Star Turns

Jerebko, Datome centerpieces of their national teams in Eurobasket 13

Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome will be competing for precious minutes a little more than a month from now as Pistons teammates. Minutes will be plentiful for them next week when they carry their underdog teams into Eurobasket competition.

Joe Dumars and Pistons assistant general manager George David will leave for Slovenia on Monday to watch the two Pistons play five games apiece over six days in the qualifying round of the 24-team Eurobasket 2013 tournament. Four groups of six teams each will play across the country with the top three teams in each group advancing to the second round.

Jerebko’s Sweden and Datome’s Italy are joined in Group D by Russia, Turkey, Greece and Finland. Finland is the longest shot of the bunch and Sweden is traditionally undermanned, though Jerebko and Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor give the Swedes two NBA players and a fighting chance. Jerebko helped Sweden qualify with his performance last summer.

Italy would be among the favorites to advance but two of its four NBA players – Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani – are out with injury or illness. That leaves Datome and San Antonio’s Mario Belinelli as the mainstays against traditional European powers Russia, Greece and Turkey.

The happenstance placement of Sweden and Italy in the same group makes for an efficient trip for Dumars and David, who won’t have to hopscotch across the country’s four tournament sites but set up camp in Koper and see all nine games, including the Sept. 9 group-play finale when Sweden and Italy square off – with the possibility that Jerebko and Datome could go head to head. Both teams open play on Wednesday when Sweden meets Greece and Italy takes on Russia.

“The goal of this is, one, we get a chance to see our guys play, but two is to support them,” David said. “We definitely want to spend some time with them, to watch them play multiple games over there and to show our support.”

David’s trips to Europe to scout both players helped make them Pistons. In fact, during the 2008-09 season David traveled to Italy to scout both Jerebko, then playing for Biella in northern Italy, and incoming Piston Brandon Jennings and wound up seeing Datome, too. Jennings, who bypassed college after leaving Oak Hill Academy in favor of a pro season abroad, was a teammate of Datome’s in Rome.

David estimates he’s seen Datome in person at least 10 times since then, but he and Dumars will be watching him with piqued interest this time around.

“There is some value in seeing Jonas in a little bit of a different position with his team than he is with us,” David said. “He is one of the two NBA players on his roster and they’re counting on him to help lead them. It’s a different role for Jonas and that’s valuable for us. Obviously, not having seen Datome play as much as Jonas, there’s some different value in getting the opportunity to see him play. But for both guys, especially at an event like this, just being there to support them and letting them know we’re there to support them is just as important as us watching them play.”

Datome’s calling card is his perimeter shot, but David saw enough in the rest of his game to become convinced he was ready not just to fill out an NBA roster but to be able contribute.

“I would say the two things that really stand out with Luigi are, obviously, his shooting, but I think he’s a better finisher at the basket than he gets credit for,” David said. “He’s just as athletic as the play needs him to be when he finishes at the rim and he’s pretty good in the open floor at getting to the basket quickly and finishing above the rim. He’s got very big hands and one of the reasons he finishes plays so well above the rim is he can change his shot easier than guys who have smaller hands. And I also think he’s a competitive defender.”

When David was scouting Jennings and Jerebko nearly five years ago, Datome was a 20-year-old who’d been identified as a potential breakout player but struggled to earn any playing time. It wasn’t until the past two seasons – and this year, especially – when he emerged as a legitimate ready-to-play NBA prospect.

“His stats around January, February were kind of just off the charts,” David said. “That’s what started to grab people’s attention. Statistically, I think he was shooting 50 percent from the international 3-point line – longer than the college three – and I think he had only missed four free throws for the season as of January. When I saw him play and practice in April, I believe the second element that really turned people on to him was how much he impacted their winning. They were a team he basically took to the finals in one of the better leagues in Europe.”

Both Datome and Jerebko will be required to perform similar heroics in order to carry their national teams out of a strong Eurobasket group before they leave for the United States and join forces as Pistons teammates.