Team USA heads into their final group game with a perfect 4-0 record, against Argentina and their 3-1 record. Featuring lead Argie Manu Ginobili, and a supporting cast with a few quality NBA players, the men's national team's final group opponent may turn out to be their most formidable.
Now, before we break into talking about some of Argentina's recognizable players, we have a rare opportunity to preview this Olympic matchup by looking at teams. Since this is the last game for each team in Group A, USA has faced all the same opponents as Argentina up to this point.
Team USA's biggest challenge up to this point, Lithuania, was only a six-point win for the Americans. Argentina beat the Lithuanians by 23. On the other hand, Argentina lost to France by 7, while the USA topped France by 27.
Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino, Luis Scola, and Manu Ginobili are the four NBA players who appear on Argentina's roster. To be honest, I don't recognize any of the other names. All four of these players, however, have had nice NBA careers.
Nocioni has played for eight seasons as an undrafted forward, appearing in games for the Bulls, Kings, and, most recently, the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom he will play in the fall. Despite averaging 11 and 5 in 23 minutes a game over the course of his career, Andres couldn't buy time on the court last season. Nocioni is averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds a game in the Olympics.
Delfino was a late first round choice to Detroit in 2003, and has played for the Pistons, Raptors, and Bucks. Carlos started each of the last three seasons for the Bucks, shooting at least 36% from deep each season. He is under contract with the Bucks next season. Delfino has averaged 16 points a game in the Olympics.
Scola has had quite the successful spurt in the NBA the last couple of seasons, despite debuting at the age of 27. Luis was drafted by the Spurs in 2002 as a 22 year old, but he didn't come overseas to play in the NBA until the 2008 season, where he appeared for the Houston Rockets. After averaging just under 15 points and 8 rebounds a night for the Rockets over the last five seasons, Houston amnestied him this summer, and he was picked up by the Suns. Scola is averaging Scola has averaged 22.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.5 assist a game in the Olympics.
The Argentinian star, Manu Ginobili, was also a late pick by the Spurs who didn't come over immediately. Manu was drafted in 1999, and didn't find his way to the Spurs until 2002-2003 season. Ever since, he has been a huge part of the Spurs success as a deadly playmaker and scorer, and has helped his team to three NBA championships. Ginobili has averaged 21 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists a game in the Olympics.
The fifth Argentinian starter, one Facundo Campazzo, has averaged 4 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds a game in these Games.
The lone Clipper competing for team USA, Chris Paul, is starting for the Americans at point guard, and averaging 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. Paul is trying to fit into the Jason Kidd role- purely distributing and hitting open shots- which is difficult for a guy who has been a #1 option his whole life.
Check out these notes if you really want some info about this game- they're massive.
Anyways, enough about the game- now time for some rambling.
I know that SurfinQ00 shared the following tweet in the fanshots:
Lucas J Hann @LucasJHann
I'm the kind of guy who spends his 16th birthday watching Russia-Australia at 1AM... no, really
Well, it's true. I just finished watching Russia-Australia: a great game where Patty Mills sunk a three at the buzzer to propel the Aussies to a 82-80 win. I like watching Andrei Kirilenko whenever I can (one of my favorite players), and I like some of the other players on that Russian team (Shved and Fridzon).
Now, I've waited out the in-between period, and I'm focusing in on Tunisia-Lithuania, a game that I care about for a few reasons. I really, really, really want to see Jonas Valenciunas play, but I feel like whenever I've seen Lithuania play he's been nonexistent. Linas Kleiza's game is like a guilty pleasure for me. And, not only did I like Tunisia when they played the USA (admirably), but they actually have a chance to advance if they can upset Lithuania and if France takes care of business against Nigeria later.
Then, I'm going to bed, hopefully to wake up in time for the team USA game at 2:15 Pacific Time. So that's my birthday- all watching basketball. But I don't mind. Not only is it fitting, as basketball defines me in basically every aspect of my being, but this day isn't a big deal for me because I've been living my birthday for the last month or so.
When I was 13 years old and an eight grader, I played on my last ever rec league team before entering high school, and I was fortunate enough to play get drafted by one Rudy Hererra. While our team sucked pretty terrible, Rudy was a huge factor in me becoming the basketball player and person that I am today. He was the first coach that I ever had that actually made us run- imagine that! Both as a punishment, and as conditioning. We ran plays, and he expected us to execute them in games. It was like a huge step up from the "the most important thing is having fun" days of the past.
Playing under Rudy in the winter, I managed to get onto a 14u travel team (as a 13 year old) for the spring and summer of my eighth grade year. While I was playing in the summer, a man by the name of David Benezra saw me play a few times (at this point I was a 13 year old dropping 15+ a game on 14 year olds), and he invited me to come work out with his AAU team in the fall. Little did I know at the time, Benezra is the founder and manager of the Los Angeles Rockfish- the oldest, longest running, and most successful travel team in California.
So, I worked out with the Rockfish in the fall of my freshman year... and I was pretty terrible. A 5'9", 14 year old SG playing against seniors and juniors who already had DI offers- it wasn't always pretty. But I expected that, the coaches expected that, and I did all that I could do: work hard and get better. So that's what I did every weekend all fall: I would drive an hour down the 405 in the morning, work out for 3 hours, and then drive an hour home. When the spring came, Dave (who I am very close with- he got me my position at premierball.com) put me on the #2 Rockfish team. I played behind Robert Cartwright, Josh Mishler, and Chris Sullivan- three amazing players and teammates who I greatly respect. Robert is still with the program and the same age as me- starting on the top team and blowing up with DI offers.
I barely got on the court with that team, and I was fine with that. It wasn't my role, and I wasn't ready for a heavy minutes role at that time. So I did what I could: work hard and get better. Summer came around, and it was the same situation, and I was still just as accepting of my role as I had been in the spring. I worked hard, and I got better.
Fall workouts came again. This time, I was a sophomore with a full year of Rockfish experience, and I was one of the better players in the workouts (we were split- so the older, bigger, better guys weren't with us at that time). I worked hard, and I got better, and in the spring, I again made a team. This time, the #3 team. Why did I move? Well, I actually got a role with playing time attached on the #3 team. And I earned it by playing hard. At one point in an early tournament, I had taken 9 charges and attempted 2 shots (safe to say, the coaches loved me), and I was a veteran leader with experience. Then, disaster struck. I got injured in a game in Garden Grove- a pinched nerve in my neck/right shoulder when the center from the other team fell on top of me after I took a charge on him- and my shoulder bore the weight.
I was supposed to be out for the Spring, but I came back in the last tournament. It wasn't the same.
When summer season rolled around again, my status was uncertain. But I did what I had always done: I worked hard, and I got better. In the gym from 10-12 at Mira Costa High School (2 hours from my house) every morning that Glenn Marx (former pro and college coach/scout/trainer, current head coach of the Rockfish #1 team) had the gym open, and I worked out with him, another dedicated Rockfish, a Rockfish alum who will play for UCSB in the fall, and some German dudes. I worked hard, and I got better. And I was back on the #2 team, this time as the first guard off the bench.
So spending today watching basketball on my couch doesn't phase me, because I've been living my birthday present for the last two years: at Hawthorne HS, Mira Costa HS, Cabrillo HS in Long Beach, Garden Grove, Anaheim, Las Vegas, and countless other high schools in SoCal. It's been an incredible ride, and I have one year left. One more fall session to work hard and make my bid for the #1 team. One more spring season to show that I belong, and one more summer season to try and earn a scholarship somewhere.
Glenn Marx, who I have also become close with this summer, told me the following: "Don't let what anyone else does determine how you feel about what you do. You know you've worked hard, you know you've gotten better, that's all you need to know".
And knowing that is my birthday present. Not some shirt or cake or video game.
Thanks if you read all this way, and enjoy the team USA game!