Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Ukraine

August 22nd, 2014 by Noah Perkins

ukraine

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

“Ukraine announced plans to open Chernobyl, their nuclear disaster site, to tourists, they say it’s just like Disneyland. Except the 6-foot mouse is real.”

I am so sorry to have included that, it’s just… this Ukrainian team is so terrible, I have virtually nothing to say, and if my entire post were the Ukraine sucks worse than David Spade, it wouldn’t show up in a Google search.

That Chernobyl joke was Conan O’Brien’s by the way, in case you were wondering.

Some of you may be familiar with the Ukraine’s best player, Yudzhin Dhezter. Or as he goes by in his native Los Angeles, Eugene Jeter, AKA “Pooh Jeter.” The former Kings guard (the Black guy in the picture above, if you couldn’t tell) is less Ukrainian than Arroz con pollo.

Terrible teams usually bring in oddball-naturalized players. For this I am thankful.

Jeter won’t be the problem, nor will the coaching. Nets color commentator and former longtime NBA coach Mike Fratello (the guy with the toupee) is driving this Titanic in the making.

Coming into this tournament with a FIBA power ranking of 45, and no major victories in the Nations short basketball history, this is more of a building block tournament than anything else.

Besides Pooh, other notables on this team include former Phoenix Suns center Slava Kravstov, who averaged one point and half a rebound per game last season, and Kansas commit Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk, who has been described as a 17-year-old prodigy. Seventeen! Let that sink in: A 17-year-old is on the team. Dude probably doesn’t know what dial up Internet is…or maybe they still use that in the Ukraine. I know he’s a big time incoming freshman for the one of college basketball’s biggest powers, but any time a 17-year-old, no matter how prodigal, is expected to play a big role for a team, that team is in trouble. Mykhaliuk is years away from deserving a roster spot in international competition… or even needing to know how to shave.

The rest of the team is made up of guys with equally hard to pronounce and spell names. None of those guys include 7-foot-1 Phoenix Suns center and former NBA Lottery Pick Alex Len, or 7-foot-1 280-pound former NBA draftee Kyrylo Fesenko. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — The Dominican Republic

August 22nd, 2014 by Noah Perkins
Jack Michael Martinez

Jack Michael Martinez

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Authenticity shines through. That’s why I always liked Biggie more than Tupac.

I know, I know, I know: Another white dude talking about Hip-Hop. I’ll spare you the long-winded version and just say this: Tupac was born in Harlem, went to high school in Baltimore, yet always claimed LA. His songs varied between themes of feminism and slut shaming and he wrote poetry about making love, despite being convicted of sexual assault. Seemingly a little fraudulent, wouldn’t you say?

Biggie on the other hand, was just Biggie, a big fat slob with a lazy eye who could rap his ass off, without pretense.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there is something incredibly genuine about the Dominican national team; watching them play draws you in. Maybe it’s rooted in Dominican culture; or possibly it has to do with team captain Jack Michael Martinez — my favorite – and, in my opinion, the most compelling — player competing in the World Cup.

For those with short memories, Martinez’ claim to fame was as the best player top-ranked high school team in the country, Artesia High School, in 2000 (so good that future NBA-er Jason Kapono spent the season playing in his shadow). When it was discovered that his coach, Wayne Merino, had falsified Martinez’ age to make him appear younger, the 20-year old, who had been the good soldier and followed his coaches orders, had his visa rescinded and was sent back to the Dominican Republic.

For many years, Martinez, a 6’8” power forward, drew NCAA and NBA interest, but visa issues have always prevented him from playing in this country. That hasn’t prevented him from going to absolute war with Luis Scola every time the pair has met on the low blocks, with Martinez playing the NBA veteran as an equal.

Now in his early 30’s, Martinez is an absolute technician in the post. Crafty, nifty, cunning — whatever adjective used on big men from the Kevin McHale School of post play, can be used to describe this guy.

Did I mention he rocks a pineapple haircut and occasionally wears a phantom of the opera style face guard? I believe that’s called charisma.

Objectively, how good is this team? They’re OK. I think they are better than their FIBA world ranking of 26. However, they’d be much improved if Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva were suiting up for them.

Wily Houston Rockets forward Francisco Garcia and ACB center Eloy Vargas join the walking double-double Martinez in a formidable frontcourt. Several players on the roster have NCAA Division I experience (of note to loyal OBW readers: former Albany wing Gerardo Suero, who suited up for the 2012 Dominican team, is no longer on the roster). Former NBA player and current assistant Rod Strickland anchors a coaching staff headed by USF head coach Orlando Antigua.

Two fun facts about Orlando Antigua: He played on the Harlem Globetrotters for seven years and was once shot in the head during a drive-by. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — South Korea

With four Kim’s on their roster, Korea will finish with four more Kim’s than victories.

August 21st, 2014 by Noah Perkins

korea

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Corporal Burns Park, which sits along the Charles River on Memorial Drive, is famous for being the basketball court that Patrick Ewing spent his formative years at. Back in the day, this was one of the premier courts in all of Boston. Throughout the summer, you could find intense games throughout the day and even the occasional run from late at night into the wee hours of the morning.

During these late night basketball jaunts I discovered something adjective-less: A swarm of Asian kids from Harvard descending upon the playground.

To be clear, I don’t mean Asian American; I mean K-Pop, Hello Kitty, Anime Asians — as in, from elsewhere of the world.

The odd thing about these kids was they clearly came to play basketball, but they weren’t really playing basketball. It was more reminiscent of a full on Battle Royale: a 39 players deep, three balls at once, half court only, co-ed rugby scrum. Not to mention they were never interested in playing with people outside of their own group. Which I guess explains why they were at a basketball court at 3 o’clock in the morning.

This phenomenon happens in college gyms, outdoor-parks, and other basketball-centric places all the time and is indicative of the NBA’s growing popularity and influence.

Throughout Asia, basketball continues to improve and other countries are finally catching up with China (and it’s slave-labor basketball factories).

South Korea, finishing third in last years FIBA Asian Championships, qualified for the World Cup for the first time in over a decade.

You know the saying “they’re just happy to be here”? Well, its applicable. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Slovenia

August 20th, 2014 by Noah Perkins
Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

As if we needed any more reason to love Goran Dragic… Really, you don’t know who I’m talking about? The guy who just won the NBA’s most improved player award. The guy coming off a season in which he averaged 20 points and six assists a game? Not to mention all while shooting over 50 percent from the floor and 41 percent from behind the arc.

You don’t know him?

As the old Slovenian proverb goes “Pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing.” Or in Goran’s case, keep on shooting.

Dragic is an absolute monster on the court; I’d go so far as to say he’s the best non-American guard in this tournament, playing in the World Cup’s best non-American backcourt.

Did I mention the Slovenian national team’s other starting guard so happens to be Goran’s younger brother, Zoran? For those slow on the uptake, that’s Goran, but with a ‘Z.’

The Dragic-duo flat out ball up together: Going basically two-on five-they were good enough to carry the Slovenian team to a fifth place finish at last year’s Eurobasket. High points from that tournament included combining for 37 points versus Italy, and assaulting Serbia in a game that took Nenad Kristic’s hairline back a few inches.

Like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Dragics are fun to watch volume scorers. Unlike Steph’ and Klay, who benefit from having a supporting cast, the Slovenian Team has no one else — certainly no one any of you have heard of (Hell, no one I have heard of either).

Beno Udrih isn’t playing; neither is Sasha Vujačić or Bostojan Nachbar. Thirty seven-year-old, 300 pound Marko Milić, who in his prime was one of the most feakish athletes to ever pick up a basketball, would be the third best player out there if he still played for the national team. (more…)

Josh Speidel commits to Vermont

August 19th, 2014 by Sam Perkins

spiedel

John Becker got his man. There is now no argument that Vermont is completely his team.

At noon, from the cozy confines of his Columbus North (Indiana) High School, rising senior Josh Speidel announced his commitment to the University of Vermont.

According to scouts, Speidel is a skilled, athletic, and extremely tough 6’7” power forward/center with the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, put it on the deck and get by defenders, and finish with authority at the rim. Listed at 210 pounds, Spiedel has a good frame to put on additional strength at the college level. Perhaps more than anything, Speidel reportedly has a good motor and is extremely tough and a very hard worker.

ESPN ranked Speidel as a “thee-star” recruit and listed him as the 28th best high school center in the class of 2014. In addition to Vermont, Spiedel had official offers from Utah State, Ohio, Toledo, Duquesne, Northeastern, Evansville, Buffalo, Ball State, San Jose State, New Orleans, Northern Illinois and Loyola Chicago. He also had legitimate high major interest from, among others, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, DePaul, Utah and Gonzaga.

Speidel’s signing, in addition to that of Everett Duncan (a 6’5” combo-guard and younger brother of current freshman Ernie Duncan), will give the Catamounts five players from the Indiana – an area that current assistant Kyle Cieplicki has been recruiting hard — on their 2014-2015 roster (current sophomore Dre Wills, both Duncans, Speidel, and current freshman forward Zach McRoberts).

It’s hard to put too much stock in ESPN rankings – which tend to be akin to throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks once you drop outside the can’t miss blue chip prospects (the Four Letter Network would probably be hard pressed to give you more than three words about the America East – they might even spell the name wrong).

However, behind closed doors, Speidel has been Becker’s target and most prized recruit during the entire offseason, and landing him was a top priority for the Catamounts. While Becker and the staff can not comment about Speidel on the record, per NCAA rules regarding recruits, make no mistake, they think he is good — really, really good.

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — France

If Tony Parker looked like Tony Parker and worked at Sprouts, you’d rather copulate with the produce.

August 18th, 2014 by Noah Perkins

france

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Eva Longoria’s best years were wasted on Tony Parker. The dude had the audacity to not only cheat on Gabby from Desperate Housewives, but to do it with Erin Barry, the wife of his then teammate Brent Barry.

I don’t dislike Parker for his infidelity; I don’t like him because of his perceived sex appeal. I don’t know if it’s his nationality or his profession, but people seem to think he’s hot — like seriously hot. As far as pet peeves go, the attribution of undeserved physical beauty ranks high on my personal list.

Tony Parker looks like a malnourished cat. Sure, if emoji kittens are your thing, then hey, be attracted to whomever, but don’t feed me a pile of shit about how if he wasn’t a French basketball player you’d still think he was good looking. If Tony Parker looked like Tony Parker and worked at Sprouts, you’d rather copulate with the produce.

Fortunately for Parker, he does not work at Sprouts, and is a really freaking good NBA point guard. Unfortunately for the French National Team, the San Antonio Spurs are not allowing him to play in this year’s World Cup. Given France’s complete lack of point guard depth, this is a blow they cannot recover from.

Nicolas Batum can put points on the board; Boris Diaw can defend anyone in the world; NBA players Nando De Colo and Evan Fournier are great complimentary pieces, and 7-footers Rudy Gobert and Ian Mahinmi provide a strong post presence.

With Tony Parker this team was good enough to win gold during last years’ Eurobasket. But without him running the offense and distributing, despite their length, athleticism at the two-through-five, France becomes a severe underdog against the likes of Spain or a weakened U.S. team. Despite a wealth of NBA talent, the most important player for Les Bleus
is Antoine “A-Dot” Diot, a flashy, 6’4″ point guard who is the Parisian version of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams-lite.

For France to make a run at meddling, they will need Diot to emerge from Parker’s shadows and take the leap from flashy showman to heady, steady, distributor.

(more…)

Go east, young man: OBW interviews former Catamount and Kansas native Rob Zin

August 15th, 2014 by Jon Hart
In order right to left: Former Catamounts Bart Donovan, Rob Hamlin, Chris Kappas and Rob Zin prepare for a feast at the legendary Henry's Diner in Burlington.

In order right to left: Former Catamounts Bart Donovan, Rob Hamlin, Chris Kappas and Rob Zin prepare for a feast at the legendary Henry’s Diner in Burlington.

Way before this year’s Midwest-heavy recruiting class, Rob Zin, a Kansas native, went east and played some stellar ball for the Cats. He was a team captain and also served as an assistant coach after graduation. He took a time out to talk Sorrentine From The Parking Lot, Mama Gooch and TB’s special meal at HoJo’s.

OBW: How do you feel about the Cats recruiting the Midwest hard?

Rob Zin: Increased recruiting in the Midwest will only help the Cats. I highly encourage it.

So before UVM, what was your life like? You mentioned Kansas.

That’s where I was born and raised.

Could you talk about your background?

I was always a Jayhawk fan. I still am a Jayhawk fan. I came to UVM in 1985.

Did the Jayhawks recruit you?

They did to an extent. There was no scholarship involved out of high school.

So there was a chance to walk on perhaps?

Yeah. It was interesting because it was a chance to walk on with two other people: another gentleman that I played high school basketball with, Chris Piper and another guy that I played high school basketball against, Mark Turgin, who is now the head coach at Wichita State. He went on to become the starting point guard at Kansas for a number of years. And Chris Piper. They redshirted him and then he played pretty frequently his junior and senior years. He was the captain his senior year with Danny Manning in 1988 when they won the national championship. And so it was really nice from my point of view to watch two close friends, who decided to take that chance and go ahead and walk on to have that type of success, because that is very unusual at a university of that caliber. It was fun to watch.

What were your options other than trying to walk on at Kansas?

I was looking at a number of different places. I was looking at Penn State. I was looking at Dartmouth. I was looking at the University of Wyoming. I was looking at Boise State.

So you were pretty widely recruited?

Yeah, there were a number of different things. Just through all the time I spent playing with the Kansas basketball team, a call was made to Bill Whitmore (Vermont’s head coach) that I was interested in the school. They ended up taking a look at me.

Was Larry Brown (Kansas’s head coach at the time) behind UVM hoops back then?

No, nothing like that. It was a favor to me, a phone call. ‘Here’s a good kid. You should take a look at him.’ That was probably the extent of it.

Where did you learn to shoot?

{Laughs] Hours and hours of repetition. I was always a gym rat. I was always a sports junkie in all different areas.

Did Bill Whitmore come out to recruit you?

No, no.They didn’t know I existed. I brought myself to them.

They were sold immediately? Did you have to show them tape? How does that work?

I was actually out there. I basically played for them. Put it that way.

Why UVM? Was it the school? Was it the program?

[It was] The reputation of the school academically [and] the setting. I wanted to go to school in New England. I had been in Kansas for a long time. I loved Kansas — still do, always will — but I wanted to leave there. I did not want to go to college there. I had come to Burlington and fell in love with the town and the school and it was a pretty easy decision after that.

Describe the basketball program when you enter the picture?

Pretty bare bones. And also bare bones when Coach Brennan came aboard my senior year.

What is your first impression of Coach Brennan. I think he was a little younger than you are now.

He was 36 when he took the job.

What do you think of him?

Just that he was the absolute antithesis of what Coach Whitmore was, his approach to the game, his approach to the relationship with the players; the importance of the sport to the school and the community.

Describe Coach Brennan, “TB.”

He was awesome. You instantly admired and respected him and wanted to work for him. His enthusiasm and attitude is infectious, not only with the people that he meets that don’t play for him but ten to twenty fold for the people that do play for him. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Serbia

August 14th, 2014 by Noah Perkins

serbia

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

My God, Nenad Kristic is aging terribly.

Now I’m not saying he looked like JJ Reddick five years ago, but Jeez Louise, why cling to the scraps when you could just shave the whole head?

There are those who would disagree with my vain assessment of Mr. Kristic, however. In 2006, the Serbian version of People Magazine (yes, apparently, that’s a thing) named him the third most eligible bachelor in the country. That was eight years ago, though, before time ravaged him.

It was Larry David who said, “Anyone can be confident with a full head of hair, but a confident bald man – there’s your diamond in the rough.”

Maybe swarthy Serbian dudes just aren’t my cup of tea. I can look past vanity; Nenad probably has a great personality…well, except for that one time in 2010 when he tried to assault an opposing Greek player with a chair.

I kid because I love.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Serbian National Team, dating back to their 2002 FIBA World Championship Gold Medal team that knocked off a Team USA that included Reggie Miller. The inside-outside Vlade Divac-Peja Stojakovic dynamic really had a special way of capturing a middle schooler’s imagination.

The 2014 incarnation isn’t nearly as good, but they could still make some noise. Kristic is as big as he is physically grotesque. Not only that, the 7-footer has been valuable for the national team in the past, averaging 15 and 5 during last year’s EuroBasket.

Around Kristic, is a young team anchored by NBA talent, including Ognjen Kuzmic and Nemanja Nedovic of the Golden State Warriors and Miroslav Raduljica of the Milwaukee Bucks. With four 7-footers and only one player over 30 (guess which one) the team has the right combination of size and youth.

Did we mention how athletic Nedovic is? (more…)

2014 BU Schedule Released: Young Terriers ready to take on new challenges

August 13th, 2014 by Chris Dela Rosa
Head coach Joe Jones and his Terriers' have hardly been waving the white flag following last season's departures.

Head coach Joe Jones and his Terriers’ have hardly been waving the white flag following last season’s departures.

While the regular season for the Boston University men’s basketball team begins nearly three months from now on Nov. 16 at TD Garden against Northeastern, there is still plenty to look at when it comes to this team as they try to remain dominant during their second year in the Patriot League.

It’s been said on many occasions, and will be repeated for some time, at the end of the school year was a tough one for the BU men’s basketball program.  They were forced to say goodbye to their three fearless leaders, Dom Morris, D.J. Irving, and Travis Robinson after losing to Illinois in the NIT.  Then in April, several players, including star point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced they would be leaving BU and taking their talents elsewhere.

The departure of Watson Jr., and what would have been senior  forwards Malik Thomas, and James Kennedy, left what should have been a formidable BU squad with a slew of question marks surrounding its future success.

Fast-forward  four months, the apocalypse has not happened, pigs aren’t flying, coach Jones and the team are back at The Roof working hard in Case Gymnasium as they get ready for the 2014 season.  With the departure of the eldest players, and the most vocal player on the court, it begs the question, which player is going to step up and lead the Terriers?

“Coach Jones kinda made Nate [Dieudonne], Justin [Alston], and I the leaders,” said junior guard John Papale.  “Right now, obviously we’re the guys with the most experience.”

Papale went on to discuss the evolution the three players have made since joining the program.  During their freshman year in 2012, all three had certain roles they were expected to fulfill, and now it’s time for them to make that jump to becoming the leaders, similar to what the graduating class did their junior year.

“I think it’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I think we have enough experience and we try to do things the right way so we’re setting an example for the young guys,” said Papale.  “Just learning from D.J., Dom, and Travis they went through a similar thing their junior year so I think we’ve been doing a good job so far and I hope it continues.”

This season’s schedule includes an interesting mixture of games for BU.  The Terriers start off the year a bit early, traveling to Italy next week for practice and exhibition games against four Italian teams.

For the young men making the trip from last year’s team, it will be a very similar trip to the one the team took to Irvine, California, last season.  In Irvine, the team went 2-1, winning their final two games after having to fix some crucial mistakes when they dropped their first game.

“You spend so much time together as a team, and the way we bounced back as a team out in California, beating a really good the next day and finishing off 2-1, I think the same thing can apply in Italy,” said Papale.  “We’re going to be young, it’s going to be interesting, it’s our first time playing together, but it’ll just be us out there so it’ll be easier to focus and fix what goes wrong.” (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — The Philippines

August 13th, 2014 by Noah Perkins
Andre Blatche was officially sworn in as a citizen of the Philippines.

Andre Blatche was officially sworn in as a citizen of the Philippines.

Columnist Noah Perkins will be covering the 2014 FIBA World Cup for One-Bid Wonders. Over the next 17 days, leading up to the Aug. 30 tip-off, he will be previewing all 24 qualified teams.

Maybe it was the three slices of Papa Johns, or the slice of buffalo and ranch street pizza. Or perhaps it was the jalapeno chicken sausage, or possibly the black and white cookie, or the two peanut butter squares. There’s even an outside chance it was the RumChata mixed with milk and ice cream. Though, I’d like to think my 3 a.m. wake up call was something bigger than food poisoning, as if my body was trying to signal my brain that something amazing was happening half a world a way.

Early Monday morning, at approximately the same time that I was having an intimate experience with the porcelain throne, Andray Blatche was making his debut with The Philippine National Team in a world cup tune-up game in Spain.

Yes, the same Andray Blatche who once attributed losing 5-pounds to a haircut. Andray Blatche, whose shoe was shit in by Gilbert Arenas. Andray Blatche, you know the guy who was forced to go to a seminar on solicitation. Andray Blatche, the man who did this!

In other words, Andre Blatche, the African American, 100-percent-not-Filipino, free agent who spent last season on the Nets, was playing for the Filipino national team.

(Editors Note: Andray Blatche was also shot during an attempted carjacking)

Because only 700 Americans care about the FIBA World Cup, here are some of the basics: National teams from 24 countries participate. These 24 teams are broken into four groups of six teams. Every team in each group plays every other team in their group once. The top four teams in each group move on to the round of 16, at which point the tournament adopts the exact same format as March Madness (one-and-done style brackets).

Entry into the tournament is determined via regional qualifying tournaments, I.E.: Euro-Basket, Asia, Africa, etc. In addition to the top few teams from each qualifier, four wild card teams are selected from around the world. Automatic entry is given to the host city (Spain) and the previous Olympic gold medal winning team (the United States). The team that wins the world cup automatically qualifies for the 2016 summer Olympics – but considering how much larger the world cup is, the argument can be made that it is THE tournament and the Olympics are played in its shadow.

So how is it that an obviously non –Filipino is allowed to play for the Philippine national team? Well, every team is allowed one naturalized player — basically like when a company hires the dude who can’t work the office fax machine but can hit home runs over the lights for the company softball team. Many teams abstain from bringing ringers in; some don’t — god bless teams like the Philippines and the Ukraine.

Why Andray Blatche? (more…)