When I walked out to the press section to lay down my computer, gather my stuff and myself and prepare for the game, only one player had beaten me to the punch: Jaka Lakovic. And as he worked his way around the arc, knocking down 18-20 foot jumpers, his fingertips curling so intensely on the follow through that they almost grazed his wrists, it dawned on me why this guy is such an icon in not only Slovenian basketball, but in international hoops circles in general. In the time that I’ve covered the Euroleague, I admit I might never have given him his proper due. He’s older, a step slower and has accepted a smaller role with Barcelona—a role which yielded them a Euroleague title, mind me—but this is where he thrives. Two weeks each summer he can suit up and step in to represent his country, something younger and healthier guards Sasha Vujacic and Beno Udrih cannot say with a clean conscience. It’s apparent that while they’ve learned nothing from Slovenia’s captain, I for one have learned a great deal about his character and his loyalty. For a small country of 2 million like Slovenia, the magnitude with which he’s impacted his sport is unbelievable. I salute you, Jaka.
Tip-Off is at 16:30 GMT+3
-Group B is appropriately christened with a Goran Dragic lay-in only seconds in. The arena might be 60% full, and 85% of that is a sea of Slovenian green. I can’t even her myself type. America should be so lucky to have such vibrantly vocal fans. The unity is nearly brings on goosebumps. And they’re only playing—no offense—Tunisia.
-Dragic wets another with a hand in his face, but Tunisia’s sticking around. It’s 14-10 with 4:00 to play in the first.
-Sani Becirovic into the game now. Wearing a sleeve on his shoulder, right knee. What he lacks in symmetry he makes up for in quicks. Looking forward to seeing him paired with Dragic more this tournament.
-Tunisia isn’t a lot of things, but they sure are long. Salah Mejri has a striking physical resemblance to the recently released Frenchman Alexis Ajinca.
-And sitting beside me is Matt Lawyue (@mlawyue) who has dubbed Miha Zupan the Brian Scalabrine of Slovenia due to his choice of headwear this afternoon.
-Lakovic buries a 16-footer to put an end to the first quar—wait a second—Mohamed Hadidane chucks one from halfcourt and…glass, net, triple. The banks is open. What a way to close out Group B’s first quarter in style. It’s 22-14 in Slovenia’s favor.
-This little point guard Marouan Kechrid is kinda dirty. He’s got that waterbug shiftiness. Getting in the lane when he wants, faking guys out of their shoes. Like a skinnier Tunisian version of Jose Juan Barea. Kind of reminds me of Jerome Randle of the California Bears (NCAA) last year. I’d hate to face him in pick-up.
-In a shocking turn of events, Goran Dragic passes up a wide open three. More on this later…
-Macran Ben Romdhane takes Slokar hard off the dribble with a very loud, yet very impressive bucket. That one had shades of Linas Kleiza (who Lithuanian squad, by the way, is up 50-36 on New Zealand).
-I don’t know what’s gotten into Goran, but could it possibly be a point gaurd’s mentality? Tunisia switches twice off the screen and Dragic is left five feet of room, swings it to the corner. Gets it back, wide open, decides to kick it again. This time, though, Bostjan Nachbar nails the triple. If Dragic is expected to share more then those sorts of things need to happen.
-Tunisia fronting the Slovenian bigs well. Instead of waiting for something better, Slovenia’s guards seem content to hoist it up over the defense. Three times now that has led to a turnover.
-Make it four times. Nachbar lobs it up and Hadidane tips it, comes away with it. And sicne we’re talking themes, the Nachbar error came two passes after Goran passed up another three. Strange things afoot here in Istanbul…
-39-28 Slovenia leads at the half after Dragic’s halfcourt heave almost meets a similar fate as Hadidane’s first quarter miracle.
Slovenia: Dragic 10, Bostjan Nachbar 8, Gasper Vidmar 7, Uros Slokar 6
Tunisia: Marouan Kechrid 9, Mohamed Hadidane 8, Salah Mejri 4
-Just as I’m remarking to my media neighbor what a reserved game Goran’s playing, he makes me look good by passing up a difficult lay and kicking it to the corner. Nachbar money from just inside the line. That’s Dragic’s 5th assist. I am thoroughly impressed. He’s playing a controlled, effective game without suppressing anything. It seems as though Memi Becirovic has connected with him this summer.
-And then another brilliant drive by Dragic and his wrap-around pass is wasted by Slokar who wasn’t ready. Hands: not his strong suit.
-Gasper Vidmar getting assaulted down low. Fouled six times in two seconds by three different people. Not voicing his displeasures to the refs but visibly frustrated as he slams his palms on the ground after getting knocked to the mat. Don’t worry, G-Veezy. Only makes you stronger.
-Marouan Kechrid starting to make himself at home inside my heart after splitting a double team and bouncing it to Radhouane Slimane for the easy deuce. The little bugger’s fun to watch.
-Time to hit you with the score: 61-38 Slovenia. Boom.
-China has it now, down 83-79. Different game, but it’s on my little TV so I figured I’d chime in with some upset alerts.
-My man Kechrid a little too short to see over the defender and see the gameclock. Clock runs out just as he’s trying to pass it. Missed opportunity, Marouan. You’re still my boy though.
-Slovenia has this one in the bag after three quarters, 63-40.
-Damn, Primoz! Haven’t seen anything that ferocious come out of you since your glory days with the Bobcats. Threw that bitch all sorts of down.
-Jaka! Flocka! Jaka Flocka Flame money on the triple. Slovenia’s got it by 25.
-Under a minute to go now and (the other) Jaka, Klobucar that is, nails one from the top of the key to make it 80-54. Partizan could’ve used him alst season and they’ll certainly enjoy his energy this year.
-80-56 is your final. Stats below:
Slovenia: Goran Dragic (16 pts, 8 assists, 5 rebounds), Gasper Vidmar (15 pts, 7 rebounds, 1 blocked shot), Bostjan Nachbar (14 points, 4/7 3-pointers, 6 rebounds)
Tunisia: Radhouane Slimane (11 pts, 5 rebound), Marouan Kechrid (9 pts, 2 assists, 3 rebounds at 5’7″), Salah Mejri (9 pts, 6 rebounds)
Next Up: Team USA takes on Croatia in the most intriguing game of Group B’s opening day.