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The Best Professional Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of

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EuroBasket 2011 has been going on for 2 weeks now. There are six players who have averaged at least 19 points per game in the tournament so far. They are:

  • Luol Deng 24.6 ppg
  • Andrea Bargnani 22.1
  • Tony Parker 22.1
  • Bo McCalebb 20.6
  • Pau Gasol 20.1
  • Dirk Nowitzki 19.5

It all makes perfect sense of course. All those guys were first round draft picks in the NBA, all of them are big time NBA players. Of course they'd be the top scorers at EuroBasket.

What's that you say? One of them isn't in the NBA, wasn't even drafted, didn't even get off the bench in summer league games? Well that's weird. He probably plays for some third tier team that didn't even get out of the first round - just a gunner on a bad team, right? Actually, he plays for a team that is the surprise of EuroBasket, finishing second in Group F, coming within seconds of a first place finish. In fact, while half of the players on the list above have already gone home, the only non-NBA player on the list is still playing.

Bo McCalebb is on a roll, at least in European hoops. He's been a starting point guard in back-to-back EuroLeague Final Fours with two different teams, and now he's leading F.Y.R. of Macedonia to unprecedented heights at EuroBasket. 

In the interests of full disclosure, let me just point out that I didn't know much about Bo McCalebb until this tournament started. The first time I paid any attention to him was when he went through the process of becoming a citizen of F.Y.R. of Macedonia last summer so that he could play for the national team. But before becoming a star in the EuroLeague, he was a star in the Sun Belt Conference, finishing as the career scoring leader at the University of New Orleans, his hometown school (go Privateers!) 

Obviously NBA scouts had plenty of opportunity to see the guy. So why didn't he get a sniff at the NBA?

McCalebb fell victim to the curse of the combo guard - branded too small to be an NBA shooting guard, but without the skills to be an NBA point guard. And to be fair, he is definitely more scorer than distributor. He was listed at 6'0" at UNO, but he's clearly not that tall. Interestingly, in Europe, where the stigma of being under 6 feet is lost because of the metric system (he's like a Royale with Cheese), he's listed at 1.78 meters - 5'10". So yeah, he's not big. It also didn't help his cause much with the NBA that he was at UNO for 5 years because of a wrist injury that forced him to red shirt one season. The NBA is pretty lukewarm on 5'10" 23 year old rookies. But the dude can score. And he is proving to be a winner in Europe as well.

There are a lot of great basketball players in the world - and the NBA isn't for everybody. Sarunas Jasikevicius was the best point guard in Europe both before and after he completely washed out during a three year stint in the NBA. Some players are terrific with the ball in their hands as the focal point of their team, but not particularly useful in the supporting cast. Jasikevicius is that sort of player. In addition to the shortcomings in his game which would be exposed more aggressively in the NBA, it's also possible that McCalebb may be one of those guys as well: outstanding as "the man" - pointless as a role player.

It will be interesting to see if he gets any interest from the Assoc. after his performance at EuroBasket - and even more interesting to see if he has any interest in the NBA. In F.Y.R. of Macedonia, he's a national hero, for his EuroLeague teams he's a star, and from interviews he seems genuinely happy overseas. In the NBA, he's probably a 6th man at best - maybe his ceiling is Ty Lawson, but he doesn't have Lawson's jump shot. He's already 26, and he's signed for two more years with EuroLeague power Montepaschi Siena. If the NBA is lukewarm on 5'10" 23 year old rookies, imagine how they feel about 5'10" 28 year old rookies.

When F.Y.R. of Macedonia tips off at 11 AM Pacific today against Lithuania, I'll be watching the game. And the player I'll be watching most closely is Bo McCalebb - because it may be one of the only chances I get to see him play.