Tag Archives: Goran Dragic

Interviews Of The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

From Gran Canaria to Barcelona to Madrid, here are all of ELA’s player interviews from the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Thanks to all the players who were gracious enough to answer question upon question. Enjoy all of the inquiries about team chemistry!

Kenneth Faried - The Real World Cup MVP

Nikola Kalinic Rocks the Silver Medal

Joffrey Lauvergne - Bronze Medal Winner

Steph Curry after Win vs Slovenia

Jonas Valanciunas and Lithuania make World Cup Semifinals

Zoran Dragic Goes HARD!

James Harden on Team USA’s MOJO

Reggie Moore - Angola’s Pero Antic

Donatas Motiejunas on his World Cup Mindset

Jaka Klobucar at Basketball World Cup

Lithuanian Fans Going Crazy

Matthew Dellavedova after Intense Win versus Lithuania

Goran Dragic on Zoran, Slovenia’s Offense, and the World Cup

Joe Ingles on Playing for His Country

Diario de Gran Canaria: Mexican Momentum, Ingles, and Dragic on Playing for their Countries

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

For the next week my home is on the island of Gran Canaria, the  of the Basketball World Cup’s Group D. I will post notes, stories, and insight from my time at  in Las Palmas.  If you want more information about anything specific please hit me up on Twitter, I’ll be on there all week.

In case you missed my dairy from first day of play: 1st Diario

Mexican Momentum

Mexico came into the tournament looking like the clear favorite to get the fourth seed and advance to the elimination round. But there draw was the worst of any team in the group, having to play the two best teams, Slovenia and Lithuania, in their first two games. These games were broadcast on national TV on the weekend in Mexico and the losses hurt the momentum the team has built the last two summer winning FIBA Americas and Centrobasket Championships. Today (Tuesday) Mexico face off against Angola in basically an elimination game for Group D.

Mexico has been plagued by the same problem in both of their losses, lack of depth. They hung with both Slovenia and Lithuania until about mid way through the third quarter and then the opponent took off.  Mexico relies heavily on three players, center Gustavo Ayon, point guard Jorge Gutierrez, and shooting guard Paco Cruz.  Gutierrez has been the least consistent of the three and they really need him to not only play well on defense but be much more of a playmaker on offense.  Ayon needs to stay out of foul trouble because when he’s in the game, few big men can stop him from scoring in the paint. Cruz has been their most consistent force so far and one of the best scorers here in Gran Canaria. So the pieces are there but can the supporting players give them a little bit more and can the team as a whole play better? Angola has worse top level talent but is a team that a plays better than the sum of it’s parts. We should be in for a good one today.

Joe Ingles On Playing for Australia

“It’s a bit different. Barcelona is 12 of the greatest players in Europe and playing with these guys is like playing with my family. You go into scene you don’t know guys, we come back every year and the guys commit to playing because we love playing with each other. It’s a whole different kind of mindset really but one is more of job and one is more the love of playing for your country.” - Joe Ingles

Goran Dragic on Zoran, Slovenia’s Offense, and the World Cup

On being a Leader

“I’m used to it, all the guys are great guys. We have a young team. Last year was different because Jaka Lakovic and Bostjan Nachbar were here and they are mainly two older guys. But the guys here listen to me, they listen to coach.”

On Slovenian fans

“I feel great when we play at home, especially last year at the European Championships it was great. But even here, it doesn’t matter if we play outside (Slovenia), whichever country they are always going to come support us. That means something, that means a lot to me and to my team. And it’s much easier to play like that.”

On Slovenia’s offensive success

“We have a lot of outside shooters and outside guys who can play. Our main two big guys are a little bit light but they can run, they can set screens and roll. In most of those situations they are going to pick and pop. And you know it’s a lot of open space, especially in the middle of the paint and we can attack.”

On playing with his brother Zoran

“It’s great. I miss him a lot, he’s in Spain and I’m in USA but you know we talk a lot by Skype or phone but it’s not the same. Now we have a perfect situation here to be together, we are in the same room so we can talk. You know it’s my brother, I love him so much and he is playing well so I’m happy.


“Defense we can improve especially some situations where we don’t communicate and give up an easy basket. I think if we are going to correct those things we are going to be tough to beat.”

Diario de Gran Canaria: Gogi, Lithuania’s Point Guards, and The Angolan System

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

For the next week my home is on the island of Gran Canaria, the host of the Basketball World Cup’s Group D. I will post notes, stories, and insight from my time at the games in Las Palmas.  If you want more information about anything specific please hit me up on Twitter, I’ll be on there all week.

It’s All About Gogi

“It’s all about Gogi and 3pts. So far so good” - Coach Luka Bassin (Union Olimipija Assistant Coach and Slovenian Youth National Team Coach)

Goran “Gogi” Dragic is not only the key player to Slovenia but to the whole of Group B. He’s the far and away best player in Gran Canaria and probably the only player that can change the course of a game himself.  Players like Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles, Jonas Maciulis, Jonas Valanciunas, Gustavo Ayon, Jorge Gutierrez, and Zoran Dragic are high level players that are some of the best in the group but are not in the class of Gogi.

It’s the craftiness, pace, and elusiveness that Gogi plays with that makes him so special.  The ball is his yo-yo and he can do whatever he wants with it.  Once he snakes by you on the drive the options become endless.  He has incredible vision once he attacks the paint and with the way the Slovenian players move around the perimeter looking for space to shoot, it makes for a deadly combination.  His biggest challenge will be against Jorge Gutierrez who is a strong, big point guard that has the physical advantage on Gogi.  Either way, I wouldn’t put it past the Slovenian leader to take Jorge to school too.  With Manu Ginobili out of this tournament, the eldest Dragic is the closest thing we have to the Argentinian magician.

The New Lithuanian Point Guard(s)

I asked LKL writer and all-around Lithuanian basketball expert Simonas “Simas” Baranauskas for his thoughts on the Lithuanian point guard situation after Mantas Kalnietis dislocated his collarbone and was ruled out of the World Cup. Here were his thoughts before the first game and mine after watching the Lithuania’s first game yesterday.

Sarunas Vasiliauskas is a product of Sabonis Basketball School and came through the ranks of Žalgiris pyramid system. He spent a couple of seasons (2009-11) in Žalgiris, but couldn’t really crack the rotation. Spent the last season in Poland, playing for the Lithuanian NT assistant coach Darius Maskoliūnas. He’s really quick, has good ball-handling and playmaking skills, solid spot-up shooter, but has troubles on the defensive end due to his slight build. Doesn’t have previous top level international experience, so he’ll make a rookie mistake or too, but overall I actually kind of like him. He can play pick-and-roll, has a nice floater and is a creative passer inside.

After Kalnietis got injured, they picked up the new Lietuvos Rytas guard Adas Juškevičius as a back-up. Vasiliauskas and Juškevičius went to Sabonis Basketball School together (both born the same year), played for Žalgiris youth teams together. Vasiliauskas would always run the point, while Juškevičius would play off the ball more. For some reason, people want to believe Juškevičius is a point guard, but he’s a pretty clear-cut shooting guard with OK ball-handling skills, but little-to-no feel for the game and playmaking instincts. We’ll see Ronaldas Seibutis and even Marty Pocius handling the ball at times, with Simas Jasaitis playing minutes at shooting guard. - Simas


After watching both Vasiliauskas and Juškevičius in Lithuania’s first game versus Mexico I tend to agree with Simas. Even though Vasiliauskas started the game, he only played 10 minutes while Juškevičius played 20 minutes. Both were fairly passive on offense but the difference was that Juškevičius is two inches taller and just has the ability to play slightly more physically on defense.  Juškevičius also seemed like the better shooter.

Even though both these players will probably bring the ball up the floor on offense, they will not be the main offensive ignitors and their main responsibilities will be to just start the offense with the first pass and hit an outside shot when the ball is swung to them. Juškevičius showed he could do that better in the first game but because Vasiliauskas is still the purer point guard, he’ll still probably still start the next games.  But as Simas says, the main problem is on defense and the point guards don’t stop coming in this group with Matthew Dellavedova and Goran Dragic still on the schedule

The Angolan System

I was impressed with the way Angola played yesterday. Hard, direct cuts, good screens, a very crisply run half court offense, and every player looked to score when open.  This is a team of young and old players but the majority of the most reliable upon players have been with the national team for a long time.  They know how to run this system like the back of their hand.  Here are some things I gleaned from it.

No matter what they always get the ball to the point guard to bring it up.  Everyone has a specific role and they know their exact part in the System. Almost all of their offense was in the half court, fast breaking was rarely an option unless it was clearly what they should. Started a lot of plays with both big men in the high or low post and setting off-ball screens for the wings.  They usually looked for a catch and shoot three or the ball handler would drive to the basket and have the option to score or dump it off to one of the athletic bigs rolling to the hoop.  The post players were also very adept passers with Reggie Moore looking like a poor man’s Vlade Divac at times with his behind the back passes.

Lloyd Gardener who’s here doing color commentary and did the same down at AfroBasket last summer told me they ran the same defense and offense constantly and never made adjustments at the African Championships. They played Ivory Coast in the semi-finals of that tournament and hedged out hard on the guards on the pick and roll, leaving the rolling or popping ball screener wide open for a long to mid-range jump shot and the Ivory Coast big men couldn’t hit it. But against Egypt in the finals, who had a shooting big man, Angola consistently ran the same defense scheme over and over again and Egypt was able to convert the open shots.  So while Angola is well skilled in what they do, if a team can counter their offensive and defensive system, the chances are they will have a tough time adjusting.



EuroBasket Podcast: Dragic or Die Trying

The EuroBasket Quarterfinals are here!  So we got a full four man squad together with Nick Gibson, Sam Meyerkopf, Rob Scott, and Simon Jatsch to lay everything on the table about these final eight teams.  Simon also posted some amazing EuroBasket charts about shot creation and usage at his site In-The-Game.org for you to sift through while you listen.


0:00 - 18:00: Serbia vs. Spain

18:00 - 30:00: Slovenia vs. France

30:00 - 38:00: Croatia vs. Ukraine

38:00 - 56:40: Italy vs. Lithuania

Follow Nick Gibson (@euro_adventures), Sam Meyerkopf (@hooplikedrazen) Rob Scott (@robscott33) and Simon Jatsch  (@sjacas) on Twitter, and subscribe to the show on iTunes for free.

EuroBasket Day Two: Lubos Barton and the Brothers Dragic

By: Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures

EuroBasket’s second day was even better than the first.  Mainly because Slovenia proved they want to do more than just advance for the Celje fans, they want to finish first in their group.  Frankly, I don’t see anyone keeping them from the top slot after today’s nine-point win against the champs.

[EuroBasket Podcast: Surprises, Serbians and Shermadini]

Slovenia 78-69 Spain

There were so many great moments in this game.  Dino Muric hitting a big three in the third to bring it within one was pretty cool.  Mirza Begic dunking right through Xavi Rey to tie it at 47 and then go up one from the line. That was up there.

Zoran Dragic putting Slovenia up 50-48 with a galloping lay-up and following that with a one-footed touch-pass of a shot as the shot clock expired that ripped the net, the climax of a third quarter which I’d call the best of Zoran’s career.  (He hit another three right after that.  Then Balazic hit one. This game was perfect.)

But I also liked Bostjan Nachbar putting Goran Dragic in a big-brotherly noogie hold and protecting him from a technical after GD’s overreaction to a borderline call nearly threatened Slovenia’s momentum with a silly technical foul.  Boki positioned himself between Goran and the official and locked up Goran around the three-point line before ushering him 50-someodd feet to the Slovenian bench to cool down.

He cooled down, and it was a good thing he did; the kind of rhythm Slovenia had in the fourth quarter comes around too rarely to throw it all away. But Goran didn’t cool down so much that he couldn’t hammer the nail home once and then again down the stretch. The first was a filthy switch-handed reverse that he finished with his right, the next a crafty little number in the paint that included a couple pivots and an arcing finish.

Slovenia’s fans deserved the Hell out of this one.

Poland 68-69 Czech Republic

Among my list of basketball players I’d like to see succeed the most, Jan Vesely easily makes the top seven or eight, and he could be top three material.

So Jan going for 23 and 14 on the heels of 17 and 7 is akin to a father watching his child take his first step one day and utter his first word the next.

Still, my biggest smile of the day came—as I’m sure it did for many—when 33-year-old Lubos Barton splashed home a corner three to win it for the Czech Republic with 0:04, approximately 52 seconds after keeping hopes alive from the opposite corner to bring his boys back to within two (67-65).

Germany 73-77 Belgium

Who’s more frustrating than Tibor Pleiss, huh?  (And not for Rudy Fernandez-ish reasons. But for…let’s call them Tibor Pleiss reasons.) Nobody. That’s who.

Just when you rise out of your rolling chair and slap your knee in excitement after a huge offensive rebound off an intentionally missed free throw by Heiko Schaffartzik with :08 seconds left and Germany down 76-73 in overtime, he comes down with the ball, sort of shivers a couple of times and then puts up what looks like a well-executed volleyball set instead of gathering himself and slamming it down with a yelp.

It’s fun watching Schaffartzik’s confidence soar even higher now that he’s pretty much the man whenever he wants to be with this team.  If you’re going to give him grief for 4-of-12, you’ve got to give him credit for drawing nine fouls along the way. It’d be easy for him to step back and enjoy his green light, but he’s putting pressure on defenses off the dribble, which is admirable…and opening things up for…

Robin Benzing, who pulled out his bag of tricks in this one. One beautiful one-handed scoop in the fourth quarter against [I forget] was pretty sensational, in particular.  Benzing had 24 and 5 tonight and was as aggressive as I’ve ever seen him in the second half. If this summer goes down as The Year Robin Benzing Emerged as a National Team Fixture/Leader/Star, then chalk this German experiment up as a win.

Oh yeah, the team that won: Jonathan Tabu sort of Lubos Barton-ed his guys out of a late-game lead regurgitation with two huge threes—one to put them up 56-60, the next to break a tie and make it 63-60.

That’s when field goal-less Lucca Staiger stepped in and rocked that thing to overtime. But another three from Tabu in OT, plus Belgium making 4-of-6 FTs in the last 0:22 sealed it.

And you know. Tibor.

Bosnia & Herzegovina 67-77 Serbia

If Teodosic, Lucic and Serbia’s ideal squad were out there against Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cavernously porous defense, that 77 could’ve been 97 real quick.

Italy 90-75 Turkey

The Italians absolutely picked Turkey apart.  Did what they wanted, got where they wanted, all without letting Turkey think that, for even one second, size mattered.  Nicolo Melli grabbed 10 rebounds in 29 minutes.  Omer Asik and Semih Erden combined for 29 minutes also…and had three boards between them.

The Twelve Giant Men should certainly be able to squash One Medium-Sized Melli.  But not today.  Turkey has real problems at the point but-what’s that?-oh, yes. We knew that.

Bogdan Tanjevic apparently still hasn’t arrived at the same conclusion.

Or maybe he has and isn’t telling us.  All that matters is that neither this problem nor this sedentary offense are going anywhere, especially when paired with a supposed strength (defense) that gave up 90 to Italy.

Montenegro 72-73 Latvia

Montenegro is proving they’ll be a hot ticket throughout this EuroBasket, as they’ve provided two of the best finishes of the tourney.

Today’s came free of controversy and upheaval; just good old fashioned Kristaps Janicenoks.

Thanks for the .GIF, Euro-step.net.

Lithuania 75-67 Macedonia

Vlado Ilievski: Uses a steady, Euro-steppy drive to get off his floater on one possession, then a couple trips later he uses a fake and similar-looking drive just to kick it out for a wide-open look (three Lithuanians collapsed on Vlado, fearing the wrath of yet another float piece) for Cekovksi. Cekovski missed, but that’s got nothing to do with Vlado. The fact is he used one smart play to open the door to another; that’s what makes him so valuable to this Macedonian club, balancing the seesaw opposite Bo and Pero.

Then there’s Mantas Kalnietis.  One play he craftily gets himself to the rim from the right side and scores., taking advantage of a Macedonian defense that hadn’t had time to settle.  Then on the next possession, he drives hard from the left side and is ushered toward the baseline by a double team; now here, instead of kicking it to the corner or pulling it out—it was early in the shot clock, still—Mantas opted for a jump pass that cleared the double team but was ultimately intercepted and taken the other way.

But then Mantas hits midrange J to make it 69-62 with a minute left, proving that I should just shut up about it already.  This wasn’t a day where Mantas’ decision making took Lithuania out of the game. In fact, his dynamic involvement was pretty close to what Lithuania’s roster-full of forwards needs from the backcourt. In the end, Mantas tallied 17 points, 6 boards, 5 assists and turned it over only twice.  We can’t expect Mantas to be Lithuania’s calm leader; we just need him to limit those signature stretches of Good vs. Evil.

But before you go: watch Macedonia play every chance you get. They and Montenegro play harder than anyone.  Except for Slovenia, who is in a class of their own thanks to some of the world’s best fans.

Greece 80-71 Russia

I think the best description of Russia’s offense came from Vladimir Spivak, who called it idealess. I think that about sums it up, unless we’re counting bad ideas.

Greece looks really, really good, but I haven’t been interested enough to watch significant stretches yet.  They’re beating folks too easily right now.  Here’s hoping Turkey vs. Greece is the classic it’s historically been and not a beat down.

Didn’t Have a Chance to Get to These…

Croatia 77-76 Georgia

Finland 81-60 Sweden

Ukraine 74-67 Israel

Great Britain 65-88 France

Enter the Dragic

By: Jordan White / @jordanswhite

Let’s consider Goran Dragic for a moment, shall we?

Once anointed the heir apparent to Steve Nash in Phoenix, Dragic was unceremoniously shipped off last season to Houston with a first round draft pick for Aaron Brooks. At the time, the trade drew little fanfare, overshadowed by the Danilo Gallinari and Deron Williams trades.

Dragic went from the perfect situation, playing and growing under the tutelage of Steve Nash, to a less than ideal one, backing up Kyle Lowry just as Lowry started his ascension into the upper echelon of point guards, an elevation that continued well into this season. It seemed as if Dragic would have to wait even longer before a team was his to command. Once Lowry went out with a bacterial infection in March, however, Dragic found himself in a Feinstein-ian Next Man Up situation, charged with replacing an MVP-caliber point guard and leading the Rockets to a playoff appearance in the always challenging Western Conference.

Dragic responded to the challenge by averaging 15 points, 7 assists and 2 steals in March. Oh, and in April, the Slovenian point guard is averaging 21 points and nearly eight assists, with a 51(!) percent field goal percentage and 45 percent from beyond the arc.

How is Dragic doing his damage? According to Synergy Sports, Dragic gets most of his offense from three categories: pick and roll ball handler, spot up and transition, with isolation a close fourth.

Knowing how to properly operate the pick and roll is valuable to any point guard, and Dragic had the opportunity to learn from one of the best. He’s showing off the results of his apprenticeship in Houston, where he’s shooting 47.4 percent from the field in pick and roll situations in which he is the ball handler, and averages .82 points per play. When you consider that he scores from this situation 39.7 percent of the time, it’s clear that Dragic was studying Nash quite closely during his time in Phoenix.

When Dragic was first drafted, one of the main concerns surrounding his game was his shooting ability; a concern that was seemingly justified after his first season in Phoenix. By his second season, however, it seemed as if Dragic was starting to find his groove, thanks in large part to a brand new shooting motion. This season, that jumper is deadlier than ever. Dragic scores .93 ppp in spot-up situations, shooting 35.3% from the field and 37.8% from three.

It’s hard to discern, exactly, what Kevin McHale’s offense is in Houston. It’s not the triangle, it’s not seven seconds or less, nor is it the Spurs spectacular spacing. It is, however, incredibly fun to watch. One of the staples of the offense, and as it should be with this young athletic team, is an emphasis on transition baskets, something they do very well, scoring 1.15 ppp in transition situations. Dragic thrives in these situations, as running the break is where he’s flat-out lethal. Consider these numbers from Synergy: 1.333 ppp and 70.9 percent field goal percentage. Though that may only rank him 32nd overall, it’s still staggering when you consider he’s been starting for only just over a month.

Dragic’s revelatory and efficient play could not have come at a better time. He’s leading the Rockets to the playoffs, is an unrestricted free agent, and there are several teams, including Utah, Indianapolis and Portland, who will have both the means and needs to sign a promising true point guard such as Goran Dragic. It truly is the perfect storm.

Jordan White writes Ballingual weekly for Euroleague Adventures. Follow Jordan on Twitter.

ELA Must Watch: Bennet Cantu Doesn’t Lose At Home, Can Caja Laboral Change That?

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures

Group A has proven again and again to be the most evenly competitive group.  We have one 4-2 team, three 3-3 teams, and two 3-4 teams after Wednesday night’s results.  That’s about as tight as you can get.

Tonight we have a battle for first place on the line.  If Cantu wins they’re in a tie with Caja Laboral and the winner of Fenerbahce Ulker vs. Olympiacos for first. If Caja takes home the W they will be in sole possession of the top spot.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, Cantu’s home crowd has been one of the best in the Euroleague.  They have yet to lose a game in Pala Desio.  Currently on a two game losing streak with both being road affairs, Cantu will be pumped for an outing at home.

Caja is in a bit of a lurch after the NBA stopped bickering and decided to end the lockout.  They will soon be without their best post player in Kevin Seraphin (Teletovic still isn’t a true “post” player just yet) and newly signed Goran Dragic once David Stern and Derek Fischer get their perfect cursive on a new CBA agreement.  Since they will be playing in this game though, both should figure prominently.

Milko Bjelica’s injury really hurts a frontline that was already relatively weak.  Mirza Teletovic might not sub out of this game, while Seraphin and Dorsey (who might miss tonight’s game due to injury) will take their turns at center trying to slow down Giorgi Shermandini and the crew.  Seraphin has proven to be a solid offensive option so far, but Dorsey has been injured most of the way into the season and has yet to dole out a real contribution.

The good news for Caja is that the backcourt has played well all year.  Thomas Huertel has started to look confident and has a streaky jumper that can get hot at any time.  Fernando San Emeterio is back to bowling over people (Week 6 MVP), Brad Oleson hasn’t missed a three in at least a couple weeks, and Pablo Prigioni has been as solid as ever.  Anything Dragic can bring on this trip to Italy will be a bonus.  All the perimeter players will have to pick up a lot of slack Thursday in enemy territory with Caja lacking post depth.

On the Cantu side of the ball the offense just hasn’t been there the last two road games.  The team has come to lean on Vladimir Micov, Maarty Luenen, and Shermandini as its offensive core, but they’ve been real off recently.  Going up against a weakened frontcourt, they should be able to take advantage.

Beyond all of the matchups and players to watch, the real reason to watch this game is to see where these two teams are really heading.  Can Caja step up on the road and get into“Final Four contender” talk?  Will Cantu punch back after this losing streak or be one of the casualties of a really tough Group C?  Will Mirza Teletovic get back into MVP form after a recent slump and pull out some more fourth quarter magic away from Vitoria?

The only way you can find out is by watching, so buckle into one of the best basketball atmospheres in Europe Thursday evening for what sure is to be a show.  Cantu’s last three games have all been within two points, so don’t turn this off til the final buzzer.

PODCAST #98: Zaza, Andrei and Goran Battle For The Top Spot In An Ugly, Physical Group D.

The final in a group of four EuroBasket previews. This time Os Davis and I take a look at the wild world of Group D. Then once you’re done listening to that one, scroll down and check out the first three. At your leisure, of course.

Here’s what you’ll hear:

-Chris Kaman on Germany. Bo McCalebb on Macedonia. Serge Ibaka on Spain. Are naturalized players bad for the game?

-Can Zaza lead Georgia into the next round?

-Find out why one of us thinks Steven Burtt is the most important player in this group.

-Is Russia the team to beat in Group D, and might they have a shot at the Gold medal?

-Is Goran Dragic ready to lead Slovenia consistently and forcefully?

-Is Mike Fratello in over his head?

-Find out which team(s) we think will leave Group D without a win.

Now, to the group previews you might have missed:

Group A: The Champs, the Hosts, and the Turks.

Group B: Bearded, Blonde and Beastly.

Group C: Bojan, Bo and Bourousis.

Quintuple Double: Dirk, Dragic, And The Best Leaders Heading To Lithuania

By: Nick Gibson and Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures

Leaders come in all forms. Loud, silent, short, tall, skinny, fat—shout out to Pero Cameron—young, old, über talented or just iconic figure heads whose presence is far more inspirational than their actual on-court contributions. So with no specific criteria in mind, here’s who ELA fancies as EuroBasket’s most qualified leaders.

Whatever that means.

1. Goran Dragic | PG | Slovenia

Goran did not earn this leadership status as conventionally as others. He didn’t pry it away from one of the incumbents like Bostjan Nachbar or Jaka Lakovic, and he certainly didn’t bust open the locker room doors last summer with his nose in the air simply because he scored a few buckets in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. Instead, he kept his mouth shut while his contemporaries opened theirs wide enough for their feet to waltz right in. While Goran gushed about Slovenia’s incredible fans and how honored he was to wear the green and white, Sasha Vujacic let personal beefs—between he and Goran, he and the basketball federation—slide between him and his country, and Beno Udrih quit the team because he failed to supplant Jaka Lakovic from the starting gig (as Bostjan Nachbar told ELA) during the run-up to last summer’s World Championships. And though his game is loud and vibrant, the rest of Goran is solemn, focused and clearheaded. And for the Central European country of only three million people, that has to be about refreshing as it gets.

2. Andrei Kirilenko | SF | Russia

Watching David Blatt steer Russia to within a game of the medal rounds in Istanbul last summer, one couldn’t help but be impressed. Anton Ponkrashov cranked up the RPM on offense and arms waved wildly as feet shuffled quickly on defense. Timofey Mozgov and Sasha Kaun made the rim seem a foot taller and half as wide as they patrolled the paint on one end and finished everything on the other. But something was missing. Or maybe it was someone. Watching them warm up this summer, now I understand: Andrei Kirilenko was that something, or that someone. Much like Hedo Turkoglu led Turkey to a silver last season despite a diminished arsenal of individual attacks, AK47’s mere presence should inspire a movement around him, even though he’s not the same do-it-all megastar who averaged 18 ppg and took home tourney MVP honors as he led Russia to the gold at the 2007 European Championships. He’s lost the spiked dome, added some dragon ink and is poised to lead a charge.

3. Dirk Nowitzki | PF | Germany

Don’t know if y’all heard, but Dirk had an OK year. He picked up an NBA Championship, silenced the oft-referenced haters, launched his own basketball academy and even came under consideration as being the best European basketball player since Europe was invented. SPOILER ALERT: I put Dirk in the number two spot after Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis. But not without a clause in the contract which offered him amnesty. If he goes and leads Germany to a medal this summer, I’d give him the top slot. He’s healthy, he’s training, and the effect he will have on that team’s psyche and that fan base’s interest level are undeniably massive. Dirk means more to his nation’s basketball culture than almost anyone outside of Yao Ming, and it’s time for some of these young guns to elevate their games and quit dragging their feet. Yes you, Elias Harris.

4. Tony Parker, France | PG | France

Even with the recent hand injury to Ronny Turiaf, there’s no dearth of NBA talent on Vincent Collet’s roster. Watch them play a half of basketball, though, and you’ll start to wonder if they’ve ever met one another. Out of synch, out of control and in serious trouble at most points of the game, they keep things close only based on a traditional gap in athleticism, which is getting narrower each summer. That means it’s time to start winning the strategic battle as well, and there aren’t many floor generals more capable than Parker.

5. Juan Carlos Navarro | SG | Spain

NBA Champion, All-Star, this, that and the other thing. Impressive, no doubt. But you know what they say about snoozing, and what Pau Gasol has lost was his hold on this team. Once a shared belt with fellow Golden Generation member, Juan Carlos, Pau’s absence last summer sunk Spain to a disappointing sixth place finish in Istanbul, and left JCN as the team’s undisputed heavyweight veteran leader (that’s right; I’m counting neither Garbajaosa nor Mumbru). The offense will work inside-out this summer, to be sure, but Navarro commands more attention than any player in Europe today, always a viable threat to rise up from an awkward angle or lean off the wrong foot and nonchalantly toss a rainbow at the rim. There aren’t any hard feelings between Gasol and the Spanish faithful after taking a summer off, but Navarro’s loyalty won’t go unrewarded.

1. Sarunas Jasikevicius | G | Lithuania

Recently in the Lithuanian dictionary the word aistra (or passion in English) has been replaced by Sarunas.  So now, instead of saying someone has a deep passion for something, just say he has Sarunas. Folks will understand. Jasikevisius’s fire is undeniable and at 35, it’s still burning.  Playing for the home Lietuva squad, the emotion will be pouring out of him.  This is more than likely his last EuroBasket ever and probably his last ever tournament with the national team.  Every sweat bead, blood drop, and giant scream will be aimed toward bringing the European Championship back to Lithuania.  No one will want this championship more and no one will lead his team better.  Be prepared, Saras will have this squad ready.

2. Juan Carlos Navarro | G | Spain

Juan Carlos entered into the Spanish National Team at 18 years old, and he has never left.  Every single summer he has donned the España jersey and gone to work.  If Sarunas means passion in Lithuanian then Juan Carlos means dedication in Spanish (sorry, esmero, you had a good run).  He has entrenched himself as Spain’s 2-guard for over a decade and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  JC doesn’t always lead by fiery emotion, but he chooses to follow the actions speak louder than words method.  Navarro’s ability to play for Spain at every possible moment, with undying allegiance, and produce at an alarmingly successful rate, is the best role model any young Spanish ball player can have.

3. Hedo Turkoglu | F | Turkey

The great Hidayet is the face of Turkish basketball.  He cemented his legacy last summer by willing his Turkish team to a Silver Medal at home in Istanbul in the World Championships.  The rise of Turkey to one of the best hoop nations in the world, from both a professional perspective and from a talent-producing standpoint, is due in no small part to Hedo.  His success on an NBA and world stage has helped transform Turkey into a bubbling basketball power.  At Eurobasket this summer, Hedo will be the one to lead his team into battle and control the offensive flow.  With such a good showing at the Worlds, Turkoglu will be giving everything he has to put Turkey on top of Europe.

4. Antonis Fotsis | F | Greece

With great Greek Gods Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis taking the past few summers off (and now with Vassilis Spanoulis hurt) Fotsis is the elder statesman and captain of Hellas.  And he isn’t taking any sympathy from anybody.  With or without some of their best players, Greece is here to win EuroBasket.  Quotes from Fotsis like these, should keep the Greek team pumped up: “We know what can happen. We are not here to pass the time, and we are not going to the EuroBasket just to say that we played in the tournament.” And again, when Fotsis referred to all the Greek injuries played up in the media: “But we do not listen to that, we can only change their mind on the court.”  Damn straight, Antonis.

5. Novica Velickovic | F | Serbia

A leader doesn’t always have to be the guy who has played the longest on the team.  This young Serbian bunch has a hulking handful of talented guys, but their truest leader hasn’t emerged yet (Nenad throwing the chair was a start).  As I look upon the Belgrade horizon, I find myself seeing the shadow of a flaming Novica Velickovic, as he dares to barrel down the throat of yet another defense.  His energy makes the Serbian team go.  With a Silver Medal in Eurobasket 2009 and a 4th place finish at the World Championships last year (barely missing out on a Silver or Gold if not for Kerem Tunceri’s last second layup), Serbia is now primed for this EuroBasket.  Milos Teodosic is the unquestioned best outside scorer and Krstic is the veteran post presence, but Nikola is the loud rumble that pushes them forward.  Getting excited after and-ones, pumping up the defensive intensity, providing a breath of liveliness when he enters the game, and a relentless approach to offense; that’s what Nikola brings.  That is why he will end this tournament as of one of the best leaders, not only for now but for many years to come.

Live IstanBLOG: Brazil and Slovenia think second is the best.

By: Freaknick/@euro_adventures

I’ve got Slovenia by 3. Let’s get it:


-Slovenia’s got the lead early 6-5. Then Splitter has to spoil the fun before I can press ‘Update.’ Buzz kill.

-Dragic scores on his buddy from Phoenix (Barbosa…but you knew that). Slovenia’s up 10-9.

-The build-up to this game hasn’t quite been what I’d hoped. Maybe with the USA-Brazil match and then yesterday’s Greece-Turkey rivalry, not to mention Lithuania’s Spanish inquisition, this one has just fallen off the radar a little. I’ve been looking at this for a while though. It’s Brazil’s quick vs. Slovenia’s strong. I like it.

-If Gasper Vidmar is too quick for Splitter then he’s in for a rough 82 games in San Antonio next year. Second time Gasper’s gotten the shot he wants, but this time he finishes like a man.

-My voice just got higher than a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert with that last Dragic move. Euro step, behind the back then scooped underneath Varejao. Almost wet myself.

-Vidmar got floored for over a minute yet FIBA-TV refuses to show a replay, leaving me clueless as to what happened. Thanks diplomacy.

-Barbosa loses it on the drive with 4 seconds on the clock, Becirovic picks it up and sends it ahead to Dragic who drops in the 12-foot running floater. They review it: no basket. I’m willing to bet the Slovenian fans are not convinced. And though Dragic doesn’t get those two points in the stat book, he makes twice that in Freaknick’s Street Cred Dollars. That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.

-20-18 Slovenia’s up after the first period.


-Jaka Lakovic kind of reminds me of a friendly young Frankenstein. Like, before he got all fried out and irritable.

-Nachbar with a Kukoc-esque dish to Brezec for the finish. Drives to the bucket palming the ball and then just wrists it downwards to Primoz. Muy pretty.

-Time for a score update: 30-18 Slovenia. Yup, it’s like that. Crazy energy from the Slovenians.  Both sides should be emotionally exhausted after their last ones, but only Brazil looks it.

-Anderson needs to realize that tipping the ball and rebounding it are not the same thing. Two-handed boards get you to heaven.

-I wish I understood Portuguese. Marcelo Huertas is being more vocal than he’s been this entire tournament. Probably pretty pissed right about now: Slovenia 44-30 Brazil at the half.


-Guilherme Giovanonni with the pulse check. Triple plus the ol’ “stand up” arm wave. Well-executed, at that.

-Tiago with the breakaway dunk and Brazil brings it back to single digits. A good place to only 1:31 deep into the second half.

-Sani Becirovic is another one of those guys who looks much bigger in person. Not clunky really, but definitely a wider lower half than you’d think. On TV he looks so jittery quick.

-Every time one of the Slovenian bigs gets a bucket they celebrate by complaining to the referees. Just bask in the glory instead of getting your panties in a bunch.

-Dragic and Alex Garcia with a Matrix-esque midair collision. Dragic gets the worst of it, clutching his back. At least he’s going to the line.

-Garcia gets rrevenge with a pair of lay-ups, the latest on the break. Slovenia’s still up 8 but they need to kick it up. 58-48.

-Thank you, Bostjan Nachbar. Long two puts it back up to ten. On a team with plenty of good players, Boki’s the clutch scorer, and Memi Becirovic is perfectly fine with that.

-Slokar had position, yet still felt the need to wrap his arm around Varejao while calling for the ball on the post. Just let him go brother. You’ll still get it.

-Varejao finally makes an athletic play but it’s after the whistle on a Splitter miss. Tiago proceeded to miss both free throws. Just like I predicted, it’s a 67-51 blowout after three quarters.


-Jaka! Flocka! Flocka! Flocka! Crossed him somethin’ serious and then leftied it right in there.

-A Nachbar pass leads directly to a Marcelo Machado jumper. That was huge for Brazil, putting them down 70-59 with under 8:00 left.

-A Barbosa deuce in transition’s looking just as big, maybe bigger. Lead back down to 9.

-How did this Slovenia team give the USA more trouble? They play hard, they play pretty smart, now suddenly they’re playing defense.

-Maybe I’ve spoken too soon. Six straight for Brazil after Machado puts in another on the break, uncontested. 70-63.

-Two offensive boards by Brazil and Tiago makes them count. In 5:53, a 16-point lead has been cut to a single bucket. Crazy.

-Uros Slokar and Anderson Varejao are getting into it down low. Arms tangled, words exchanged all the way down the court.

-Jaka (who else?) calms things down with a three to shove the lead up to 73-68.

-Gasper Vidmar comes in and instantly shows more springs on the boards than Slovenia’s had since his departure with the shoulder injury.

-JJJJJJAAAAAAAAAKKKKAAAAAA!!! He hits another one and it’s 76-68 with 2:12 to go. This dude is clutcher than clutch itself.

-Nachbar says, “GAME OVER” with a three in the corner with 20.2 remaining. Terrific possession for Slovenia. Dribbling up with a 5-point lead and 40-something seconds on the clock, they play it safe, keep it simple and attack with :08 on the shot clock. Lakovic finds Nachabr with about:04 and Boki took it form there. It’s 79-71 with 20.2 left. Brazil needs a Marcelinho miracle.

-Machado hits a three with 15 seconds on the clock, and he might’ve gotten fouled. He didn’t get the call, but Slovenia needs to be more careful.

- I don’t know why Nachbar felt the need to foul Machado on his desperation three with 1.1 left in the game, but he did anyways and fouled out. Maybe he just wanted to hear his ovation as he walked past the cheering section to the bench.

-Oh wait, did somebody say Slovenia by three? I think they just might have. 80-77 is your final. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Slovenia: Lakovic 20, Brezec 16, Nachbar 15, Dragic 10

Brazil: Machado 20, Splitter 19, Barbosa 12, Huertas 8 points and 7 assists