By: Nick Gibson and Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures
EuroBasket 2011 was excellent. We needn’t say more. Actually, it turns out we do. Here are a few things about this summer that ELA won’t soon forget.
1. Victor Claver’s Yellow Shoes
Pau, Marc, Juan Carlos. Not since the Yugoslavian teams of Drazen, Divac and Kukoc has the world raised their collective eyebrow at a European core so forceful. But look further. Let your eyes pan down the bench at the bombers that lie in wait. Beyond bigger names like Fernandez, Calderon, Ibaka and the exceedingly frustrating Ricky Rubio, there are a pair of All-Euroleaguers like Sergio Llull and Fernando San Emeterio resting in sweats, peeking over for Scarilo’s signal. And even farther down the line of folding chairs, Victor Claver waits. Victor Claver and his shoes, that is. Yellow, bright, appropriate. For anyone who thought Spain’s Golden Generation was losing its luster, they need only to glance down at Claver’s kicks to know what’s in store. El Generacion de Highlighter. Ready to mark up the record books once the gold is retired to the breakfront.
2. The Ever-Flattening Basketball World
So, a Finn and a Macedonian walk into a EuroBasket—stop me if you’ve heard this one. I’ll skip to the punchline: They made everyone else’s life miserable. Playing like a flock of rabid bats set loose from some European Hell, they went after it hard. Every ball, every board on every play of every game. About halfway through the opening round, it became abundantly clear that scrappiness alone wasn’t to blame for these sudden surprises. These teams have good basketball players. It’s why Macedonia—the laughing stock of EuroBasket 2009—can make it to the final weekend while the darlings of the 2010 Worlds, Turkey, can miss the quarterfinals altogether. The same Turkey that handed eventual champions, Spain, their only loss. It means even Bulgaria can come away with a couple wins by virtue of an aggressive team defense that forced Georgia into 22 turnovers. Europe has tons of talent, and it’s starting to spread out evenly. That means less comfort for the Spains and Frances, and more fun for us.
3. Bo McCalebb
As much as I’d like to offer something fresh, I’m afraid I can’t help you. ELA hasn’t been light on the Bo praise since he first suited up for Partizan two seasons ago and EuroBasket certainly didn’t do anything to make us re-route. I know Bo’s had his doubters around Europe and even in our comments section due to his penetration-based point guarding, so I have to ask: is there anyone out there who still thinks he’s overrated?
4. David Blatt’s Dad Jeans
His instructions are firm and clear. He yells without letting his temper get in the way of his lesson. And damn. Would you take a look at those jeans? Stylish, fatherly. And like any good dad, he’s right with you every step of the way. He trusts his wild horse to roam free when he knows he has a thoroughbred on his hands, but rest assured he’ll let you know when you fuck up. His candor comes through in both English and Russian, but those jeans only come in one color: dad.
5. Croatian, Slovenian and Serbian Shortfalls
An Olympic event where neither Yugoslavia nor one of its republics is in attendance? That hasn’t happened since 1956. And if Macedonia can’t navigate their way through the Olympic qualifying round, it could be a strange dream come true in London next summer. Croatia played a quiet opening round, devoid of any leadership or urgency. Slovenia snuck through their first games on mediocre play as fans and media alike tried to convince themselves that Bozidar Maljkovic would find a way to galvanize his squad in time to avoid disappointment. And Serbia looked strong (enough) out of the gates, but their revolving door of supplementary performances—big game from Dusko Savanovic here, sweet shooting from Marko Keselj there—wasn’t enough to propel another legend, Dusan Ivkovic, to a spot in England. As unfortunate as it would be to see these giants watch from the sidelines, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
1. La Bomba
No matter the angle, no matter the defender(s) and no matter the degree of difficulty, Juan Carlos Navarro is getting off that shot. Short and slender, JCN plays the game of basketball different than most. We all know about his effortless step-back jumpers, or timeless finger rolls, or too-quick-for-you drives. It is the essence of Juan Carlos. The thing that will always stay with me from this EuroBasket though, was JCN’s hunger. There was a fire in his eyes for these past few weeks, sending a message: if you try to mess with Spain, I will bury you.
Bo McCalebb thought he could drive by anyone and everyone while Tony Parker strutted around like he owned the place?
Not in Juan Carlos’ continent.
This is Europe. His playground. If you want to throw some punches around here, you best be ready for some mighty swings back. Travelers to London beware: you’re still on Juan Carlos’s soil.
Tony Parker, Bo McCalebb, Milos Teodosic, Mantas Kalnietis, Saraunas Jasikevicius, Petteri Koponen and more. A good to great point guard could change the entire fortunes of your team at EuroBasket. Squads like Italy and Turkey with pockets of great talent could not reach their full potential because of weak point guard play. France’s whole team dynamic changed with Parker in the game and Macedonia went from perennial bottom dwellers to championship contender with McCalebb manning the controls. Serbia was only able to get as far as Teodosic would take them and a nine-turnover game was the end of their title dreams. Qualifier Finland made a strong push for the elimination stage because Peterri Koponen finally rose to the challenge and guided the team through some close wins. Point guards came, some conquered, some faltered, but they were all the keys to their teams’ success or demise.
3. Bo Makes Nationalizing Cool
Is it cheating? No. Does it feel like it’s really close to cheating? Yes. Nationalizing a player is a tricky process, especially when one has shaky—if any—ties to your country. They might have only stepped foot in your country once or twice and there’s a decent chance they might not even speak the language. There were great success stories like McCalebb and Macedonia but also small failures like Daniel Hackett and Italy. Either way it has a very loophole-like feel to it, and shouldn’t be used unless extremely necessary. The nationalization argument will remain a debatable subject, but in 2011, thanks to a man named Bo, we also saw that it can lead to some truly great things.
4. Lithuania is Basketball
Every single Lithuanian game had so much energy, so much passion. While some of the games, especially early on, were awkwardly quiet, each match involving the host nation had a championship feel to it. More than anything, I take away the incredible honor it was to cover a basketball tournament in Lithuania, even from thousands of miles away. Every single Lithuanian cared so much that it made you care. I even found myself rooting for Lithuania, just so I could experience that incredible atmosphere for one more game. All I can hope is that one day I can see, hear, and next time feel, an aura like that.
5. The Level of Play and Spanish Dominance
This EuroBasket was on a different level than most other EuroBasket, World Championship and Olympic basketball games that I’ve seen. The teams were so talented and the players so comfortable with one another that the basketball never suffered. We had a few teams in the opening stage that weren’t ready to play with each other, but that’ll happen with a 24-team tournament. After that, every game was a fight. We had teams playing together like they had been around each other all season, and most of the marquee players stepped up for their country. It was just incredible to see these countries let their most dangerous assets loose on the rest of Europe. Amidst this mess of skill and effort, Spain Spain rose to the top. After a decisive win over France gave them their second straight EuroBasket gold, it’s time we start asking just how good they are on all-time level. Now Spain goes to London with one last thing on their checklist: an Olympic Gold Medal.