by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
However young, imbalanced or redundant this Team USA may seem, nobody can argue against the individual credentials we’ll trot out against Croatia on Saturday night. Odom and Billups are NBA champions, Rose has a ROY trophy on his mantle piece, and Durant’s had to slide his over to make room for the hardware that came with his scoring title. The other eight guys didn’t make it to Turkey by accident, either. But in the 16 years since we’ve won a FIBA World Championship, talent has never been the issue—save the 1998 lockout team which included collegiate guys like Mateen Cleaves and Trajan Langdon along with veteran non-NBAers like Wendell Alexis and Jimmy Oliver.
Where we’ve stumbled is in our approach; this is a basketball team, not a batting order. Taking turns dribble-driving a zone is a method not once diagrammed on a whiteboard nor featured in an instructional video, yet we’ve stayed at it for years and foolishly expected different results. This year’s team puts me more at ease as an American. Maybe it’s the way we’re using defense to spark breaks, maybe it’s the pleasant absence of egos and third person references. Can’t decide. And while I believe this is the year the drought ends, it’s not because we won’t face the deepest competition in World Championship history. Make no mistake that we’re no longer at the point where Dirk’s absence leaves Germany impotent or where guys like Andrew Bogut can’t afford to heal for a summer. The world has gone into reload mode. Ignore these names at your own peril:
1. Juan Carlos Navarro, Spain: He has more shots in his bag than John Daly at the liquor store.
2. Luis Scola, Argentina: Jordan had his tongue thing. Luis has his jet black hair neatly tucked behind his ears.
3. Tiago Splitter, Brazil: Antagonist of upcoming Stallone joint, Rocky VII: Rumble in Rio. He must split you.
4. Linas Kleiza, Lithuania: The Keanu of the court. You know he’s The One, but sometimes he disappears like Shane Falco. Exactly why Kestutis Kemzura brought along Laurence Fishburne and Gene Hackman as special assistants.
5. Ricky Rubio, Spain: A bell rings over the Target Center’s PA system every three hours. Moments later, you’ll find David Kahn facing Barcelona and praying on a bamboo mat.
6. Nicolas Batum, France: He’s done some serious work on the biceps, triceps and shoulders this offseason. That NBA Most Improved Player Trophy is heavier than it looks.
7. Goran Dragic, Slovenia: Derek Fisher just collapsed with dizzy spells.
8. Hedo Turkoglu, Turkey: Just received word that Hedo has asked Turkey to trade or release him. He could not be reached for comment, however, as he was being treated for flu-like symptoms at a Toronto nightclub.
9. Dimitris Diamantidis, Greece: The recurrence of Ds in his name is no coincidence. It would be the equivalent of Woolt Choomberlain or Karoom Abdool-Jaboor.
10. Viktor Khryapa, Russia: When Mikhail Prokhorov signed Travis Outlaw’s contract, he closed his eyes and imagined it was Viktor.
11. Ersan Ilyasova, Turkey: So you’d like to see the home team succeed but can’t get past your dislike for Hedo? Ersan’s your guy.
12. Leandro Barbosa, Brazil: Sofastthatpunctuationwasnotanoption.
13. Marc Gasol, Spain: More aerodynamic since edging up his Hagrid-esque facial sweater.
14. Jose Juan Barea, Puerto Rico: Barry Sanders with a basketball.
15. Milos Teodosic, Serbia: The owner of the floppy-wristed bitch jab that sparked the Krstic-Sofo-chair hullabaloo. That wrist will be just as floppy after stroking triples in your favorite guard’s grill.
16. Rudy Fernandez, Spain: If Nate McMillan wants to get anything for Rudolph the Blonde-tipped Rain-threer, he’d better hold him for ransom in Istanbul.
17. Vassilis Spanoulis, Greece: Team most likely to offer him another NBA contract: Minnesota Timberwolves. A) The Wrath of Kahn knows no bounds and B) Chances of being broadcast by ESPN—and Jeff Van Gundy—are minimal. Pen pals, those two are not.
18. Aleks Maric, Australia: If Nebraska had basketball fans, they would revere him.
19. Boris Diaw, France: Playing like the Diaw of ’06. Weighing like Precious at the Oscars.
20. Anderson Varejao, Brazil: Coming up with a quip neither hair nor LeBron-related has proven too difficult.
21. Carlos Delfino, Argentina: One of the few Argentinians not e-mailing FIBA about its 401 (k) policies.
22. Yi Jianlian, China: Yi’s teammates treat his scoring output like businesses treat charitable donations: they’ll match it, one-for-one.
23. Patrick Mills, Australia: Quicker than a Shake Weight. Slightly less suggestive.
24. Fran Vazquez, Spain: …is better than Tyson Chandler in 24 different ways.
25. Marko Tomas, Croatia: You can have your Jacob and Edward. I’m #TeamMarko. Yeah, I just tagged that.
26. Nenad Krstic, Serbia: The No-Hair Growing, Metal Chair Throwing, Kraljevo Serbia Phenomenon has been suspended for three games and docked 45,000 Swiss Francs for his callous acts against an innocent Athenian chair last week. The joke’s on FIBA though, as Nenad doesn’t even live in Switzerland. Silly FIBA.
27. David Andersen, Australia: Luckily the Hawks traded this guy away for absolutely nothing. Why? Because we’ve got Jason Collins and Randolph Morris. That’s why.
28. Marcelo Huertas, Brazil: For those who correctly pronounced Jasikevicius and instantly felt ahead of the hoop curve, add Huertas to your vocabulary.
29. Andy Rautins, Canada: Our three overlapping years at Syracuse gave me an inside look at Andy’s secret to injury prevention, so I’ve packed three extra cans of silly string in the case his joints unhinge.
30. Sasha Kaun, Russia: If this Jayhawk’s a rockin’, don’t come a chalkin’. That was pretty bad. He’s really good though.
31. Ante Tomic, Croatia: Euroleague.net’s player profiles do not include weight. Ante is among the chief beneficiaries of this policy.
32. Novica Velickovic, Serbia: Get ready for a lethal dose of Novicaine with Milos and No-Nads in timeout.
33. Omer Asik, Turkey: Don’t get he and his also-NBA-bound teammate Semih Erden confused. Asik (Bulls) is the one who actually belongs in the League. The Celtics will soon learn that Erden does not.
34. Sergio Llull, Spain: He has a playground game stuck in a professional body. And I mean that in the best way imaginable.
35. Angel Vassallo, Puerto Rico: The offensive half that Renaldo Balkman amputated years ago.
36. Roko Ukic, Croatia: Will Ukic and Tomas learn to share? Or will Marko be the Lennon to Roko’s Yoko?
37. Joel Anthony, Canada: Seeing as he’ll be the Heat’s number one scoring option this season, he’d be wise to hone his go-to guy skills in Turkey.
38. Ioannis Bourousis, Greece: Just because he’s getting the cast off his hand won’t stop him from playing like he has one around each foot. (He’s slow.)
39. Jan Jagla, Germany: You were expecting a different 7-foot, blonde-headed German with an affinity for the three-point line?
40. Bojan Bogdanovic, Croatia: With the exchange rate skewed in favor of the Euro, 1 Bogdanovic = 1 Jason Kapono.
41. Nic Calathes, Greece: His Florida Gator farewell was a tad less controversial than Christian Drejer’s. Results, also smoother. (Drejer retired at 26 due to foot injuries.)
42. Giorgos Printezis, Greece: Gerald Wallace thinks he’s reckless.
43. Elias Harris, Germany: Strange how a German will be an All-American come next April.
44. Carlos Arroyo, Puerto Rico: PR’s newest reggaeton sensation hasn’t yet struck the balance between sports and music quite like Carl Lewis.
45. Kirk Penney, New Zealand: In a Group D that includes four of this list’s top six—Kleiza, Navarro, Batum, Rubio—this Kiwi will lead the way in scoring. Related story: are yawl as bummed as I am that they’re canceling Flight of the Conchords? Penney: present.
46. Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Greece: His two-game suspension came as a relief. You see how far he skipped across that floor in pursuit of Nenad? Dude’s not cut out for those sorts of cardiovascular challenges.
47. Timofey Mozgov, Russia: Run for cover. The Mozgov Cocktail’s about to blow.
48. Bostjan Nachbar, Slovenia: The ‘J’ in his name is silent, but you wouldn’t know when his stroke’s working.
49. Hamed Haddadi, Iran: My solution for world peace: Obama and Kwame Brown vs. Ahmadinejad and Hamed Haddadi. Winner gets the other nation’s nuclear weapons. Loser keeps Kwame Brown.
50. Sani Becirovic, Slovenia: Inclusion in SLAMonline’s top 50 is one of the perks of being the coach’s son.
The 10 that missed: Marko Banic, Croatia; Brad Newley, Australia; Nando de Colo, France; Ali Traore, France; Paulius Jankunas, Lithuania; Sergey Monya, Russia; Kostas Tsartsaris, Greece; Victor Claver, Spain; Zoran Planinic, Croatia; Fabricio Oberto, Argentina
Nick Gibson is the creator of Euroleague Adventures, an American blog/podcast devoted to international basketball. He took last year off of school to travel around Europe and track Nikoloz Tskitishvili’s development which, frighteningly, was far less expensive than a semester at Syracuse University. He can be reached at email@example.com.