By: Nick Gibson and Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures
What comes to mind when you say badass aloud? Take a second. We’ll wait.
Maybe it’s that car you’ve always wanted, or that girl that bites her lip and stares longingly at you every day from the calendar in your cubicle. Or maybe it’s a slick fielding shortstop turning a double play for your team or that Wayne Rooney bicycle kick that we’ve all seen far too much of. It could be that denim jacket you wore in high school, popped collar and all. Or a sandy beach. A piping hot blueberry pie, maybe.
It’s a concept we all process differently yet understand all the same. Badass is just plain badass.
A basketball badass is no different. The minds of most might drift to the beasts of the paint. The unstoppable forces that plow through objects once considered immovable. And they’d be spot on.
Yet so are the folks whose badasses are smaller, shorter, lighter, yet just as dangerous. The Davids who slay giants with wit, jumpers and quickness.
They could also be old guys trying to capture glory before it fades entirely, or a man who’s as much patriot as he is ballplayer. Any way you look at it, badass is still just plain badass.
1. Zaza Pachulia | C | Georgia
We could talk about how he’s mowing down the weaklings in his way during preparation games; the big Georgian racked up 42 points against Latvia just yesterday. We could also talk about a dark, deep set pair of eyes that scream Cut me each time they gaze your way. Maybe the way Philips Arena roars every time he enters the game or blows up a shooting guard with a shouldered screen. Or we could just ask Kevin Garnett as he runs off, hands above his head, tail between his legs.
2. Rimantas Kaukenas | G | Lithuania
He’s gone dark for Lithuanian team since suiting up for them in Beijing three summers ago, but now Rimantas will muster all the bounce his knees allow to guide the home team toward an Olympic berth. The 33-year-old with the 53-year-old’s experience and a 23-year-old’s conditioning regimen will likely run the show at critical junctures for his country this summer, and his impact should be as pronounced as his jawline. If you thought the tattoos and hand checks were intimidating before, wait until Kaukenas steps onto the floor in Panevezys. Older man. Newer motor. Same badass.
3. Didier-Ilunga (DJ) Mbenga | PF | Belgium
Mbenga earned near legendary status during his time with the Lakers, both for his superhuman strength and his striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite Goonies character. After seven seasons of reserve status with four different squads, he’s all naturalized up and it’s time to set the record straight.
Chris Mihm: Hey, DJ, I wish you wouldn’t elbow me in the face, guy.
DJ Mbenga: Shut up, Chris. If you know what’s good for you.
Chris: You just did it again. That’s twice now. Not cool. I’m just standing here, man. I don’t want any trouble.
DJ: That’s unfortunate. I’d like to fight you now. Next time, you’ll show some respect.
Fighting your own teammate during a scrimmage for no logical reason. An irrational badass is the most dangerous kind.
Afraid of neither current nor former teammates, DJ wasn’t shy when Andrew Bynum paid him a visit in New Orleans.
4. Marko Popovic | PG | Croatia
In Istanbul, he’d walk to the scorer’s table, kneel down and wait for that horn. Before those echoes had faded, Marko had sunk a few threes and thousands of hearts. The only thing more decisively badass than some hulking center crushing folks is when a diminutive little point guard does the same off the bench. And this year, starter Roko Ukic is hurt. You do the math.
5. Robert Archibald | C | Great Britain
I’ve never been quite sure what to make of Great Britain’s geopolitical make-up. In what scenarios they function as a whole versus a collection of nations with differing interests, which regions don’t see eye-to-eye, which grow alongside one another in harmony, I’ll never be sure. But I do know that Robert Archibald is a Scott, by Jove. And since Kieron Achara was shown the door, Arch is the lone Scottish representation for Chris Finch, which means…well, I’m not quite sure what it means. It likely carries some significance, though, if in nobody’s mind but his own. Representing where you’re from, whether it’s a city, state, province, neighborhood or nation is a duty we’re all born into, and Robert is making his nation proud with every summer he gives up to play for the flag. So here’s to you, Robert Archibald. May your presence be forever felt from the Scottish shores to the Lithuanian hardwood.
1. Nikola Pekovic | C | Montenegro
He’s slightly hung over and just ate something about the size of your point guard for his second breakfast. Pek doesn’t care how good you think you are, you will not stop him and his wide body from scoring. Maybe it’s that warrior tattoo he got on his shoulder a couple years ago that really emphasizes the badass-ness, or maybe it’s just that rugged style of play. An absolute bull in the post, Pekovic will move any big man out of his way. He doesn’t give a shit how much you worked out this offseason, he’s still bigger than you. He’s in charge of the paint, and everyone knows it.
2. Timofey Mozgov | C | Russia
Move. Seriously, get out of the god damn way. The Mozgov Cocktail is coming down the lane and he is about to dunk all over you. Do you want to be part of the next YouTube clip that gets spread around Twitter like the flu in a freshman dorm? I think not, so just start running now. Ask fellow badass Rimantas Kaukenas if he liked being served up a vicious Mozgov slam last week in their friendly game. The most badass thing you can do in the game of basketball is jam all over someone, and Timofey will have at least half a dozen of those in Lithuania. It’s always encouraged to get back on D when the other team is getting out on the break, but be wary of Timofey closing in from anywhere, ready to humiliate you. Quick tip: he loves coming right down the middle of the lane when he catches his oops, so if you get too scared you can always use the perimeter as a safety shelter. Good luck.
3. Zaza Pachulia | C | Georgia
He’s the guy on your team that you love and everyone else hates. He will back down to no one and doesn’t mind throwing some bows around in the post. The leader of the Georgia side will not just talk the talk, but this man will lead by example. Zaza will do anything, dirty or not, to stand up for his team. Try fouling one of his teammates too hard and you might find yourself on the ground next to him in a hurry. While Georgia fans love him, everyone else fears him, and they don’t dare get into any type of rumble with him (on the court or at your local Vilnius watering hole). You thought Zaza would step to any NBA player as a Hawk? Wait until you see him in his nation’s colors.
Marty Pocius established himself as a Lithuanian national team staple last summer in Turkey, where his relentless style of play helped propel the Lithuanian side to a Bronze Medal. Whether it’s chasing you down for a giant block, or running right over you in the lane, Marty isn’t taking shit from nobody. He isn’t a big guy or some crazy imposing force, instead Marty uses the I will not be denied strategy that can put a scare into the largest of opposing rim protectors. With the home crowd rocking, and the adrenaline flowing, I would suggest nobody gets in front of Pocius when he comes barreling down the lane this summer.
And they probably shouldn’t go up soft around the rim on the break, either.
5. Serge Ibaka | PF | Spain
The legacy of Ibaka Blocka Flame and his swatting ability only grows. The naturalized Spaniard will be counted on to do a few different things during EuroBasket, but most importantly he will be looked upon to bring that energetic defensive presence that has become a staple of his play with the Thunder. Thinking about driving into the lane and getting off a quick runner? Too bad. Serge just blocked that ball into Latvia. Want to post up Pau Gasol and throw up a hook shot? Sorry. Serge just came from the weak side and made a ball mark on your face. With the ability to make you shiver in your favorite high tops any time you think about putting up a shot inside the three-point arch, Ibaka is the type of dude you don’t want to mess with.