WBC Preview: Argentina
In a country where soccer historically rules, basketball in Argentina is quickly becoming part of its national pride. The recent success by the national team in the 2004 Olympics and 2002 FIBA World Championship has largely been responsible for building excitement around the sport. In only its fourth Olympic Games, Argentina brought home the gold from Athens two years ago.
Argentina's momentum was fueled in part by an encouraging second-place finish at the 2002 World Championship, which included handing Team USA its first loss since it began using NBA players in international tournaments 10 years prior.
Manu Ginobili is undoubtedly the leader of this bunch. The Spurs guard was chosen as MVP of the Summer Olympics and averaged 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.38 steals over the competition. This past season in San Antonio, Ginobili posted 15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.55 steals per game.
Beside Ginobili, three other players on the Argentina's national team spent last season in the NBA.
In his second season with the Chicago Bulls, forward Andrés Nocioni averaged 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.63 blocks per game as a part-time starter in the Windy City. He has carved out a niche for himself as a hard-nosed defender and dependable standstill shooter, and tallied 22.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest against Miami in the playoffs.
The Detroit Pistons’ Carlos Delfino was selected in the first round (No. 25 overall) in the 2003 NBA Draft by Detroit. After a season with Skipper Bologna, Delfino joined the Pistons in 2004-05. The 6-6, 230-pound shooting guard averaged 3.7 points per game in 98 NBA contests.
Pivot Fabricio Oberto, a member of the national team since 1995, signed with the San Antonio Spurs as a free agent on August 2, 2005. At 31 years of age, he was the league's oldest rookie this season.
In recent years, national team members Ruben Wolkowyski and Juan “Pepe” Sanchez have also played in the NBA. Wolkowyski played for Seattle, Dallas and Boston while Sanchez competed for Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit.
National team forward Luis Scola, whose draft rights are owned by the Spurs, is considered one of the best forwards in the Euroleague. Given his considerable skills, Scola is expected to one day play in the NBA.
The Bottom Line
Along with Team USA, Argentina has to be considered one of the favorites for the 2006 FIBA World Championship. With the roster in the World Championship nearly identical to the one present in Athens, Argentina will be a force to be reckoned with.