STAR-BULLETIN / 2000
Former UH standout Clay Stanley is looking to help lead the U.S. to a medal in Beijing.
Medal in Beijing tall order for Stanley
He can take over a match. He's done it before.
Seventh in a series by staff writer Cindy Luis profiling the Islands' athletes competing in next month's Beijing Games.
Clay Stanley once put down 50 kills. That was nine years ago when helping Hawaii eliminate rival UCLA in the league playoffs.
Stanley has only gotten better since 1999. And so too, he hopes, has the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball team.
The 6-foot-9 opposite would like to help put his team on the podium for a medal, just as he did last month when Team USA won its first World League title.
Former UH standout is confident U.S. will return to the medal stand in 2008
The momentum is there for the U.S., which hasn't won Olympic gold since doubling up in 1984 and '88. At 2004 in Athens, the finish was a disappointing fourth, slipping off the medal stand after a stunning sweep by Russia in the bronze-medal match.
"I think we have a better team this time," the 30-year-old Stanley said. "We've been together longer, know each other better.
"China should be interesting. It's easier for me, having been there (in the Olympics) before. I know what to expect. It's a wonderful experience for me and my family."
Stanley, who still goes by the nickname "Bird," expects to have about 15 friends and family members in attendance, including his father Jon, a two-time Olympian (1968, '72). The two became the first father-son duo in USA Volleyball history when Clay competed in Athens.
» Name: Clay Stanley
» Birthdate: Jan. 20, 1978
» High school: Kaiser (1996)
» College: Hawaii (1997, '99-2000)
» Hometown: Honolulu
» Position: Opposite
» Olympics: Second (2004)
» Competition dates: Aug. 10-24
» Career highlights: Team's leading scorer at the 2004 Athens Games ... Top server at the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 NORCECA Olympic Qualifier, which the U.S. won to earn a berth in Beijing ... Had a school-record 50 kills against UCLA in 1999 and tied the UH single-season record for aces (54) in 2000.
» Fun fact: His father, Jon, was on the 1968 Olympic team. In 2004, Jon and Clay became the first father-son duo to play Olympic volleyball for the U.S. His mother, Sandra, was on the Canadian Olympic team. Both parents are in their respective country's Hall of Fame for volleyball.
» Tomorrow: Bryan Clay, decathlon
Jon Stanley is missing some of the 40th reunion festivities for the 1968 U.S. Olympic team when traveling to Beijing.
"Forty years do go quickly," said Stanley, a U.S. Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee. "The four years since Athens have gone quickly."
As for the U.S. chances later this month, "I think this is their year," Stanley said. "They've got the experience, they've played well in the bigger matches.
"It is nerve-wracking to watch Clay. I want him to do well. But so far, so good. He's done well, been able to play big in the big games."
None bigger recently than last Sunday's World League final against Serbia in Rio de Janeiro. At 21-21 in the fourth set, Clay Stanley put down the final three U.S. kills for match point at 24-22; a Serbian hitting error gave the Americans a 26-24, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22 victory.
The key to Olympic success begins with next week's pool play. The U.S., ranked third, opens Sunday with Venezuela, followed by Italy, Bulgaria, China and Japan.
It's considered the weaker pool but, as the U.S. found out two weeks ago when losing to No. 4 Bulgaria, anything can happen. However, winning the World League - and the $1 million prize money - is a boost.
"Hopefully we can carry the momentum into the Olympics," U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "We played well but it wasn't our best volleyball, which is optimistic. We need to play with a little more discipline.
"Our goal is to play our best volleyball we're capable of playing. If we do that, we're capable of beating any team in the world. I like our team. We're making strides at the right time."
McCutcheon credited Stanley for some of the success.
"I thought Clay did a nice job in Brazil, particularly from the service line," McCutcheon said. "He always seems to figure it out in the big matches. He's becoming a more complete, mature player. He's a very good right-side blocker and he certainly can score points."
Stanley was the team's leading scorer in Athens, fifth overall, with 110 points, ranking second in aces (17). He also was named the top server at the 2008 NORCECA Olympic Qualifier, which the U.S. won to qualify for the Beijing Games.
Stanley, who is playing professionally in Kazan, Russia, hopes to continue his Olympic career through 2012.
"That's my goal, to play as long as I can," he said. "I enjoy playing and I want to keep doing what I enjoy.
"I'm very proud to follow in my dad's footsteps. It's something special that we share and it's a good feeling inside to know you're doing what your dad did, especially at this level."
If there has been a disappointment in his U.S career, it's been the lack of growth in the appreciation of his sport in America. The crowds are much bigger internationally than domestically.
"I don't know if it will ever be a big sport in America," Stanley said. "Maybe it's a lack of promotion. It has been kind of a letdown after playing at UH, where it's the best fan support ever."
Although Stanley hasn't been in Hawaii for more than a year, he had a bit of the islands with him until the final roster cut. Spending time with Team USA were former Warriors Delano Thomas and Alfred Reft.
"Both of them should be on the 2012 team," Stanley said. "They've just got to keep working and putting in the time. They have tons of potential."