Weekly Countdown (cont.)
"The FIBA rules really emphasize the importance of good point guard play," says Wuotila. "The emphasis is on the pick and roll, so the point guard has to be able to manage that situation both defensively and offensively. And if you aren't shooting well, teams will utilize the zone very effectively in Europe, so you need a point guard -- like a quarterback in American football -- to get in the right spots to attack that zone."
1. Be open-minded. Olympic teams throughout the world are enhanced by naturalized citizens with foreign accents. Chris Kaman of Grand Rapids, Mich., played for Germany in the Olympics last summer. Hakeem Olajuwon of Lagos, Nigeria, played for the U.S. Olympic team in '96. When Jackie Charlton was managing the Irish soccer team in the '90s it was hard to find a player on his team who was raised in Ireland, so adept was he in manipulating the passport laws.
"I'm very Canadian," notes Wuotila, who coached men's and women's college basketball in the U.S. for several years before basing himself in London for British Basketball. "The sport here is waiting for a chance to get everything joined up."
Based on the model of Spain, whose basketball program has grown into a world power from the seeds of the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, Wuotila believes that a naturalized infusion for both the men's and women's roster in '12 could make all the difference to a sport that has had trouble settling in the UK. "We think there's likely to be some talent in America and parts of the world who are eligible to put on the uniform for Great Britain," he says. "I would say I get connected with a lead (on a potential player) on a weekly basis."
A recent recruit is 6-11 Providence College senior Randall Hanke, whose potential citizenship surfaced when a friend of British basketball read about Hanke this season in the Boston Globe. As much as they've tried to utilize Internet resources to discover talent, the British also have been discovering talent by word of mouth. "We just don't know where it's going to come from," says Wuotila. "For three or four of the players, where it has come from is in conversations with other players. It's very frustrating and a bit scary that we can't put a strategy in place to do that. It's by happenstance, so we have to keep telling people this is how the system works and this is what we're trying to accomplish."
2 issues to consider over the final month
I asked a well-informed pro scout for his answers to two big questions.
2. Will Drew Gooden help the Spurs? The 6-10 forward has averaged 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds in seven seasons with five NBA teams. He is listed as day-to-day while recovering from a groin injury that has sidelined him since he was signed by San Antonio March 5 in a buy-out from the Kings. "He is not the most cerebral player in the world," says this exec, "but at the same time, he's not a malcontent or a bad guy. What they'll find is that he has nowhere near the basketball IQ of Kurt Thomas, but he'll give them an active and aggressive guy who is younger than what they have.
"This is the first time he'll be on a team that doesn't ask him to carry a load as a scorer. A lot of guys find they perform better when they're not asked to concentrate on five different things. They'll ask him to rebound and be aggressive, and I would think he'll embrace that. When you've bounced around to all of these teams like he has, I don't think you can be na´ve to the fact that you're not the greatest player in the world or that teams aren't dying to have you. I think he'll embrace it as most people do when they join that organization. They're a team that does a lot of background work on players, and they'll know they're getting another guy to give them depth up front, which helps resolve an issue they've had against the Lakers.''
1. Will the Celtics pull their team together in time for the playoffs? Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are out this week along with Garnett's backup, Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Backup guard Tony Allen is out indefinitely, and newcomers Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore have struggled to fit in."What do you expect from a guy that hasn't played in 18 months?" says the exec of Marbury's problems. "I don't think it's very newsworthy that he's having problems.
"It could be tough over the next month. Let's face it, over the last year and a half it's been relatively easy for the Celtics: When they've wanted to turn it on, they've been able to turn it on. Each of their great stars has been able to rely on the other stars. But when you're not healthy, it really begins to affect your psyche. When you don't have your best players, I'm telling you, the coaching staff and the other players have doubts they can win. They'll all tell you they do believe, but deep down they're asking, 'How are we going to win without this guy?' That stuff goes on with every team, trust me."
Garnett and Rondo should be back weeks before the playoffs, but the Celtics have a lot of loose ends to fix. The Cavaliers, by comparison, have fewer issues. "I just have a funny feeling this is Cleveland's year, that they believe in themselves and that they've been knocking on the door for a few years now. You look at the history of the game, and how many teams had to do that before they were able to get to the championship? They're all on the same page, Joe Smith was a great pickup who fits right in, and when you have LeBron as the second-best player in the league on your team -- behind Kobe Bryant -- that gives you a lot of juice."
1 way to pick the NCAA Final Four
1. Ask your daughter. Mine is now in eighth grade. For the last three years our family has held an NCAA tournament pool, and she has won every time. As winner she earns the right to choose the restaurant for a big family dinner. Last night her little brother asked for her secret. "For the Final Four I always pick teams that are ranked first or second [as tournament seeds]," she explained.
Then he went back and checked. It turned out that the year she picked Florida and UCLA to meet in the NCAA Final, the Gators were a No. 3 seed. So much for that theory.
That year she was one of the only people I knew to forecast the final. At the time I asked how she happened to pick UCLA. "Because they had such a good year in football," she said as an 11 year old. I remember explaining to her that she had confused UCLA with USC.
The bottom line is twofold. One, she doesn't know why she is picking these teams. And two, she'll probably be choosing the restaurant for the fourth year in a row.
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