Thursday, January 31, 2008

Today's Featured Team: Brazil

Brazil is currently ranked 18th by FIBA. Many fans feel that Brazil is a much better team than their rankings indicates. For the most part, they are a young team that's just going to get better. They are led by speedy guard Leandro Barbosa(Phoenix Suns) and Nené (Denver Nuggets). They also have Anderson Varejâo(Cleavland Cavaliers), a hard nosed and hardworking post player. For those that don't know...hes the energetic guy with the crazy hair that plays for the cavs. Former Gonzaga standout J.P. Batista(Lietuvos Rytas) is also a key player for them. I might have a bit of a biased opinion being that I'm a big Gonzaga fan...but I think he's good enough to play for a lot of teams in the NBA. With these players alone, they have four legitimiate players capable of competing with any country. However, their is a big talent drop off after these guys. Brazil hasn't participated in the Olympics since 1996, when they took 6th place. In order to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, they must place in the top three at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament which takes place in mid-July.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chaos in Cologne

Most of you are probably aware of the situation with the Cologne 99ers by now. For those that aren't...their team is very close to folding. I've heard various things about what really happened, but from what I could gather is that one of their main sponsors declared that he could not and would not continue funding the team. There have been rumors that a new sponsor is going to take over so that they can continue playing. Either way, I find it amazing that a team of the 99ers caliber is dealing with such a problem. Wut is even worse is that the 99ers aren't the only team in the league struggling financially. This is something you could see in the Regionalliga league, German's 3rd division league, or the CBA here in the States. But you wouldn't expect it from Germany's top division. The Cologne 99ers have some well known American's on their team...Toby Bailey, (UCLA) Immanuel McElroy,(Cincinatti) and Derek Raivio,(Gonzaga) who was one of my favorite players to watch and doesn't look anything like the same Derek Raivio that we saw at Gonzaga....but I wont even get into that. If anything, the whole situation is unfortunate for the city and players who have put a lot into the team. As always, I will follow this story as it progresses and update you as it evolves. If you're from Germany or feel like you could add to this storry feel free to do so.

Today's Featured Team: China

China is currently ranked 11th by FIBA. If there is a such thing as a basketball powerhouse in Asia, China is definitely it. China has won 14 of the last 16 FIBA Asian Championships. However, they have never medaled in the Olympics. I think head coach Jonas Kazlauskas has done a great job of getting the most out of his players. They aren't a very talented team, excluding Yao Ming(Houston Rockets) and Yi Jianlian(Milwaukee Bucks). I haven't had the chance to see them play this year. However, the last time I saw them in action, I was amazed to see how limited Yao's touches were. You would think that he'd be the focal point of the offense and maybe he is. But, I know when I saw them play, his touches were limited and their guards seemed to have a lot of freedom offensively. Anyways, they have a tremendous upside because it seems every time you turn around they are producing a talented young, and of course tall, athlete. China has as automatic birth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics because they are the host nation. One final note, in the 2004 Olympics they finished in 8th place.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Satyaseelan calls it quits

For the last ten years or so, Kappusamy Satyaseelan (Segamat Rimba Timor) has done a lot for Malaysian basketball. Most notably, he led Malaysia to the South-East Asian Championship in 2005. He's arguably the greatest shooter that the country has ever produced, and is somewhat of a celebrity there. Satyaseelan began playing for his country in 1996 and has become, by far, their most experienced player. However, Satyaseelan recently announced that he was retiring from the national team. “I’ve had enough and it’s time to move on and let the younger players take over. But I may still play for my state side if they need me. I am thinking of a different job, maybe explore some business opportunities with the savings that I made,” said Satyaseelan. This is a huge loss for Malaysian basketball, a country that hasn't had many players to brag about, although Satyaseelan was certainly one of them. Ranked 61st according to FIBA, there is no telling when a a player of his caliber will come around again for Malaysia.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Today's Featured Team: Canada

Currently ranked 17th according to FIBA. They are coached by Leo Rautins, who is well respected throughout most of Canada. Canada has not exactly been an international powerhouse, its only Olympic Medal, a silver medal, came in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. They are an average team at best offensively. However, there defense is very weak, making them vulnerable when opposing teams are in transition or half court sets. Furthermore, the international retirement of two-time MVP Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns) just made matters much worse. He made his priorities painfully obvious last summer when he spent the majority of it playing soccer. None the less, this is a big blow to a team that was mediocre at best, with Nash. Canada will now look to Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia 76ers) to step up and be there go to guy... GOOD LUCK with that. With its current roster, Canada simply does not have the talent or athleticism to compete with the top teams.
Passed Canadian players you might remember are Rick Fox, yes, the Rick Fox that played for the Lakers. Former Bulls superstar (sarcasm) Bill Wennington, and his arch rival Todd MacCulloch (Philadelphia 76ers).

Scottie Pippen takes game overseas

Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen briefly came out of retirement to play in both Finland and Sweden. The fans in Finland gave him a warm welcome, introducing him while playing the song that the Bulls always played during their starting line ups. He scored nine points and also had nine rebounds, helping the Torpan Pojat defeat Honka 98-85. In Sweden, the game seemed to be less competitive, Pippen got many uncontested shots, resulting in a better overall game for him. During the game in Sweden, they had "Benny the Bull," the Bulls mascot, on the sideline cheering for Pippen. Despite Pippen admitting that his conditioning is not where it should be, he looked rather impressive. Many people want to criticize him or say that he is doing it for the money. Regardless, I think it was something a lot of people were interested in seeing, I know I was. The fans out there went crazy every time he scored. As for talks of him returning to the NBA, there is a very good chance...but not as a player. There has been a lot of talk about him getting a coaching job or front office position. Either way, it was great seeing Scottie Pippen lace em' up one last time!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Today's Featured Team: Serbia

Serbia is currently ranked 5th by FIBA. With the departure of head coach Zoran Slavnic, and the recent hiring of legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic, the future for Serbian basketball looks very bright. However, the same cannot be said about the present. Serbia has had its share of problems, mainly the fact they they didn't win a single game at Eurobasket, leaving them out of the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which in turn, leaves them out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "This is an Olympic year, a bit sad for us, known across the world as a basketball land, since we won't have a basketball team in Beijing," said Coach Ivkovic. The main reason for the disappointing finish at Eurobasket was the absense of many players, including NBA players Nenad Krstic, Aleksandar Pavlovic and Peja Stojakovic. Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic were left leading a team that was simply outmatched against the top European teams. The 2008 Beijing Olympics will make for a painful summer for Serbian fans. But rest assured, the future looks bright.

Australia's rising star, Nathan Jawai

How does a 21 year old respond to being talked about as having the potential to be the best player to ever come out of Australia? Well, rising star Nathan Jawai seems to be handling it just fine. Playing for Cairns Taipans of the National Basketball League, Jawai is putting up impressive numbers. Currently, he's averaging 17 points, nine rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, all while shooting over 55% from the field. However, the stats don't do justice to the potential Jawai actually has. At 6'10'', Jawai has a 7'5'' wingspan, making him an excellent shot blocker and rebounder. And, believe it or not, Jawai did not start playing basketball until he was fifteen years old. He had a brief college career in the States, playing for Midland Community College before an injury sent him back to the land down under. Nonetheless, this has not made NBA scouts shy away, if anything, they see it as him having a tremendous upside. After winning the MVP award at the NBL all-star game, Jawai got the attention of even more NBA scouts. If he continues to improve, "Baby Shaq," as he's been nicknamed, has the potential to be a first round draft pick. He's not yet a household name in the United States, but in Australia, he's known nation wide.

Todays Featured Team: Italy

Ranked 7th by FIBA, Italy is very team-oriented and has many good shooters. They are led by the inside out combo of Marco Belinelli(Golden State Warriors) and Andrea Bargnani(Toronto Raptors). Both very young players, Belinelli and Bargnani are the face of Italian basketball. As head coach Carlo Recalcati would conclude, the sky is the limit for these young superstars. Currently, the team overall isn't exactly living up to its expectations. However, fans and players remain optimistic about the future...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Injury Report: Lithuania's Kaukenas out for season

Rimantas Kaukenas (Siena) recently went down with a season ending knee injury. As a result, he is most likely going to miss the Beijing Olympics. He was an instrumental part of Lithuania's team, helping lead them to a bronze medal at the FIBA Europe Championships. This is a big blow for Lithuania and their hopes of earning a medal in the Olympics. Kaukenas, and his team are trying to remain optimistic, hoping for a speedy recovery.

The worst teams in international basketball

Well, it is only fair since we rated the top teams in the world a few days ago, that we treat the bottom teams with the same respect. Maybe not the same respect, we'll just list them rather than go into detail about their rosters because quite frankly, you've probably never heard of them! Without further ado, the worst international basketball teams in the world...
1. Madagascar
2. Singapore
3. Rwanda
4. Sweden
5. Thailand

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Olympic Qualifying Tournament draw set for January 31st

The draw for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament is set to take place on January 31st, in Athens Greece. In the tournament, twelve teams will compete to earn one of the three remaining bids to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. These teams will be split up into four groups, each with three teams. It will be poll play with the top two teams from each poll advancing to the tournament round. The teams competing in the tournament are: Cameron, Cape Verde, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, Korea, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Croatia, Germany, New Zealand, and Slovenia.

Todays Featured Team: Germany

Ranked ninth according to FIBA, this is a team that goes as far as their star carries them. Of course, that star is Dirk Nowitzki. He practically carried them during Eurobasket, even though they came up short. Had they advanced further, he probably would have won the MVP award. He doesn't have much of a supporting cast, which makes it very easy for teams to key on Nowitzki. For them to qualify for the Olympics, they must place in the top three at the World Qualifying Tournament in July. They are one of the favorites, but must compete with Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Croatia, and Brazil among other. It's a tall order, but if Nowitzki can get some help from his supporting cast, they can earn a birth to the Olympics.

Todays Featured Team: Puerto Rico

Ranked 12th according to FIBA, Puerto Rico is comparable to that of a mid-major, only on the international scene. They have very solid guard play, with flashy point guard Carlos Arroyo(Orlando Magic) leading the way. Although streaky offensively, Larry Ayuso(Cibona, Croatia) and Rick Apodaca(Besiktas, Turkey) have also been key contributers. With the emergence of Jose Barea(Dallas Mavericks), he brings even more depth to an already tought back court. Their main weakness is their front court. Daniel Santiago, their best post player, is most likely done playing interenationally. He was a solid player with very limited athletic ability and poor defense. Their front court is an area that must drastically improve, especially defensively. Until then, they will remain a dangerous team when hot, but will not crack the top 10 in the rankings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dream Team vs. Team USA

The highly debated question everyone has been talking about, which team is better? For the sake of this argument, we will assume Team USA's starting line up will remain the same in the Olympics. Remember, NBA accolades, achievements, and championships are completely disregarded because this is about each player and how they would fit in on their particular team. With that being said, let's compare the Dream Team's starting line up against Team USA's.

Point Guard: Magic Johnson vs. Jason Kidd Advantage: Dream Team
While Kidd is the perfect fit for Team USA, there is nothing he can do that Magic couldn't do. Neither player is an outstanding shooter, Magic may have a slight edge there. However, at 6'9'', he is much better at creating an open shot for himself. Defensively, Kidd would struggle to match up with Magic, especially if he went in the post. They are both excellent decision makers in transition. Kidd's only advantage may be that Magic was close to retirement and he had already passed his prime by 1992. While Kidd is getting up there in age, he still has a few good years in him. The overall edge still goes to Magic.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant Advantage: Even
Remember, we are going by how old they were at the time. 29 year old Jordan vs. 29 year old Kobe. Don't get me wrong, Kobe has a long way to go to become as good as Jordan was at say 34. These two are strikingly similar in basically every category. They are both their teams best defender. However, neither player would be able to shut the other down. Because of their excellent offensive and defensive skills, they basically cancel each other out in that aspect. Both players are extremely competitive. The only thing that could really separate the two, is how well they "let the game come to them." Which player is not going to force any shots and make the best decisions? Both unbelievably talented and skilled, there is no clear advantage here.
Small Forward: Larry Bird vs. Lebron James Advantage: Team USA
Plain and simple, at this point in time, Larry was a step slow and past his prime. No way in the world would he be able to guard Lebron. That leads some to say, well then the Dream Team would just play a 2-3 zone. Well that would present a whole world of problems for Chuck Daily that he wouldn't want(offensive rebounds, open three pointers, lack of defensive pressure). Clearly, Larry is the better shooter. However, with the international three point line, even Lebron is capable of shooting over 40%( See Fiba America's Championship stats). Larry would have a very difficult time consistently creating good shots for himself with Lebron on him. Overall, Lebron gives Team USA a big advantage in nearly every category.
Power Forward: Charles Barkley vs. Carmelo Anthony Advantage: Dream Team
For whatever reason, everyone wants to label Carmelo as Team USA's power forward when clearly he isn't. But, with basically a four guard starting lineup, someone had to be the PF. This is the hardest match up to compare, because it just depends on what you want to go by. Obviously, Carmelo would get dominated down low, which Team USA would either take their chances with him one on one, or bring a double team, leaving them susceptible to open three pointers. At the same time, Charles has no chance guarding Carmelo on the perimeter. He would be able to create a lot of shots for himself, and when the double team came, he would create for others. Carmelo is the best player team USA has when it comes to the "international game." However, he has a very similar skill set to Kobe and Lebron, where as Barkley brings a different dimension to his team with his blocking and rebounding ability. A very awkward match up, but the overall edge goes to Barkley.
Center: David Robinson vs. Dwight Howard Advantage: Dream Team
The similarities in this one are scary! Explosiveness, rebounding, blocking, dominance around the basket, they have all those skills without a doubt. They also both possess the same weakness, lack of a consistent jump shot outside of eight feet. At 27, Robinson was in his prime, where as Howard is not even close to reaching his potential. Raw isn't the word, but Howard still has a lot of room for improvement on his fundamentals and overall court sense. This is where Robinson has the advantage. His athletic ability is nearly equal to that of Howard's. While his skill and intelligence are far ahead of Howard's. Overall, Robinson gets the advantage in this one.
Winner: Dream Team
Another big factor, the Dream Team's bench is MUCH deeper, especially the post players. What they lack in athleticism, they make up with knowledge of the game and the fact that they are all proven winners and have been in the league for a while. With the exception of Kidd, every player on Team USA is going to get better. It would be a great game, but in the end the Dream Team would be too much for the inexperienced Team USA. But, man, this is one game I would love to see! Let's hope the nucleus of this talented Team USA squad can stay together so we can have this conversation again in 2012.
Clearly, this is all a matter of opinion. Feel free to leave comments whether you agree or disagree. I'm interested in seeing what everyone else thinks.

Monday, January 21, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympic Arena Completed

Seen here, is the Wukesong Indoor Stadium, home to the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. All rounds of the tournament will be played here, including the medal round. Seating roughly 18,000 fans, the stadium has a very modern and technologically advanced feel to it. Construction of the gym took nearly three years to complete.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nine teams qualify for 2008 Beijing Olympics

1. Spain- 2006 World Championships winner
2. Angola- 2007 FIBA Africa Winner
3. USA- 2007 FIBA America's winner
4. Argentina- 2007 FIBA America's 2nd place
5. Iran- 2007 FIBA Asia winner
6. Australia- 2007 FIBA Oceania winner
7. Russia- 2007 Eurobasket winner
8. Lithuania*- 2007 Eurobasket 3rd place
9. China- Host country gets automatic bid

*Spain (2nd place) had already earned a birth in the Olympics, giving Lithuania(3rd place) an automatic bid

The biggest surprise among these nine teams has to be Russia. With a shocking win over Spain to take first at the Eurobasket, Russia has many people wondering whether they are contenders, or pretenders. Of course the Olympics is a whole new atmosphere, only time will tell if Russia has what it takes to contend. The Olympics will consist of 12 teams. The Final 3 Olympic births will be awarded at the World Qualifying Tournament in mid-July of 2008. The teams most likely to contend for these final three spots are Greece, Germany, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Croatia, and Brazil.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympic Power Rankings

1. United States- Plain and simple, the best team in the world. And boy does it feel good to be able to say that again! Jerry Colangelo has done a great job of putting together a TEAM rather than a group of superstars. This is the first American team in a few years that appears to be comfortable within the international style of play. I feel like I can honestly say that poor shooting is no longer as issue for Team USA. Teams can no longer sit back in a tight 2-3 zone, not with the likes of Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies) and Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks). It's hard to imagine Kobe Bryant(L.A. Lakers), Lebron James (Cleavland Cavaliers), and Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) playing better than usual, but with J Kidd (New Jersey Nets), running the point, he has the ability of making everyone better, including man child Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic). I could go on and on about this team, but unfortunately their are other countries in the world. Look for an upcoming article on Team USA in the next few days. This team has the opportunity to reestablish USA's basketball prowess. However, anything less than gold with this roster, and as much as it pains me, I will admit team USA is no longer dominant.... I HIGHLY doubt it comes to that.

2. Argentina- It's been nearly four years, but the gold medal still goes through Argentina. Just ask Manu Ginobli, he was the heart and soul of their 2004 gold medal team. The good news for Argentina is that the core of their team remains the same. They have six legitimate NBA players on their roster and many other talented players as well. They are very similar to the top European teams in the sense that they have high basketball IQ's and are very fundamentally sound. Not to mention they have played together for a while now, much longer than just about any other team that will be in the Olympics. If you aren't very familiar with this team, you may recognize some of these names: Luis Scola,(Houston Rockets) Andres Nocioni,(Chicago Bulls) Fabricio Oberto,(San Antonio Spurs) Walter Hermann,(Detroit Pistons) and Carlos Delfino(Toronto Raptors). Still doesn't ring a bell? Just wait until the Olympics role around, this team is one to be reckoned with. There experience and ability to play as a team make them a serious contender for the gold in Beijing!

3. Spain- Do NOT let the Eurobasket fool you, this is still the best team in Europe. Sure everyone wants to talk about Pau Gasol, and rightfully so. However, Jorge Garbajosa (Toronto Raptors) and Juan Carlos Navarro (Memphis Grizzlies) are equally important to the team. It seems like these three play better together every year, a scary thought for opponents. And with Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors) running the point, they are capable of staying with anyone, even on an off night. Calderon is a very fundamentally sound guard and is deceptively quick and has a nice handle too. Think Spain doesn't have a chip on their shoulder? They were the laughing stock of Europe after falling to Russia in the finals of the Eurobasket. Trust me, this is a team that is going to come out with something to prove.

4. Greece- Somebody stop the PICK AND ROLL!!! Ironically, this group of "no namers" made quite the name for themselves when they defeated team USA in the 2006 FIBA World Championships on way to capturing the silver medal before losing to European power Spain. This team does not have a single NBA player on their roster. They have no business beating Team USA right? Don't tell Theodoros Papaloukas (CSKA Moscow) that. He has been the main reason for their success. Another reason? Team Chemistry. Greece has five players that play for Panathinaikos, the number one rated team in all of Europe. They also have two players on CSKA Moscow (Papaloukas and Nikos Zisis) the number two ranked team in Europe. Make no mistake, this is a team with a very high basketball IQ and they play extremely well together. However, they desperately lack athleticism. None the less, their skill and team chemistry got them the number four spot in the power rankings.

5. Lithuania- Sarunas! Sarunas! Sarunas! Of course...we're referring to former NBA player Sarunas Jasikevicius, now playing with Panathinaikos out of Greece, you know, the number one ranked team in Europe that we just mentioned. Do not think he made a mistake by leaving the NBA, he is treated like a god over there, and trust me, he is getting PAID. Anyways, just how far Jasikevicius can lead them is yet to be seen. He is the heart and soul of this team, and like the mighty Spaniards, he and his team have a lot to prove. Jasikevicius has a decent supporting cast in Darius Songaila (Washington Wizards) and Linas Kleiza (Denver Nuggets). They are definitely medal contenders, but if they want a shot at gold they are going to have to play nearly flawless basketball.

Recap of FIBA America's Championship

Team USA never looked back as they left their competition in the dust. Led by Carmello Anthony,(21 ppg) Team USA managed to go undefeated while winning every game convincingly. Dare I say it, Team USA looked strikingly similar to the original "Dream Team" at times, simply dominating their opposition on both ends of the court. In the championship game, USA defeated Argentina 118-81, defeating them for the second time in the tournament. However, Argentina was playing without several of its better players, (Manu Ginobli, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni, and Walter Herrmann) resulting in a very onesided affair for the Americans. Under the FIBA America's Championship format, the top two teams (United States and Argentina) get an automatic birth to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Luis Scola,(Argentina) who recently signed with the Houston Rockets, was named tournament MVP. Prior to the championship game, Puerto Rico defeated Brazil to earn the bronze medal. Puerto Rico was led by Elias Ayuso, who scored 39 points. Carlos Arroyo( Orland Magic) had a sensational game scoring 30 points and dishing out ten assists. Unfortunately, the win is nothing more than a moral victory for the talented Puerto Rican squad. This should serve as a good momentum booster as they head into the next qualifying stage.