Archive for the ‘Heaven is a Playground’ Category

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Brazil

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

brazil

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

Anderson Varejao is like the NBA’s version of Pharrell Williams. In the same way Pharrell’s face remains wrinkle free, Andy’s hair stay voluminous, incandescent and luminescent no matter how much time passes. Having once rocked similar hair, I can attest first hand to the challenges that accompany this type of perfection.

Where the hell does time disappear to? Varejao has been playing in the NBA since 2004; Nene since 2002 and Leandro Barbosa since ’03. Even Tiago Splitter is on the cusp of turning 30.

Watching this core group of Brazilians develop together over the past decade has been the international basketball equivalent of millennials watching the Simpsons — except the Brazilian national team hasn’t gotten stale, redundant and stupid yet.

These guys still ball up.

This past season Varejao put up a respectable eight points and 10 boards a game; Nene shot better than 50-percent from the floor, and Tiago Splitter was key role player on the NBA champion Spurs.

Even Leandro Barbosa, whose NBA career is winding down, still provides a strong scoring option off of the bench for Brazil. Keep in mind, during the 2012 Olympics he averaged 16 points a game while shooting over 40 percent from the floor.

Brazil might be known for soccer, but people seriously overlook how good they have been on the court since the inception of Olympic basketball. (Side note: I have so far resisted the temptation to trash soccer, which I refuse to call ‘Futbol,’ but in all seriousness: Fuck soccer, this is the real World Cup.)

Any way back to Brazil: They have won three Olympic Bronze’s on the hardwood dating back to 1948. Not to mention two Gold’s at the World Cup, and a gaggle of Pan-Am and FIBA Americas victories.

From Oscar Schmidt to Fab Melo (thank god he’s not on this team), this is a nation with one of the richest basketball histories in the world.

Beyond the known commodities on this team are several old ball players who have been there and done that, time after time. Sorry for the clichés, but as the oldest squad in the tournament, with a median age of 31, this is a team that has experienced every on court situation imaginable. Hell, 39-year-old shooting guard Marcelo Machado has been playing on the national team since before Monica Lewinsky was a thing. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Finland

Monday, August 25th, 2014

gooden

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

It’s a story as old as time: A young Finnish girl becomes enamored with an American professional basketball player. Over karjalanpiirakka (Finnish pastry) the two fall in love; eventually a baby comes. The couple, deciding Äänekoski is no place to raise a child, opts for safer, more wholesome Oakland. The bay area, short on restaurants serving vispipuuro, leaves the bride feeling homesick.

With his parents divorcing and his mom returning to her native Finland, the boy, now a dominant basketball player, chooses to remain behind in California. Years later, as an adult, the half-Finnish man wishes to connect with his moms’ culture and sets out to help the their national team win Gold at the World Cup.

One problem, as good as he is at basketball, Drew Gooden — the kid in the story — is an ass-hat when it comes to filling out paperwork: You can’t just wake up one morning and decry to the world “Now I am Finnish!” Gooden waited too long to start the application process for citizenship and now it’s too late. As a result, Finland will likely be relegated to winning at most one game.

Sure, if this was a competition for folk music, or windmill building, or medieval warfare – or simply a no-holds-barred brawl – Finland would probably be an overwhelming favorite. You want to talk about tough SOBs, read up on Finland, a country with a population of under 4 million, beating the bag out of the Soviet Union and it’s population of nearly 200 million, during the Winter War of 1940.

Then read up on Simo Häyhä AKA “The White Death,” whose 505 confirmed kills are the most by any sniper in any major war in recorded history. Häyhä was eventually shot in the jaw by a Russian explosive round, leaving him in a coma with “half his cheek missing.” After 11 days comatose, Häyhä awoke, and lived to be 97. Finland, of course, preserved its independence from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Suffice to say, if anything pops off on the court, our money is on Finland.

Unfortunately, this is not a fistfight; this is basketball. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Iran

Monday, August 25th, 2014

iran

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.

Does FIBA, the governing body that organizes this tournament, understand basic geography?

Israel is in the Middle East; next to Jordan, near Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. You know, the hot, sandy places in constant turmoil that make up approximately 65 percent of cable news coverage in this country. So I ask — and this is a genuine question, deriving from a place of confusion — why is Israel forced to play in the Eurobasket championship, while all the countries that surround it are allowed to play in the FIBA Asia championship?

For those who don’t understand, let me explain: To qualify for the World Cup, countries play in qualifying tournaments based on region (For example: African teams play other African teams in a tournament the prior year). Teams that finish in the top couple of spots in each regional tournament go on to play in the World Cup, these same tournaments will happen in 2015 to determine 2016 Olympic eligibility.

The world is unfair: Some countries are good at basketball and some aren’t. The national teams competing in Eurobasket are generally really good – it is easily the strongest qualifying tournament in the world. Conversely, the teams playing in the FIBA Asia Championship are not so good (or, if you don’t want to sugar coat it, many of them are outright shitty). So you see how playing bad teams to qualify for Olympic/World Cup births would have a certain set of advantages over playing good teams.

Iran beat the Philippines to win the FIBA Asia championship, thus earning a spot in the World Cup. I’m not denigrating the accomplishment; just wondering why they get to play Jordan, Bahrain, India, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and a bevy of other countries that Rec. League teams I’ve played on could beat, while Israel had to play world powers.

All I’m saying is Israel’s national team and talent, along with it’s passion for the game of basketball, dwarf those of every other nation in the Middle East and Asia major, but it will never get to develop it’s national program if it is continually forced to play teams it has virtually no chance of beating. Meanwhile, far worse national teams, with far less of a basketball following are allowed far easier paths to the world’s basketball stage.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that Israel is at odds with virtually every other nation in the region (and that is putting it very mildly).

Israel’s place as a geographic outlier in European regionals stems from the Olympic Council of Asia’s decision in 1981 to ban it from competition, a move largely due to political pressure from Arab countries (without getting into Geo-politics, it’s worth noting that the same countries that boycotted Israel for “humanitarian” reasons don’t seem to have any issues competing against the likes of Iran or China, among many other countries with piss-poor track records on human-rights issues in FIBA Asia).

As a result of their banishment, Israel applied for and was granted membership in the European Olympic Committee.

As for Iran, they’ll beat a horrendous Egyptian team and get shellacked against Serbia, Spain, Brazil and France, performing identically with how they did in 2010.

During the 2008 Olympics, Iran went 0-5.

Center and former NBA player Hamed Haddadi — who doesn’t do much of anything other than stand 7-foot-2 with the ability to walk and chew gum, possibly at the same time — is their entire team. Internationally, Haddadi has averaged a career double-double — misleading when you factor in the nobodies he has to share the ball with. As one of the tallest players in the World Cup, he is going to grab some rebounds and get in the way, but NBA career averages of two points a game illustrate why he now plays in Tehran instead of Memphis. (more…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Ukraine

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

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

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
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

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

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

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
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…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — France

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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…)

Heaven is a Playground: FIBA 2014 team preview — Serbia

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

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…)

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

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
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…)