Actual competitive basketball being played in an actual arena with actual NBA players! No, this isn’t another Drew League versus Goodman League showdown — it’s better. It’s Eurobasket 2011 and if you’re completely starved for some quality hoops, then welcome your all-you-can-eat buffet of basketball.
You’re probably sick of people trying to convince you how quality the European game has become, and while no, it’s not the NBA, it is about as good of basketball as you’re going to get. And with the labor negotiations going about as well as Charles Barkley in a marathon, this might be one of your last chances to get competitive basketball.
The EuroBasket tournament features 24 countries all with the opportunity to put away an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics in London. The top two finishers get an automatic bid while four bids to the Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament (for third through sixth) are at stake as well. But it’s not only about the Olympic bids. It’s about taking home a title for your country against the top competition in Europe. It’s a big deal.
It starts up Aug. 31 and runs through Sept. 18. It’s going to be a frantic few weeks of hoops with big names like Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Luol Deng and Tony Parker. Other than it just providing a solid little basketball fix for us junkies, it also has a pretty decent Thunder connection in it.
Well, mainly it’s just Serge Ibaka who will play for clear-cut favorite Spain. He’s already off to a solid start in the few friendly matches the team’s played impressing people with an little more developed handle, a little more decisive offense and a better feel for the game around the basket. He’s always going to bring the defense, but Ibaka playing a key role in a front court that features the Gasol brothers is pretty impressive.
But don’t forget about Tibor Pleiss, who is part of a quality German frontcourt. He was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft and at seven feet, he’s got potential. He’s still extremely young (just 21) but certainly has the ability to eventually make an impact for the Thunder. It’s not like he was one of those draft, stash and maybe see him later type of players. The organization sees him as someone to eventually bring over and insert into the rotation. But with it pretty settled right now and Pleiss in a good situation in Europe, there’s no hurry. I know, I can’t believe it either — the Thunder are being patient.
Both players are going to be key parts to teams that should be in contention. Meaning we’ll get a good chance to finally look at Pleiss using something other than a grainy YouTube video. Ibaka, we know, but it’s a chance to see what maybe he’s improving on. His role won’t be key, but then again, it really isn’t either for the Thunder. He’s not a starter, but he should definitely see around 20 minutes a game.
Don’t forget what a positive impact playing for Team USA has for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook last year in Turkey. It’s a chance to mesh with other players and play a role for the sake of winning a tournament. Plus, it’s the best basketball anyone on the Thunder roster is going to play all summer and maybe for quite a while. Kinda wish Durant, Westbrook and James Harden had applied for like Latvian dual citizenship so they could get a little more run.
So there’s reason to at least check out EuroBasket 2011, if only just to see what the Thunder’s guys are up to. (There’s also Yotam Halperin who is Thunder property and plays for Israel, but it’s not likely he’ll ever play in the NBA. But if you want to watch him, there is he.)
And if you’re wondering: Every game of EuroBasket can be watched free on ESPN3.com.