NBA Sunday: Gasol Plays for EuroBasket Gold
EuroBasket’s France vs. Spain Final Almost Didn’t Happen
It’s been a great week for basketball, even if it wasn’t a great week for labor negotiations. Between the semifinals of the EuroBasket tournament and all the news and video coming out of Impact’s Vegas pro league, hoops fans actually have had plenty of real basketball to enjoy lately.
On Sunday EuroBasket comes to a close, as France and Spain will compete for the gold in the tournament Spain won two years. Both teams are loaded with NBA talent, which means this veritable All-Star game should be plenty entertaining.
France’s Tony Parker and Spain’s Paul Gasol have arguably been the two most dominant players in the entire tournament, but Gasol’s little brother Marc has played very well, too, and with Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, and Juan Carlos Navarro also chipping in the Spaniards have a great opportunity to repeat as champs.
However, Parker is aided by Nicolas Batum, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Kevin Seraphin, and Mickael Gelabale, so it’s not like Spain will cruise. This is the matchup we all hoped we’d see, and later on Sunday we’re finally going to see it.
Pau Gasol, meanwhile, has said that he strongly considered not playing in this tournament to preserve his health, but with the lockout looming and an inherent need to defend the team’s EuroBasket title, he decided he’d give it one more go.
“I have a very unique feeling when I’m playing for Spain,” told ESPN’s Mark Woods. “We have such a great team always and I think you have to always take advantages of such opportunities. I’m sad when I see my teammates out there without me.”
Considering that this was probably Gasol’s last run at the EuroBasket gold medal, he felt the need to take a shot despite the injury risk.
“You don’t want to burn yourself out and you do get to a point in your career when you only have so many games left,” Gasol said. “But I like to play and I’ll continue to play as long as [I] can.”
Considering that Spain has beaten France twice already in this tournament, there’s an excellent chance that Gasol’s team wins another gold medal from FIBA. Whoever wins, though, we’re just grateful to have the best players in Europe providing us with some real competitive basketball. Even with the lockout, we’ve still at least got some good hoops to enjoy.
J.J. Hickson Loving His Newfound King-dom
It feels like we’ve been talking about J.J. Hickson as a player on the cusp of All-Stardom for six or seven seasons, but in truth the new Sacramento Kings forward is only 23 years old. From the moment he showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie playing alongside LeBron James in Cleveland, it seemed imminent that Hickson would blossom into a great role player on a championship team.
But then LeBron skipped town and Hickson never quite seemed able to figure out how to turn himself into a star.
An embarrassing season in Cleveland last year didn’t do a whole lot for his young legacy, but he hopes a change in scenery and a summer of hard work will turn things around for him.
“It’s been a great summer. I’m just out here trying to get better, trying to be better than I was last year,” Hickson told HOOPSWORLD earlier this week at Impact’s pro league, adding that he thinks the young core in Sacramento really could make a lot of noise whenever the next season finally gets underway.
“We’re probably the best-kept secret in the league,” he said. “Hopefully we can get up and down the court and get some easy buckets.”
He doesn’t sound too busted up about leaving Cleveland, does he?
“When I got the news (about the trade), I wasn’t pouting about it. It kind of feels good to be on a new team and get a fresh start, and hopefully we can build up our team to be championship contenders.”
While a Kings team featuring talented youngsters like Hickson, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, DeMarcus Cousins and quite a few others is certainly buzzworthy on a lot of levels, not many would consider them anywhere near ready for the NBA Finals. That said, if anybody can help with that, it’d be Hickson.
“I’m young, as well as the rest of the team, but I think I have the most playoff experience out of all those guys, being as I’m the only guy who’s ever played on a championship-caliber team,” he said. “I can bring that to the team, and hopefully we can win some games.”
Hickson is a remarkably upbeat kid with tons of energy and a great sense of humor, so it’s easy to see him fitting on a team full of lively personalities. And while Sacramento is just as young and has been just as frustrating recently as the team Hickson just left, the Kings are a little farther along in getting themselves back to the postseason.
Just to win some games on a consistent basis would be a return to the norm for Hickson. Hopefully Sacramento is a city where he’ll be able to do just that.
The Impact League’s Unlikely Participant
There are 50 players currently taking part in the well-publicized Impact League at Joe Abunassar’s gym in Las Vegas, but only one of them is an undrafted rookie. That young man is Corey Stokes, a three-point specialist and Villanova graduate who was invited to play against a very tough field of NBA veterans and NBA rookies.
“It’s a privilege to be playing against these guys,” Stokes told HOOPSWORLD in between scrimmages. “I’m the only undrafted player here, so it’s great to get out here and get a couple games against these guys. They’re giving me some pointers, they’re building my confidence up, and that feels great. I’m just waiting for this contract to come through overseas, and maybe I can go across the water and play.”
Several European teams have tossed offers Stokes’s way, and his play in Vegas over the course of the last week has made it pretty clear why.
Still, Stokes went undrafted this past June, due largely to the fact that he missed a considerable amount of his senior season with a nagging turf toe injury. He had a promising year as a junior, averaging over 14 ppg, but his ailments allowed other players to leapfrog him in the eyes of NBA scouts—scouts who now must feel a little bit silly for passing him up.
“I think I’m ready. I was born for this,” Stokes said. “All the guys are giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball. I’m playing great defense, and each and every play they’re just giving me pointers on what to do better. I’m listening, and just loving their company.”
An undeniably nice young man and the consummate team player, Stokes hopes to make an impact on some team somewhere next season the same way he’s making an impact on his Impact team right now.
The trick thus far has been proving that he’s got more game than some may realize. In college he mostly was known for knocking down open looks from deep, but he’s a much more versatile player than that.
“At Villanova, I was a spot-up shooter, and Corey Fisher, Maalik Wayns, and Scottie Reynolds were the ball handlers. I have more to my game than just shooting, though. I can drive to the basket, pass, play defense. I’m just showing what I can do here.”
And what he can do is pretty good. Whichever team ends up with him will get a great young professional, and Stokes, for his part, just seems eager to get on a court somewhere and play ball. That’s the kind of young man you want playing for you, and that’s why he was invited to participate in such an elite league of ballers despite not having an NBA affiliation.
It might not be that way forever, though.