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The Unsung International Game

When With Malice brought forth the idea of Unsung Player Day, I got pretty excited. It’s a good fit for The ODC – Stu does his Gary Roberts Wednesdays every week with just that theme in mind, and I’m fairly well known for liking less heralded players (or calling overrated or fairly rated players underrated). So this seemed like a great opportunity.

And it is, but school hit, so I’m stuck without a topic on Thursday night. The plan was to do an all-NCAA tournament unsung team, but Stu has covered two of the main guys in recent GRW articles, plus he covered the guy I’d pick for coach, too. I then considered focusing on the D-League, but soon realized Hardwood Paroxysm would likely be all over that. Then I considered sitting the day out and letting Stu’s and Snydes’ submissions do the trick, while re-posting old unsung-related articles from the site.

And then I realized that that’s just not me. I’m a workhorse. You couldn’t keep me away from a theme day like this. Hell, you can hardly keep me from blogging mid-essay at the library. And then I realized that…I am an unsung player, myself. My 10 minutes per game and ridiculous 67% shooting percentage in intramural basketball will show you that.

This article isn’t about myself, though I’d imagine somewhere the secret NBA players’ blogosphere is having their own Unsung Player Day and someone is writing about my endless blogging efforts.

Really, I was stuck for a topic. And then I remembered that a few weeks ago I interviewed Carl English, who is wildly unsung, not because of his skill but because of his playing situation. That got me thinking. (A dangerous situation, indeed.)

Seriously though, I realized that all international players are unsung. I don’t mean Hedo Turkoglu is under-appreciated, Jose Calderon is unsung, or Bostjan Nachbar is under-played. What I mean is that international basketball as a whole is unsung.

Foremost, international ball is a breeding ground for the NBA’s global image. Basketball is basketball, but popular basketball is money-making basketball. The international game reaches fans that the NBA would otherwise have trouble reaching. It also creates players the NBA would have trouble creating and finds players the NBA would have trouble finding.

If you look around the NBA, you’ll see that the league has seen players from 66 different countries suit up over time. From Esteban Batista out of Uruguay to the 22 Serbian players who have made it to The L, the game today has a more international flavour than ever before. Yes, the NBA is responsible for creating the game’s popularity and international scope, but international basketball is, in return, responsible for a lot of the popular aspects of today’s game (if you bring up flopping, we fight).

27 teams have international players on their roster right now. There are 77 international players in the league. The last three MVP awards have all gone to international players. Three of the last six #1 picks have been spent on international players. Draft boards for the next two years are littered with Ricky Rubios and Danilo Gallinaris. Players like Omar Cook, Loren Woods, and Qyntel Woods remind us of bleaker times, sure, but they are doing big things at the international level. There are also players like Marc Salyers, Nikola Pekovic, and Marko Milic who provide interesting what-if scenarios. Additionally, there are prospects like Mario Kasun, Tiago Splitter, and Marc Gasol to follow and look forward to. Sebastian Telfair’s brother Jamel is there, too, if that means anything to you.

Not to mention…the United States is no longer the world’s premier basketball country. This is debatable, sure, and the U.S. definitely has the best talent, but the international game has developed such that Spain is considered the best basketball team on that level but even a team like Russia can upset them on a given day. The Olympic Games project to be one of the most exciting basketball tournaments this side of Rucker Park (or March Madness, depending on your style). The field is wide open and the level of competition is at an all-time high. There is parity across the world in terms of basketball talent, and it is helping to create parity in the NBA, too, by rewarding teams who can develop a competitive advantage in scouting international players or implementing a European style of play.

This may seem biased coming from a Toronto Raptor fan, but don’t jump the gun here and assume this is homerism, because I’m not just talking about international players in the NBA.

I’m talking about players who are currently international, as well. Not only do those players who are American show a tremendous amount of heart and testicular fortitude in heading over there to play, but they also learn quickly that the U.S. simply no longer dominates the basketball world. As for the home grown talent there, kudos to them for improving their programs and leagues to the point that I have streamed the odd international game on slow NBA nights. The games are good. Seriously, do not sleep on international basketball if you have a streaming program and an hour or two to spare.

The talent level abroad is fantastic, and I guarantee we will see further global expansion from the NBA, whether that be in league affiliates, actual franchises, or increased spending on international scouting and development. These players may not be in the NBA and, therefore, they may not be in the media, but as basketball fans we really do need to show love to the international basketball scene.

And we should thank them, because without international basketball the NBA game just wouldn’t be the same.

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One Response to “The Unsung International Game”

  1. Stu P S Says:

    I seriously think that Tiago Splitter has been an NBA prospect since 1996. Nice work shouting out Telfair’s brother - he was Big East Player of the Year and didn’t get drafted, a situation not far from David Padgett’s this year.

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