Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from Team USA earlier this month not only significantly altered the national team’s roster and chemistry. It also likely set into motion a domino effect ushering in a watershed moment in international basketball: For the first time in the Dream Team era, Team USA enters a major tournament with less total NBA experience than a competitor. Host Spain’s players have the most NBA experience in the upcoming FIBA World Cup with 51 cumulative years. Team USA is second with 46 years, followed by Brazil with 39 years.
This is only the latest tremor to ripple through a landscape that has dramatically shifted since the original Dream Team arrived in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. Its 12 players had a total of 87 years worth of NBA experience. Germany followed with two players totaling 12 years. And not a single Spanish player had logged an NBA minute. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has firsthand seen much of this growth, wrote in an e-mail: “It is not a surprise that a national team other than the U.S. team has more NBA experience. In 1992, the NBA had 21 international players on NBA rosters and last season we had a record 92 international players so this really speaks to the global growth of the game.”
At the least, this benchmark is a sure sign Team USA must continue to work hard for its Gold medals. It may, however, point toward a basketball future where the Americans – despite their best efforts – regularly lose to squads that are more seasoned and nearly as talented.
The 2016 Olympics may feature such a team: A loaded French squad could be the first non-U.S. team to feature a roster of all NBA players if dual citizen Joakim Noah joins the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Evan Fournier. In major competitions following that, Canada (with possible roster entries Andrew Wiggins & Tyler Ennis) and Australia (which appears to be on the brink of a golden generation with the likes of Patty Mills, Dante Exum, Ben Simmons and Thon Maker) also loom as potential rivals to Team USA. Of course, an advantage in NBA experience alone doesn’t portend ultimate success. In 2002, the Americans had a total of 65 NBA years but lost to three squads with far less. Two years later, they were eliminated in the Olympics by an Argentine team with a total of seven NBA years of experience.
Since that loss, Team USA has won 62 of 63 games. In 2014, though, a second loss in the Mike Krzyzewski Era has never looked more likely. The Spaniards are brimming with confidence and for good reason. They have a dominant front line featuring Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, who looks to be in the best shape of his life and joins Anthony Davis as the tourney’s best all-around players. Spain boasts athletic and seasoned guards and wings who pushed American squads far more talented than this one in two Olympic Gold medal games. In all, these Spaniards have 11 players with a total of 701 international (FIBA) games played. This U.S. team has five players with 41 total games, according to ESPN.
Serbian head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic told one Spanish newspaper he believes Spain is the frontrunner. Meanwhile, Spanish guard Jose Calderon said the host nation’s team won’t crumble under the local weight of expectations (unlike a certain 2014 FIFA World Cup counterpart). “We are very laid back right now … the strength of this team is peace of mind to say you’ve got to compete and stay calm,” Calderon told as.com. “We know what we have to do, but there’s not the pressure of ‘Win no matter what.’”
Pressure to stay on top contributed to a bigger and younger Team USA roster than what was expected had Durant remained. For one, his training camp replacement Rudy Gay would not be traveling to Spain. But his absence might also have cost wing player Kyle Korver a spot. The 33-year-old sharpshooter would have been a perfect complement to Durant’s supreme offensive abilities. Yet when Team USA announced its final cuts on Saturday, a premium was placed on size and strength rather than shooting skill and precision. As a consequence, Detroit’s Andre Drummond – who just turned 21 years old – is in. “USAB officials decided in recent days that they simply couldn’t resist carrying Drummond, especially with a potential rematch with Spain and its imposing frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka looming in the Sept. 14 championship game,” wrote ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
Interesting look at the national team of Finland, where Scottie Pippen played a few games after his NBA retirement: “Their collective decision-making has become automatized to a degree that will not be achieved by any other team in the World Cup. There is no hesitation, no delays, no second-guessing.
That’s the reason why rumors about NBA veteran Drew Gooden joining the Wolfpack in the last minute never sounded plausible to me. I thought Gooden would have damaged the collectivism of the team, and the net gain would have been negative. “
Originally posted on HoopChalk:
By Harri Mannonen (@harrimannonen)
If ever, a Rudyard Kipling quote is now called for: “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of Wolf is the Pack.”
The obvious reason is that Wolfpack – the nickname of the Finnish national team – are the first opponent of Team USA in FIBA World Cup 2014. The game takes place on Saturday August 30 in Bilbao, Spain.
The less obvious reason is that the Kipling quote describes aptly what’s great about the Finnish Wolfpack. In that team, the strength of wolf quite literally is the pack.
When it comes to the sum of its parts, the Wolfpack are one of the weaker teams in the World Cup. They only have one player who currently plays in the NBA (Erik Murphy of Cleveland Cavaliers) and another one who has formerly played there (Hanno Mottola
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Great work by the folks at Courtside Films, who put together an authoritative summer highlight package on Malik Monk – the springy Bentonville High junior who is developing into one of the most highly recruited players in state history regardless of sport.
Here are two interesting take-aways from an interview in the video:
1. It’s unclear exactly how high Malik can jump these days, but he had a running vertical jump of 42 inches in the eighth grade. He told me last spring he helped develop some of that extraordinary leg power by running through the mud that would form in the rural backyard after it rained.
2. His home – before 10th grade – was in Lepanto, Ark., the Monks’ native town to which Malik gives a shout out in the above video. He also gave an shout out to The Woods, the neighborhood he grew up in (across the street from his cousin, Razorback guard Ky Madden). Finally, he gave props to “SYM,” which is something I want to find out more about.
“SYM” stands the Lepanto friends of Malik and his older Marcus Monk, Marcus told me via text. Marcus Monk, as well their mother Jackie, are definitely at the top of the Malik Monk Inner Circle Hierarchy (which I refuse to henceforth refer to as the I.C.H.)
Back in Lepanto, the family has a lot of close friends and relatives, including the Maddens (Indeed, Ky Madden often Tweets out #sym) and Malik’s brothers Byron and Aaron Scales. On Malik’s Twitter page, Malik pays homage to his cousin Troy Tucker, who died three years ago from complications of sickle cell anemia. Next week, in an interview for Letterman Magazine, I’ll ask him and Marcus more about who/what “SYM” are, but Malik might have thrown out a clue by mentioning two people below:
— Kilam (@AhmadMonk) August 21, 2014
I don’t know who @Dero7_GH is, but it appears that Rod Winkler is a University of Arkansas student who loves himself some basketball. Based on the profile image of his Twitter account, this appears to be the same Rod Winkler who caused a minor stir last January by getting into a heated, impromptu defensive positioning tutorial with Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison after UK lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville:
It doesn’t appear Winkler is from Lepanto (his Twitter feed and this article cite Little Rock as his hometown), but I don’t want to speculate. Maybe he lived in the Lepanto area earlier in life, after all. He probably never lived in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the following image created by Kentucky Sports Radio of Winkler taking his game to the proverbial next level would have the simpletons among us believe.
Thank you for your explosive dunking, Malik Monk. And so long as you don’t get involved in actual Malice in any sort of Palace, I also give thanks to you, Rod Winkler, for making our world a less boring place.
As far as I know, this is the only version of the 4-page thing available online. Here’s the first half. Below’s the second:
[Below is text not entirely visible in the above and below sections]:
He coached five seasons at Tulsa, going 119-37 for a searing .763 winning percentage. But every great character in American literature faces adversity … faces heartbreak. And so it was for Nolan Richardson.
“It was Monday, right after the NCAA pairings were released (in 1985) and we thought our daughter Yvonne was sick with the flu,” he said. “We were getting ready to play UTEP in the NCAA Tournament…
These are scans from the official Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement program. Ten members were inducted in the Class of 2014. One of them happened to be Arkansas’ favorite firebrand coach.
Here’s Part Two, which delves into the Arkansas years and features insight from Mike Anderson.
In the late 1990s, Sidney Moncrief was nominated to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame four straight years. The Little Rock Hall High alumnus wasn’t voted in, though, and now stands as the one of the top two non-inducted guards in the game’s history. “I think in time that will happen,” Moncrief, a former Razorback All-American, told me on the phone today. “There’s a time frame for everything.” Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who’s being inducted today, told me Moncrief deserves to join him one day. I believe such a moment will happen sooner than later but that’s a story for a different time.
In the meantime, let’s focus on a Razorback who got in on his first try: Nolan Richardson. Few Division I coaches not named Roy Williams or Jim Boeheim have won 500 games in shorter time than he did, and nobody before or since has taken the University of Arkansas to the same heights. Tonight is Richardson’s night, and here’s Moncrief’s take on it:
“I was very excited for Nolan. The impact he’s had on the game of basketball and people-wise … It goes beyond basketball; It’s overall impact on people, more specifically when you’re a college coach, it’s all about the young men you are leading and the impact that you have on them. And he’s done that for years. I’m very proud he was [chosen to be] inducted.”
PS – Moncrief now lives in Dallas, where he runs his own business and has written five books. He’s currently working on a book called “Your Passport to Manhood,” the latest in a Passport-themed series. Last season, he worked as a Milwaukee Bucks analyst but he said it isn’t set if he will return to that position.
Those seeking a glimpse into a possible future for youth football may not have to travel far. Just over an hour south of Texarkana, in the east Texas town of Marshall, a school board approved the cutting of seventh grade tackle football in February amid widespread and growing concern for the sport’s physical dangers — specifically, the potential for injuries from concussions.
“I’m surprised, in some ways, because you know how it is in a one-high-school town where football is everything,” Marc Smith, superintendent of the Marshall Independent School District, told The New York Times. “I anticipated a little more resistance and concern, but the safety factor really resonated with our parents.”
Certainly nobody in Arkansas is going to ban junior high tackle football any time soon. Don’t expect it to happen in east Texas, either, although flag football is a more popular alternative there. People in both areas are too passionate about the sport to seek such wholesale changes in the coming years.
Many Arkansans are also passionate parents, and they are every bit as concerned for their sons’ health as their Texan counterparts.
Enough damning evidence about brain injury has accumulated to begin rattling the most influential football-affiliated institutions and society at large. Concussions inevitably spring to the forefront of conversations involving player safety in sports. None other than President Obama himself convened a summit on youth concussions in late May, declaring: “We have got to change a society that says you suck it up.” In advance of the event, NCAA and NFL officials announced pledges totaling $55 million to go toward the study of youth sports and brain injury.
There has also been pushback from players. In 2011, Derek Owens, a former University of Central Arkansas player, was one of four student-athlete plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the NCAA had been negligent in addressing and treating its student-athletes’ brain injuries — the first such suit filed against the NCAA. Since then at least 61 ex-college athletes have sued the NCAA, encompassing nine other class-action concussion lawsuits, according to a February 2014 article in The Birmingham News. Owens’ suit w consolidated with others and in late July the NCAA reached a preliminary settlement that includes provisions for a $70 million medical monitoring fund and a new national protocol for players’ head injuries sustained during games and practices.
In addition, nearly 5,000 former pro players — including Dan Marino and Little Rock native Keith Jackson — have kept the issue a high profile one by joining (or withdrawing from the suit, as Marino did in early June) various concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL.
Photograph courtesy Arkansas Money & Politics
Former UofA Razorback Ronnie Hammers (70).
Former Razorback Ronnie Hammers, a Marshall native, was an all-conference football player for the University of Arkansas in the late 1960s. He isn’t suing anyone — he said he’s not experienced any neurological problems other than occasionally memory lapses, which may not be football related — but he said hardly anybody knew about the long-term dangers of concussions when he was a player.
“I played on the offensive line and back in my day, that’s all you did, fire off and hit somebody,” said Hammers. “Your head was getting hit every snap of the play, not just when somebody got tackled.”
Hammers runs a remodeling and roofing company in Marshall, and regularly makes it up to Fayetteville to hobnob with other former Razorbacks at reunions. He rarely discusses the concussion issue in that crowd, but he and the others may good-naturedly joke about it if someone shows signs of forgetfulness. They note how much attitudes have changed when it comes to violent hits on the field.
“The big saying back then was, ‘Well, you just got your bell rung. You’ll be all right here in a minute.’”
Hammers said if given the chance to choose all over again, he’d still play football. But he’d hope his grandson plays a safer sport, like golf.
The Defense is an Offense
No Arkansas authorities contacted for this story had heard discussion about eliminating tackle football for younger players, as the Marshall Independent School District has done, but all pointed to less-drastic changes that have made the sport safer. This upcoming season will be the third year in which high school coaches are required to take concussion training. Last year, the state’s first concussion protocol law passed. The law, whose primary sponsor was state Sen. David Sanders, requires all players suspected of having a concussion to be taken out of the game, to return only with a licensed professional’s approval.
Bigger school districts, like Little Rock School District (LRSD), are investing more money into athletes’ safety. Last season, for the first time, each LRSD junior high and high school game had a MEMS unit present. Most of the time, an athletic trainer or medical intern was also present. As of early June, the district was working toward making a licensed medical professional’s presence mandatory for all games.
At the same time, the state’s governing body for high school athletics — the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) — is mulling changes include limiting the number and frequency of collisions players endure on a weekly basis, said Joey Walters, deputy executive director of the AAA. On Wednesday, August 6, the AAA’s governing body was considering a proposal to limit full contact to three times a week (including games) at its annual meeting.
Money from the NFL is starting to trickle into local football, too. The nation’s richest league has donated millions of dollars to an instructional program taught through USA Football, its youth league umbrella group. The core idea is to spread the gospel of proper tackling, hydration and proper equipment fitting through a combination of online curricula and full-day, in-person training sessions. Coaches return from the Heads Up program clinics to teach other coaches, who in turn teach players. So far, about 2,800 youth teams nationwide — including five in Arkansas — have signed up.