Silvia Izquierdo, Associated Press
Former BYU player Ryan Millar anchors the defense on the U.S. volleyball team competing at the Beijing Olympics.

BEIJING — Five members of the United States men's Olympic volleyball team would love to party like it's 1999.

Not that they're big favorites of the Prince pop hit of the 1980s. Rather, that was the year the five enjoyed the spoils of a champion as members of the first BYU men's volleyball team to claim an NCAA crown.

And the five would love to repeat similar successes at a higher international level this summer at the Beijing Olympics.

The U.S. quintet include former BYU players Ryan Millar and Rich Lambourne, Cougar head coach Carl McGown, assistant coach Hugh McCutcheon and volunteer assistant Rob Browning — all a part of the Cougars' inaugural NCAA championship season.

Nearly 10 years later, the roles have changed some — Millar is still manning the middle-blocker position, while Lambourne has had to move from playing outside hitter in college to the defensive-minded libero's spot in order to make the Olympic team.

Also, McGown is now assisting McCutcheon — the latter in his third season as head coach of Team USA and the former helping as a U.S. scout. And Browning, who is the women's volleyball coach at St. Mary's College in California, serves as team leader — the program's equivalent of a director of operations or team liaison during the Games.

"There are quite a few BYU Cougars here," agreed Millar, who has been on all three U.S. Olympic teams after leading BYU to the '99 NCAA title as the collegiate player of the year.

All but Lambourne have been involved with the Olympics previously. "I'm the late-comer to the party," he said of making his Summer Games debut at Beijing.

"He's definitely put in his dues," said Millar of his BYU and now Olympic teammate. "It's a great time for him to show what he's got."

And Lambourne returns the compliments. "We need the experience — his steadiness at that position is phenomenal," he said of Millar. "He's the foundation of our whole blocking defense."

Both players are excited to be under McCutcheon's tutelage and enjoying the U.S. team's successes the past three years in World Cup, World Championship and other international competition. The Americans are coming off a first-ever FIVB World League title in late July.

"Hugh has preached a lot more about the collective whole as a group," said Millar of the tone and tenor of McCutcheon's taking over from former national coach Doug Beal. "It's about having your teammate's back — he's brought more of a team aspect, which is important for what we're trying to achieve."

Lambourne agreed. "He's brought a different, interpersonal approach. As a (U.S.) assistant previously, he had established good relationships. He's more relaxed, more of a go-between who befriended the guys.

"And philosophically, our team is still very similar — that's also good for us with the carryover, with a little bit of a fresher look."

And McGown's involvement as program adviser and Olympics scout is a bonus.

"It's always good to have him and his knowledge of the game around," Lambourne said.

The Americans come into the Beijing Olympics as the world's third-ranked team, behind Brazil and Russia and just ahead of Bulgaria. But Millar admits that recent international successes pale in comparison to the expectations accompanying the current Summer Games spotlight.

"The Olympics are pretty much the pinnacle of what you're trying to achieve every quad (four-year period)," he said, adding "it's the tournament that everybody looks at — it's definitely the one where the whole world is watching.

The United States enjoys a favorable draw, with its Olympic pool including Bulgaria, host China, Venezuela, Japan and Italy.

"The other pool is tougher," said Millar of that six-squad grouping, which includes higher-ranked Brazil and Russia. "But that means our cross-over games will be all the more difficult."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com