Few of My Favorite Things
Posted by Randy Kim (NBA.com) in Athens on Aug. 28 2004 8:07 p.m. ET
Fifty-two years later, Argentina has gold again.
(Jamie Squire/NBAE/Getty Images)
Argentina has triumphed over Italy in the final game of the Olympic basketball tournament. The Argentinian players are dancing with glee on the floor. Italy and the U.S. have gathered to collect their medals. So what better place to bang out a quick entry on my favorite things about the tourney that was? From a pair of tiny point guards to the home fans, here are my favorite highlights from a darn fine basketball competition. Enjoy.
- Undoing the Curse of '52 ... Congratulations to the Argentinian hoops squad for coupling with the men's soccer team and giving their homeland a second Olympic gold medal on Saturday after the South American country hadn't won a gold medal in any sport in 52 years.
- Pozzecco's Hoops Derring-Do ... Whether he was driving to the hoop like a speeding Italian sports car, shadow-boxing with teammates, or poking fun at fans, this diminutive Italian point guard's enthusiasm for the game of basketball was truly a joy to watch.
- Work It, Girls
Gianmarco Pozzecco was a sight to behold whether on or off the floor.
... One of the best days of the trip was spending it a sunny afternoon at the Acropolis with the U.S. women's team, and watching them work the crowd -- and their best poses -- during a photo shoot at the historic Athens site.
- The Get-Up Kids ... While Argentina's Carlos Delifino (22) and Spain's Rudy Fernandez (19) didn't see too many minutes, here's to hoping these guys make it to the NBA soon (Delfino is on the Pistons' roster) even if they only get burn during the warmups. They can throw down with the best of them.
- Me Getting the Right to Vote ... Thanks to FIBA and the IOC for letting yours truly cast a vote for the men's and women's MVP's. I went with Argentina's Manu Ginobili and the United States' Lisa Leslie, thank you very much.
-The King and A.I. ... The second-best day of the trip was going to a beach party with the U.S. men's team and watching Lebron James and Allen Iverson toss a football around on the sand. Ivy was a quarterback in high school, and I believe Lebron was a wide receiver. Honestly, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens should consider themselves lucky these two haven't yet decided to foray into a new athletic realm.
- The Block-a-Bull ... If Argentina's Andres Nocioni's Olympic defense was any indication for what he'll do in Chicago, then the Bulls have a gem of a defender on their hands.
- Made Marion ... One of the most underrated performers in the tournament was the U.S.' own Shawn Marion. Everyone knew he could get up off the ground, but the Suns forward showed a knack for hitting the mid-range jumper, a crucial skill in international hoops. Let's hope he's asked back for '08.
- Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! ... A big, fat green and yellow "Oi!" to Lauren Jackson for emerging as possibly the most dominant player in women's hoops, and one as well to 19-year-old Andrew Bogut for showing that he's truly a star of the future.
- The Greek Fans
"Pee Wee" came up huge for the U.S. time and time again.
(Garrett W. Ellwood
... For showing so much unbridled, sing-along support for their home side.
- Unsung Golden Gals Pee Wee and Catch... Tamika Catchings could've scored 20 points in any given game, but chose instead to focus on defense and rebounding. Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson showed as much heart and hustle as any man or woman on the floor throughout the tourney. Because of selfless players like this, the U.S. women emerged as champions once again. Way to go, ladies.
- Speedy Spaniards ... At times, Spanish guards Jose Manuel Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro drove to the hoop with such blinding speed that it made everyone else on the court appear as if taking a siesta.
- Manu's Magic ... Ginobili's game-winner over Serbia & Montenegro on the first day of the men's tournament really set the tone for what turned out to be an exciting, topsy-turvy slate of competition.
- USA-Lithuania, I and II ... Both of these games were fast-paced jump-shooting affairs that must've made Larry Brown feel as though he was coaching in the ABA again.
- Lee-ay-too-va! ... Here's to the Lithuanian fans who continued cheering for their home team well into the fourth quarter ... of the Italy-Argentina game.
- Hellas! ... Thanks to the people of Athens for being such gracious hosts and doing such a tremendous job organizing the '04 Games.
Guys Gone; Gals Go On
Posted by Randy Kim (NBA.com) in Athens on Aug. 27 2004 8:27 p.m. ET
Two photos that just about say it all for the U.S. and Argentina.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Just like that, things fell flat for the U.S. men, while the women overcame their toughest test of the Games to advance to the gold medal game. Here are notes and observations from Friday's semifinal action.
- Congratulations to Manu Ginobili and Argentina on the huge win. They were the better team on Friday night, there's really no other way to put it. But I'm not sure that this win should be considered such a tremendous upset, as Argentina's got quite a team. The only player in their starting lineup who doesn't have ties to the NBA was big man Francisco Oberto. Otherwise, Ginobili's with the Spurs, Pepe Sanchez played with the Pistons and the Sixers, Andres Nocioni just signed with the Bulls and Ruben Wolkowyski played with the Sonics and Celtics. And that doesn't even include Pistons rookie Carlos Delfino.
- The officiating in the U.S.-Argentina game was, well, less than stellar. There were just so many questionable calls going both ways. From Marbury getting dangerously undercut on a breakaway layup to Ruben Wolkowyski getting absolutely leveled across the face towards the end of the game, many a call (or no-call) simply made no sense. To see plays like these two examples ignored, only to have Tim Duncan booted due to what amounted to ghost fouls was incredibly disappointing and robbed the game of any flow. Honestly, they need to consider bringing in a third referee for these games; a lot of these were just a case of having the right angle on the play.
Argentina's Walter Herrmann has triumphed in the face of adversity.
- A quick shoutout to Basketball International analyst Simone Sandri for correctly predicting Argentina's upset of the U.S.
some two-and-a-half weeks ago. Coming into the Olympics, he said that Argentina was the team that matched up best with the U.S. and stood the best chance of knocking them from the tourney. Well played, Simone. (Also, congratulations on your native Italy's big win tonight over Lithuania.)
- Watching Italy's postgame celebration after their upset win over Lithuania to reach the gold-medal game against Argentina was as moving and enjoyable as anything I've witnessed on a basketball court. The players were hugging, screaming, and lying flat on the floor in ecstacy. It proved that sports is at its most enjoyable when you get to see a group of grown men or women get lost in the moment and revert to being children all over again. It reminds you why the games get played in the first place. The only thing is, they kind of seemed to forget that they still have the gold medal game against Argentina to play tomorrow. I mean, what will they do for an encore should they triumph over Manu and company?
- With 11 points and four rebounds in just 14 minutes, Walter Herrmann had another solid game for Argentina. He's got some of the biggest hands I've ever seen on a basketball floor, he's very agile for his size, and he can hit the 3-pointer. Plus, with his long hair and solid build, he could double for Fabio. Apologies, Walter, that's probably not a positive. But job well done tonight.
- Argentina's Nocioni can get up there with the best of them; he had a hugely impressive breakaway block on Lamar Odom. But for much of the game he was taking some horrible flops. This is unlike him, he usually relies on his solid, physical play to get the job done.
- Shawn Marion took off his headband for the fourth quarter of the game. It might have been a superstitious gesture, but, alas, it did no good.
- I found out more information on Walter Herrmann's tragic story. What he's overcome in the last year is truly astounding and makes the U.S. loss a tad easier to stomach somehow.
- FIBA held a press conference before the U.S. game. Among the points addressed was the issue of teams getting bumped after losing just one game, as was the case with Spain. It was then suggested that the tournament might eventually expand to 16 teams instead of the current 12.
- China coach Del Harris talked about Spain being eliminated after losing one game. "It's a shame about Spain," said Harris. "The system is not good here. This is not right. Spain is one of the top three teams in this tournament. Now they're going to finish seventh or eighth because of the system. They won five games. They were undefeated. But because of bad luck of this particular draw, they have no chance to medal. And they're clearly one of the three best teams in this tournament. There clearly should be a better way of playing this."
- In the bronze-medal game, the U.S. gets a rematch with Lithuania. Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius hit just 3-of-15 shots in their loss to Italy. His running-mate in the backcourt, Arvydas Macijauskas, had 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting, but disappeared in the second half of the game; he totaled just two points in the last two quarters.
- Italy point guard Gianmarco Pozzecco is a passionate firebrand of a basketball player. At various times during the game he: got into it with Macijauskas, held an in-game conversation with a fan with a Lithuanian flag, mimicked a boxer as time was running out, and then danced and ran around the floor after the final seconds ticked off the clock. Between his daredevil drives to the hoop and his off-the-ball antics, the guy is really a treat to watch. Keep your eyes on No. 9 in the gold-medal game.
Swoopes came up big at the end for the U.S. after a cold start.
- In easily their toughest game of Olympic play, the U.S. women advanced past Russia on Friday, 66-60. A lot of the credit for the women pulling this one out should go to U.S. veteran Sheryl Swoopes. While she finished with six points and didn't have the best shooting day -- as she put it, she would have had trouble "throwing it in the ocean" -- she hit two big buckets late in the game and made some key defensive stops to protect the United States' slim lead. "I've been with Swoopes for seven years and four championships," said U.S. coach Van Chancellor after the game. "She's made every big play you can make at the end of the game. I had no doubt she would start making shots."
- The U.S. women were led by their frontline yet again. Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings, Tina Thompson and Yolanda Griffith scored 46 of the U.S.' 66 points and grabbed 24 of the team's 28 rebounds. Plus, Catchings and Thompson hit all three of the Americans' 3-pointers as well.
- After the game, Russian forward Elena Baranova, who plays for the New York Liberty, talked about the best way to top the U.S. "The Americans don't like tough games," said Baranova. "If you push, push, push, push, they don't like it. You have to push them and play hard." Baranova finished the game with 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
- Russian coach Vadim Kapranov was easily the most casually dressed coach of the tournament. He was wearing a blue polo shirt, white jogging pants and running shoes. Other coaches go low-key as well, but they're usually in matching uniforms with the rest of their staff. Kapranov was just out there on his own, in all of his dress-down glory.
- Russia's 7-0 center Maria Stepanova is a very solid post player. She's got good hands, has a decent shooting touch, and is very agile for a player her size. And she's got to be one of the few players to flat out reject a Lisa Leslie layup.
- The U.S. will meet Lauren Jackson and Australia in the gold-medal game. Jackson had another outstanding game in their win over Brazil with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five 3-pointers. The Phoenix Mercury's Penny Taylor also chipped in 12 points and six rebounds for the Aussies.
- After their win, the Aussie players arranged themselves as a set of bowling pins, then fell down in a heap after being bowled over with a basketball. One of them even teetered dramatically before going down. Good stuff.
Posted by Randy Kim (NBA.com) in Athens on Aug. 26 2004 7:07 p.m. ET
The U.S. had reason to celebrate on Thursday.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
The United States, Lithuania, Italy and Argentina all advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. While the multi-game action is nirvana for a hoops fan, it makes it difficult to whittle all of the happenings down to one coherent storyline. So, as has proven customary in the Athens Blog, here are some notes and observations from Thursday's action. I'll try to assemble in rough order of occurrence. Enjoy.
- The Olympic Indoor Hall (where all of the men's and women's hoops action is now taking place) on the main grounds of the Olympic Games is a sightly, spacious, well-lit arena. It's much more open than most U.S. arenas, due to the absence of an above-floor scoreboard and the lack of luxury suites.
- As impressive as the hall is, however, many things surrounding the game itself are lackluster. There was a 2-3 minute stretch in the second quarter of the U.S.-Spain game where the scoreboard operators repeatedly had trouble getting the correct scores on the scoreboard, which was distracting for both coaches and fans. Also, players are slipping on the hardwood here as well. Dwyane Wade and Stephon Marbury both had trouble with their footing in their game against Spain.
Lithuania's Arvydas Macijauskas one-upped Stephon Marbury's remarkable 31-point day.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant
- There was too much to say about Stephon Marbury's record-breaking day
and Pau Gasol getting bumped
from the Olympics too early, so I covered those topics seperately. You can read more about Marbury here
and Gasol here
- We had a genuine postgame controversy surrounding Larry Brown's usage of a timeout with just 23 seconds left to play. While Spanish coach Mario Pesquera thought Brown was grandstanding, according to Brown, he actually called the timeout with a minute left, but the scorer's table didn't give it to him for some 30 seconds. Brown said he tried to wave it off, but they wouldn't let him. Brown then tried to explain this to Pesquera after the game, but the Spanish coach pointed at him and refused to shake his hand. This led to a heated exchange between the coaches. "All you can do is apologize and move on," said Brown after the game. Sorry wasn't enough for Pesquera, however. "I had a lot of respect for Coach Brown, but when you do something wrong, you can't always say 'I'm sorry.' If he asked for a timeout wrongly, he could send the team back again and not spend 20 seconds to give them instructions. I continue to respect him as a coach, but for me, a coach that is up there with [Dean] Smith would never have done something like that." Ouch.
- The U.S. team still needs to learn to stop trying to fly over people and pull up for the mid-range jumper. International refs have shown a penchant for whistling the charge.
- Speaking of the officiating, the refs did a poor job in the U.S.-Spain game. Not that it would have made a difference in the final outcome of the game, but Spain bore the brunt of most of the worst calls. Pau Gasol was so distraught that he literally flopped to the floor in protest numerous times. Basically, the game was unevenly officiated, the refs didn't have great control of the game, and there were more than a few blown calls.
- The crowd, as usual, was mostly pro-Spain. Or at the very least, anti-American. "I look at it as a compliment," said Larry Brown after the game. "They want us to lose because we're supposed to have the best teams and the best players." There was one particularly boisterous U.S. fan located close to the press area who was very vocal in his support of the Americans, however. It was good to see some stateside supporters showing some of the passion their European counterparts are so well known for.
- At times, Spain underestimated the quickness of the U.S. on defense. More than a few defensive gambles, courtesy of Allen Iverson and company, that paid off for the U.S. on Thursday probably wouldn't have in the NBA. On the flip side, the U.S. backcourt really had trouble staying with speedy Spanish guards Juan Carlos Navarro (17 points) and Jose Manuel Calderon (19 points). Navarro in particular was scorching the U.S. defense and getting easy layups late in the game.
- The Amazing Ayal (sp?) is back! Better known as the "human seal" for his ability to juggle a basketball on his head, the short, chubby Israeli wowed the crowd by climbing over ladders, lying flat on his back, and hitting jumpshots, all while juggling a basketball on his head. I hadn't seen him since the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland, so this was truly a treat.
- Spanish coach Mario Pesquera did a great job of using 19-year-old Rudy Fernandez to provide energy off the bench. While Fernandez made a few youthful mistakes, his speed and leaping ability really energized his Spanish teammates. Fernandez has the raw tools that could make him a star either in the NBA or here in Europe.
- Something not seen too often while covering U.S. sporting events: Someone (I think he was an international TV producer) walking around the mixed zone while clutching a half-empty bottle of beer. The gentleman took pulls off his libation while talking to his cameraman and arena officials. Only in Europe. (Hope I'm not getting anyone in trouble here.)
- One strike against the international press (not that walking around with a beer is necessarily a positive, but I digress) is blatant cheering by the media for their home countries' sides. I can understand a little clapping and cheering, but waving flags, pounding tables, and standing up and screaming at the top of one's lungs probably doesn't need to happen in what is, after all, a work area. (I hope I am getting someone in trouble here.)
- Halftime entertainment will never be the same again -- the riddle of the "Center Court Dancers" has been solved. While at a beach club last night, I came across the talented female dance troupe. It turns out most of them are former gymnasts from the Ukraine. At one point in the evening, they even busted out some synchronized dance moves. This was easily one of the highlights of the night. The "Crazy Dunkers" were also in attendance. They were without trampolines, however, so no high-flying stunts were performed. Club's gain, patrons' loss.
Italy's Gianmarco Pozzecco can drive and dish with the best of them.
- Twenty-one-year-old Zhu Fangyu, China's 6-7 small forward, is really emerging into a decent perimeter option. He's shooting with confidence and also showing the ability to drive to the hole.
- After the game, China coach Del Harris called Lithuania's Robertas Javtokas a legitimate NBA prospect. Evidently, it's a wonder the 6-11 post-player is even on the floor. According to a German writer I was chatting with, Javtokas was in a serious motorcycle accident just over a year ago and might have enough metal in his legs to "set off every metal detector he walks through." This same writer also told me that Javtokas dates one of the Center Court Dancers, although she's a member of the Lithuanian group. The things you pick up while waiting for the players to come off the floor ...
- Before China's game with Serbia & Montenegro, Del Harris' Lithuanian assistant Jonas Kazlauskas stressed the importance of watching Serbia's outside shooting, singling out bench player Arvydas Macijauskas. Kazlauskas turned out to be prophetic; Macijauskas burned China for 32 points en route to a 95-75 win.
- Watching point guards Gianmarco Pozzecco of Italy and Carlos Arroyo of Puerto Rico go head-to-head made the other eight players on the floor appear to be moving at half-speed. Arroyo has a great hesitation move and splits double-teams better than almost anyone in the game. Pozzecco, for his part, is an exciting, seat-of-his-pants kind of player who could be the best drive-and-dish point guard in the tourney.
- Italy managed to triumph over Puerto Rico, 83-70, despite hitting just 5-of-17 3-pointers. Of course, Puerto Rico shot just .377 from the field for the game.
- A big plus for Argentina was the play of Pepe Sanchez. Still struggling with a leg injury, Sanchez hit some clutch 3-pointers en route to a 12-point night, and did a smooth job of directing the Argentinian offense.
- Argentina's Walter Herrmann did a great job of energizing his team off the bench in the third quarter. He's a 6-8 forward who moves well and has tremendous hands -- when he drives to the hoop it looks like he's cradling a volleyball. His is a sad story, though. From what I was told by another writer here in Athens, he lost his fiancee, his mother, his sister and his father in two separate incidents over the last year.
- By the fourth quarter of the fourth game of the day (Greece-Argentina), the floor was getting really slippery. At times, players were sliding around when changing directions on a defensive assignment.
- I'd like to give a nice, big "Hellas!" to all the Greek fans at the arena tonight. Your passionate support of your team is a credit to basketball fans everywhere.