.
The Soviet team is comprised of its nation's top prospects between the ages of 18 and 20 and is the entry-level program for Soviet Olympic hopefuls.
With U.S. competition comprised of AAU clubs and regional all-star teams, the 11-city Soviet tour begins May 8 in New York City and ends May 22 in Jonesboro, Ark., with other stops slated for Des Moines, Iowa; Bloomington, Ind.; San Diego; Irvine, Calif; Memphis, Tenn.; Seattle; Atlanta; and Norfolk, Va.
While the May 17 game marks its first such appearance in Salt Lake City, the Soviet National Junior Team compiled a 6-4 record in a similar U.S. series last year and a 7-2 mark the previous year.
The May 17 game will be played by international rules. The Utah team will be wearing the home-white uniforms of the University of Utah.
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. game will go on sale Monday at the university's ticket office and at SmithTix locations. Reserved seating is set at $9 and $7, with general admission at $4, with a dollar discount available for reserved seating for students high school-age and younger.
Weidauer, Roberts and Bradley all shared common "once-in-a-lifetime" opinions of playing against their Soviet counterparts.
"Not many opportunities like this come about," said Weidauer. "We've got a lot of talent and it's a good opportunity to see how we match up with them."
Roberts agreed. "They'll be big and they'll be older, so they'll probably be smarter and more experienced."
Said Bradley: "I've always dreamed about playing against other countries, so it's a like a dream of mine come true."
Game sponsors include the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Dept., Gart Brothers, Kall Radio, Salt Lake Tribune and University Park Hotel.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Michael Stewart answered why Salt Lake City was selected as a Soviet Tour site. "We have to say it's with good reason, because nobody does athletics better than this valley."
Mike Runge, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles general manager who represented KALL Radio and coordinated the afternoon briefing, agreed. "I think this is going to point out how great (the state's) basketball is and how comparable we can be with the rest of the country."