Just because the NBA is on hiatus doesn't mean all NBA players are lounging on a beach somewhere. A few dozen (39) NBA players are currently competing in the Olympics while a bunch more whose countries did not make the Games in London are trying to qualify for next year's championships (Eurobasket 2013 among them).
From the Suns point of view, three international players have interesting stories unfolding this summer.
New power forward Luis Scola, a product of the Suns' youth movement (being 8 years younger than Grant Hill, of course), is playing for Argentina in London. He leads the Olympics in scoring (22.5 ppg) to go along with 5.8 rebounds as he plays a lot of Center for the veteran team known as the Band of Brothers.
Poland (Marcin Gortat) and Slovenia (Goran Dragic) did not qualify for the Olympics. Gortat's team is playing this month to qualify for Eurbasket 2013 - the European Championships. In a warmup tournament this weekend, Gortat has put up 27/10 and 24/15 against Montenegro and Latvia, respectively.
The Suns' own Goran Dragic actually IS taking the summer off though. Since Slovenia is hosting Eurobasket 2013, a major coup, they don't need to play their way into the competition. As a caution, Slovenia's best National Team players are taking this summer off while Slovenia evaluates youngsters.
Hit the jump for a whole lot more on Scola, Gortat and Dragic.
Luis Scola is not the most talented player in the game, but he has always been very effective and happens to lead all Olympics players, including Team USA, in scoring at 22.5 points per game. Leading his own team in scoring is not an easy feat, considering they boast Manu Ginobili (21.5 ppg), sharp-shooting Carlos Delfino (15.8) and Andres Nocioni (9.0).
"He's a hell of a scorer," Manu Ginobili said of Scola this week to Dan Bickley of azcentral.com. "He has so many trick shots and mid-range shots. He became just lethal from the free-throw-line area. He can give you a lot."
But Scola is not just about scoring. He works hard, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done on the court.
He does the stuff that isn't always glamorous. That's not an easy mentality to sustain.
"I think I have no choice," Scola said in the same interview with Bickley. "I don't have extraordinary ability. I'm not very athletic. I have to play that way if I want to be successful in the world of basketball. I find out early in my career, if I don't go 100 percent, it's going to be very difficult for me to compete, to be an impact player for any team. And any time I stopped playing that way, I start playing bad. So this is the only way it's going to work."
A longtime nemesis of the Suns, Ginobili is well aware of Scola's new franchise. He was asked to give a candid assessment to fans in Phoenix.
"I've been playing with him for 15 years, I know him very well," Ginobili said. "He's definitely a hard worker, a hard-nosed player. He's going to run on every single possession. Up 20, down 20 or tied, he's going to play. He's going to try to play every game possible. He's not going to rest five games because he's tired."
In addition to scoring, Scola is second on his Argentinian team in rebounding (5.8), tied for first in blocks (1.0) and third in assists. One thing Scola does not do is shoot 3-pointers. He is an inside player, earning his keep near the basket.
Gortat's team did not qualify for the Olympics in the play-in tournament last year, so this year they are trying to play in to Eurobasket 2013 - the Euro championships. Eurobasket is bigger than the Olympics to every national team outside the USA.
Poland is playing a few games this weekend in a 3-day tournament called the Sopot Cup to get ready for the elimination tourney that starts on August 15.
Marcin Gortat in the Ergo Arena. Sopot Cup Basketball Tournament
European Championships Basketball, Teams, Scores, Stats, News, Standings - EUROBASKET
Basketball. Gortat effective, but Poland lost to Montenegro
In the opening game of the Sopot Cup, Gortat played very well (27 and 10) but no one else on his team did.
Gortat and the Latvians, the Poles quickly ułożyli to sleep - Sport - WP.PL
In the second game, the team showed up around Marcin and the Poles won 99-74. Gortat had 18, 8 and 3 blocks by halftime.
I encourage you to follow the links in the translated Polish stories. Gortat is growing out his beard this summer (a stark contrast to his bald pate), and generally enjoying being the face of Polish basketball. Who can blame him?
Poland will very likely qualify for Eurobasket 2013 in Slovenia. They have not done quite as well as Slovenia, let alone Argentina, but they are always in the hunt.
Speaking of Eurobasket 2013, the little country of Slovenia won the right to host that prestigious tournament next year. Recently, Hedo Turkoglu's Turkish National team hosted the FIBA World Championships in 2010 and almost won it from out of nowhere. Hedo and his brethren's faces were all over Turkey that summer, helping the team play well all the way to the end.
Next year, it's Goran's turn to be the biggest local name in the whole tournament and for Slovenia to be buoyed by its fans to hopefully finish higher than ever (4th is their highest previous finish).
Slovenia Not Standing Still | EuroBasket 2013
Dragic's Star Rises | EuroBasket 2013
Luckily for Suns fans, Goran just gets watch his brother train this summer during some exhibition games while he and his best teammates take the summer to rest and prepare for next year's epic battle.
Slovenia has performed better in Eurobasket, which occurs every two years, since Dragic joined the team. In 2009 and 2011, little Slovenia has finished 4th and 7th, respectively.
Check out Slovenia's history in Eurobasket, including Dragic's growth into the team's best player.
Enjoy the links, folks!
And enjoy watching Luis Scola in the Olympics this year - you really will fall in love with his game.