Games of the Week: July 30-August 5, 2012.
We begin the week with our 15-year-old friends, and finish the week with some Olympians. Let's get to it.
Monday: AAU DI 11th Grade Championship (11:30 AM PST, ESPN3)
So I watched a few of the AAU games on ESPN3 last week, and I gotta say, I was pretty entertained. There are some really talented players out there, all of whom look like DI college stars already. It's pretty interesting to hear announcers talk about these guys like they're accomplished basketball stalwarts, and then realize that most of them aren't even old enough to drive yet. At the same time, you can see the mannerisms that make professional athletes (or at the very least, athletes who receive a lot of attention) seem like pretty intolerable people. There's a ton of showboating, jawing, and celebrating that happens after fairly routine stuff. And that doesn't just go for the players. Former NBA guard Jeff McInnis, who had a fairly successful 12 year career playing for three different teams, is the coach of Team Charlotte, and was more than a bit animated on the sidelines. While watching his team's game on ESPN3, I noted that he had to be edited out for cursing almost continuously. Parents were pretty rowdy as well. Wholesome family stuff, this AAU business.
Tuesday: USA vs Tunisia (2:15 PM PST, NBC)
Honestly, this game probably will be a blowout in the US's favor. But I'd wager that Tunisia isn't terribly worried about the outcome of this contest. Despite the fact they lost their opening game to Nigeria 60-56, their presence in London is nothing short of a miracle. Tunisian basketball has been on the rise since 2009, since they finished third at the FIBA Africa Cup. They went winless at the World Championships in 2010, but finishing third at the Africa Cup guaranteed them a spot in the 2011 Africa Cup, and another chance to qualify for the Olympics. To everyone's surprise, they won the FIBA Africa Cup in 2011 as a dark horse participant, beating the heavily Angolans in the process. They've already beaten Britain in pre-Olympic friendlies, and will likely be looking ahead to Thursday's matchup against France, Tunisia's former colonial metropole until 1956. If Tunisia can beat a wounded French team, that will be a source of nationalistic pride for a country that continues to search for its identity following their 2011 revolution. Tunisia is also the only team that has no players who played either college or professional basketball in the United States, and only one player who has a European contract (7'0'' center Salah Mejri, who also played with the Sixers in the Orlando Summer League this year). Keep an eye on Mejri, 6'8'' combo guard Makrem Ben Romdhane and 6'6'' point guard Amine Rzig, both of whom have legitimate size and skill in the backcourt.
Thursday: Brazil vs Russia (8:45 AM PST, Illegal Stream Somewhere)
As far as I can tell, the only games being broadcasted on television here in the States are Team USA's games, and it's a well known fact that if you want to watch other countries play basketball, you're a bona fide terrorist. So, since you're a terrorist and all, jump onto the internet, and find yourself an live streaming website to watch this matchup between two countries that know how to play the game of basketball. Both of these teams are laden with NBA (or NBA-quality) talent, and are legit threats to beat the United States. Wolves fans will be interested in watching the Russian team, which stars two of their newest signings, forward Andrei Kirilenko (the reigning Euroleague MVP) and combo guard Alexy Shved. They also boast the talents of the Nuggets' Timofey Mozgov (who will forever be known as Blake's first murder victim, and the unit by which all nasty dunks are measured from here on out), former Kansas standout and CSKA Moscow anchor Sasha Kaun, guard Anton Ponkrashov, and former NBA forward and longtime CSKA Moscow player Victor Khyrapa. They're also coached by David Blatt, a highly respected international coach who has been courted heavily within the last year to join a coaching staff in the NBA. The Brazilians, meanwhile, can trot out their own NBA lineup of Tiago Splitter, Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao and Alex Garcia (who played three seasons with the Hornets and Spurs). This should be a good one.
Saturday: Argentina vs Nigeria (2:15 PM PST, Illegal Stream Somewhere)
It's another one of those "experience" versus "athleticism" affairs, but this time, it's international! The Argentinians have become one of the mainstays of international basketball, ever since they unseated the United States in 2004 and won the gold medal. They finished a "disappointing" third at the 2008 games, and are now back in 2012, looking fairly long in the tooth, but still ready to compete against the world's best. Their core group of players remains relatively unchanged from 2004. Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, and Luis Scola form the backbone of the team. Fabricio Oberto, the starting center on the 2004 and 2008 teams, has been replaced by Juan Pedro Gutierrez Lanas, a mobile big man who looked pretty good in the exhibition game between Argentina and the USA about a week ago. But the person everyone's looking at is Pablo Prigioni, who spent this year playing for Saski Baskonia in Spain, and just signed a one year deal with the Knicks. Melo seemed excited about the prospect of playing with the pass-first point guard (you took too many shots, Jeremy), and some early scouting indeed yields some encouraging data. The Nigerians, on the other hand, are hoping their youth and athleticism can counter Argentina's age and experience. Everyone on their team played Division I basketball in the United States, and they have a few current and/or former NBA players (Ike Diogu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Olumide Oyedeji and Koko Archibong) to provide muscle and experience. They won their first ever Olympic match on Sunday, beating Tunisia 60-56 in a very tight game. Let's see if they can use their building momentum to unseat one of the greatest living international teams on the world's biggest stage.