While London Prepares, France Gets it Done
What we learned from the Olympic warm-up event in England.
by Ben Taylor / @benitaylor
Last week saw the opening of the brand new basketball arena at Olympic Park in London, the host venue of the Olympic basketball event next summer. To test it out in style, British Basketball invited Australia, France, Serbia, Croatia and China over to take on Great Britain in a week long tournament that would give all of the teams some much needed time on court ahead of the upcoming FIBA qualifiers. I was lucky enough to be at a few of the games, and caught the rest online. Here’s what went down, in a handy ‘10 things’ list format.
1. France stole the show, going unbeaten the whole week. Tony Parker was a cut above everyone else in the building, averaging 22 points, 3 dimes and 5 boards per game. He even had a special guest in the stands on Tuesday: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
2. Parker’s French teammate Nicolas Batum was on a mission—to posterize at every possible opportunity. And he succeeded. This was my personal highlight, topped off by some nice moves from Ronny Turiaf.
3. We learned a valuable and very practical lesson for next summer—ballers do not like the cold. Apparently the new arena was too cold for the players, who complained to the organizers. By the end of the week they had security at every entrance to make sure the doors stayed shut and the heat stayed in.
4. Joel Freeland is one tough MF’er. The Great Britain big man dominated all week and showed his ability to take over a game when needed, scrapping for loose balls, grabbing key rebounds and taking clutch shots. I can’t wait to see this guy in the NBA if/when he eventually joins up with the Blazers.
5. British crowds are too quiet. This could partly be down to the arena being one third full (the organizers were only allowed to sell 3,000 tickets per night for health and safety reasons), but in my experience of various games here, British fans do not know when to make noise while watching basketball. I also got the feeling that a lot of fans only got interested in the fourth quarter, or if they saw a dunk. This tweet from GB big Robert Archibald sums it up nicely: “Thanks to the fans that came this week. On a side note it’s ok to make noise while we are on D down the stretch in a close game. #TooPolite”
6. China doesn’t have a lot going on without Yao. The team averaged just 53 points per game and hit only 33 percent of their shots.
7. Keep an eye out for 18-year-old PG Devon Van Oostrum, Great Britain’s youngest ever international. If you recognize the name, he’s the kid who did this a couple of months back. Throughout the week he showed glimpses of what he could do, and then in the final game against Australia he proved he could get it done, dishing out 5 assists and hitting some big shots (including a huge clutch three in the fourth to give GB the lead). He earned his spot in the team, and will be one to watch at Eurobasket.
8. It will be a huge shame to see the arena go after the Olympics. The UK has never had a facility of this quality, or anything resembling a ‘home’ for the sport. GB’s Luol Deng has pleaded with the authorities to keep the venue in place, but it seems destined to be taken apart and shipped to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
9. It would be a typically British thing to do to get too optimistic about a national team after a couple of good performances, but last week definitely showed that on its day, GB can mix it with the stronger international teams. No doubt, the squad has a lot of work to do (particularly keeping hold of the ball and execution in tight games), but it was more than enough to get me excited about Eurobasket. In terms of the other Euro teams, France look very strong (as you’d expect with a team featuring Parker, Batum and Joaquim Noah, among others), while Croatia and Serbia didn’t really seem to get going.
10. The Olympics are going to be huge. The whole Olympic Park setup is incredible, and my brief experience of watching ball there confirmed that having Lebron James, Kevin Durant and the rest of the world’s best over here for a summer is going to be epic. If you are heading over to London next summer, you are in for a treat.