It’s always a good time for some predictions, eh? Sam Chadwick, Ball in Europe’s man in the UK, today dusts off the Official BallinEurope Crystal Ball in looking forward to another year of top-quality basketball in the world’s top competitions. Who does Sammy like in the NBA, Euroleague, college ball and the Olympics? Read on to find out (and see plenty of highlight clips).
This year sees the London Olympic games, a shortened NBA season, another year of Euroleague basketball and the NCAA Final Four – what more could we possibly ask for? Happy new year…
Now something of a personal story, if you’ll allow BiE. One of the great things about working a blog such as BallinEurope – after getting proper press seating for stuff like Euroleague Final Four and FIBA World Championships, of course – are the people you meet as a journalist.
BiE’s not talking about hobnobbing with coaches and players so much – though talking (actually talking!) with Pops Mensah-Bonsu is quite the fulfilling experience – as the warm association with enthusiasts and peers. Happily in the sports journalism world, these are one and the same.
At the Euroleague Final Four alone, BiE had the pleasure of chatting up sportswriters from Serbia and Italy, the braintrust of quality sites like DraftExpress, freelancer Tim Warren on assignment with the Washington Post, the amazing Slam and Freaknick of Euroleague Adventures, fantasy basketball **#$#*#$%ing mastermind Javier Gancedo and scads of hardworking Euroleague front office folks.
But no one who met one particular writer there would forget the incredible whirlwind of drive and enthusiasm for all things basketball: Some of us know her as Nancy, but thousands of her readers daily identify her as “A Taiwanese Basketball Girl With A Basketball Dream.”
See, after first receiving a lightning bolt of revelatory inspiration from a newspaper photograph some 13 years ago – The Basketball Dreamer’s only a twentysomething now, it should be noted – she finally up and quit her job last March and, in Kerouackian fashion enviable to sentimental old dudes such as yours truly anchored down with young children, took to the road and came to Europe.
The purpose: As the bumper sticker-like intro at the Basketball Dream website reads, “63 days, 33 cities, 8 countries, 25 matches & 50 teams (including the Eurocup Finals & Euroleague Final Four). The journey, the Dream of a Taiwanese Basketball girl leaving her footsteps on the European courts, sharing her Basketball love in Europe with the rest of the World.” More philosophically, the “Dream is to promote Basketball & inspire, and that is all there is to it.”
Yes, the term “philosophy” is appropriate her, for this woman’s philosophy *is* basketball, BiE tells ya. The Basketball Dreamer lives a life of wall-to-wall basketball. When she’s not kicking around the courts looking for a game (or perhaps watching the games, what with a recently-gotten bum knee), she got an eye on a zillion screens and scores. Just yesterday, A Basketball Dream managed to fire off update-style posts and/or commentary – the Dreamer’s favorite online medium appears to be Facebook – on the Golden State-Phoenix, Duke-Michigan State, Cleveland-Miami, Los Angeles-Houston, and Maccabi Tel Aviv-Žalgiris Kaunas games. Even more impressive: Taiwan is EST +12.
In any case, this self-proclaimed aspirant to the title “Mother Theresa of Basketball” succeeded in her amazing road trip while the story captured hearts and minds of media worldwide. After landing on Euroleague TV (see above), the cause also landed her time on Taiwanese national television and print everywhere from Greece to Serbia to Hong Kong and back to Taiwan again – to name only a few paying attention to this whirlwind of basketball obsession.
Naturally, without an “On the Road” at the publishers’ to fund a second summer voyage in 2011, the Dreamer finds herself with few financial possibilities to fuel an even more enthusiastic trip. Ever the optimist and armed with a good cause, however, A Basketball Dream has applied for nonprofit backing in Taiwan.
Much to BiE’s surprise, the Dreamer somehow figured that perhaps BallinEurope.com might help in the quest for funding or possibly provide further armament in the perpetual war for publicity. BiE often chats up this tremendous natural force of an enthusiast but this week, Nancy spared some time to talk specifically about her goals, hopes and the future of the Basketball Dream.
BallinEurope: So what’s the status of A Basketball Dream 2011?
A Basketball Dream: I’m applying to a fund for Taiwanese “dreamers” like me to see if they can sponsor me to keep on travelling and promoting inspiration through basketball. My plan is [to start at] the NCAA Final Four in Houston, then spend 2.5 months visiting all 30 NBA teams, then on to Latvia to support Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) at the FIBA U19 Worlds, then into the Balkans to hopefully getting involved with some camps there, then the FIBA Asia championship in Lebanon, EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and finally the World Deaf Basketball Championship in Italy.
BiE: And the goal is…?
ABD: To INSPIRE through basketball by promoting all the different games around the world. And to especially inspire the kids through [basketball] camps where interacting and teaching them about this game of basketball in turn teaches them about life and lets them have a sense of belonging. And when i say kids, i ‘m particularly into working with those who are “less advantaged.”
BiE: So you’re basically a one-woman FIBA…
ABD: Except also with the NBA and NCAA!
BiE: Everywhere you go, people want to hear your story and are willing to publicize it. What makes you and your quest so compelling, in your opinion?
ABD: Because i’m a girl. A Taiwanese girl. A Taiwanese girl who *plays* basketball.
BiE: Really? You think that’s it?
ABD: OK, because my love for basketball is second to none. Basketball gives me the strength and the supporters of A Basketball Dream that I meet along the journey give me the power, but i can’t do it on my own. I have *started* on my own … but i can’t finish it on my own.
BiE: Tell me about the picture on the website
ABD: The second i saw it in the newspaper about 13 years ago, it touched my heart, went straight down inside. I was GRINNING at the newspaper (gladly, if i remember correctly, that nobody saw me). I love kids, love to see smiles on their faces because it makes me smile. And not just on my face but from the heart! It brightens you up. And the fact that that kid was trying to pick up that huge-a** basketball, that just spoke to me.
I knew that I wanted to do something like that – I wanted to put smiles on kids’ faces (and see the happy faces, personally!) through this wonderful sport that I hold so dear, that I call mine.
Back then, i was just getting into the NBA, by the way. But basketball was already a big part of my life then. It’s all I wanted to do all day (waiting for PE class so I can shoot some with my friends.
BiE: Now, how tall are you?
ABD: Between 5’5” and 5’6”. (I only got to know my height in feet and inches, by the way, because of basketball.)
BiE: And you told me you *played center in college*?
ABD: Yes, i played center in varsity at National Chiao Tung University, because i was the third-tallest, i believe.
BiE: Do you play these days?
ABD: Not with my knee.
BiE: What happened?
ABD: I played too hard, pushed myself too hard, the weather changes (in the morning, it’s 5ºC degrees, 25ºC at midday, and then there’s another bigtime drop in the evening) and i didn’t warm up well. I woke up after two days straight days of ballin’ for two- to five-hour stretches in non-stop 3-on-3s. Finally, i woke up on January 17th at 6am in pain and i couldn’t bend my right knee at all. And i had just ordered a P90X – i was about to work on that “dunk” – ha ha!
BiE: So who did you manage to actually meet on your 2010 tour?
ABD: I met the coaching staff of Efes Pilsen, the players on Montepaschi Siena, Vlade Divac and his wife, Stephen Curry, Bostjan Nachbar, Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza, Kevin Durant … also A.C. Green. He’s a good person.
BiE: And you just approach these folks, tell them about the mission and chat?
ABD: Yeah, it’s pretty much all for A Basketball Dream
BiE: Do you have a personal life? ABD: Ha ha, yes, i do, but i really wouldn’t mind spending all my time on basketball. I mean, the fact that i’m injured now helps. Or else i’d *always* be out on the courts.
But dedication is what it takes, right? So before I can sit back and relax, until the Dream is realized (if ever), i’ll dedicate myself to it as much as I can.
Congratulations to Turkey’s Deniz Kiliçli and his West Virginia University Mountaineers, who pulled off the nice 73-66 upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament regional finals last night. With six teams remaining in The Big Dance, Kiliçli is one of two remaining European youngsters in an otherwise all-American tournament; Baylor, with Bosnia & Herzegovina-born Dragan Sekelja, hope to upend no. 1 seed Duke in the Bears’ hometown of Houston.
(One has to wonder why, if the NCAA has deemed Kiliçli to have violated the principal precept of American amateur sport, he’s allowed to play college ball at all. Was it because he didn’t make *that much* money in Istanbul?)
Once activated, Kiliçli won the Mountaineer fanbase over quickly in going 4-for-4 for nine points in just seven minutes of playing time in his first-ever game with WVU against Pittsburgh. As the man says, “How about that for a start?”
Many observers and participants are already calling the 2009 Final Four in Berlin in early May the best ever. While that remains to be seen, one thing that is certain is that the affair in the German capital is anything but just another European party. And American basketball fans will have plenty of reasons to watch.
Each of the four teams – CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and Regal Barcelona – have Americans playing a major role or Europeans with a connection to American hoops.
Here a breakdown of each the Euroleague Final Four squad for those American fans not in touch with the European game.
The defending champions from Russia have plenty of familiar faces:
J.R. Holden – the point guard from Pittsburgh starred at Bucknell University from 1994-98. He also made headlines for getting a Russian passport and leading the Russian national team to the 2007 EuroBasket title, hitting the game-winning jumper.
Trajan Langdon – the shooting guard hails from Anchorage, Alaska, and reached one NCAA Final Four with Duke from 1994-99, playing in the 1999 final. The 1999 1st Team All-American then played three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and came to Europe in 2002.
Erazem Lorbek – this sweet-shooting big man from Slovenia broke Michigan State fans’ hearts for leaving East Lansing after his freshman season in 2003 to return to Europe. The Indiana Pacers drafted Lorbek in the second round of the 2005 Draft (No. 46 overall).
Sasha Kaun – the little-used center from Russia helped Kansas to the 2008 NCAA title after playing there 2004-08. The Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) drafted him in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft (No. 56 overall).
Viktor Khryapa – this extremely talented forward played two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers (2004-06) and then one-and-a-half with the Chicago Bulls (2006-08) before returning to CSKA.
Zoran Planinic – the Croatian point guard played with the New Jersey Nets for three seasons from 2003-06 before returning to the Continent.
Terrence Morris – the forward from Frederick, Maryland, played college ball from 1997-2001 with Maryland. He then played two seasons with the Houston Rockets (2001-03) and half a season with the Orlando Magic (2005-06).
Josh Childress – the forward from Lakewood, California starred four years at Stanford (2001-04) and played four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks (2004-08) before making his European debut.
Lynn Greer – the guard from Philadelphia starred at Temple University from (1998-02) and then played one season for the Milwaukee Bucks (2006-07).
Jannero Pargo – the guard from Chicago played college basketball at Arkansas (2000-02). He played the next six seasons (2002-08) in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets.
Giorgos Printezis – the Greek forward was selected in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs (Pick No. 58). The Toronto Raptors currently own his rights.
Vassilis Spanoulis – the Greek guard played one season in the NBA for the Houston Rockets (2006-07).
Mike Batiste – the Long Beach, California forward played college basketball at Arizona State from 1996-99. He played one season with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002-03.
Antonis Fotsis – the Greek forward played one season with the Grizzlies in 2001-02.
Drew Nicholas – the Long Island, New York guard played college ball at Maryland from 1999-2003 and won the 2002 NCAA title before moving to Europe.
Nikola Pekovic – the Montenegro big man was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft (No. 31 overall).
Sarunas Jasikevicius – the Lithuanian playmaker went to high school in Pennsylvania before attending Maryland from 1994-98. He returned to Europe before playing in the NBA from 2005-2007 for the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors.
Andre Barrett – the guard from the Bronx in New York played at Seton Hall from 2000-04. He played on and off in the NBA from 2004-2008 for the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers before moving to Europe.
Lubos Barton – the Czech forward played college basketball at Valparaiso University from 1998-2002 before returning to Europe.
Juan Carlos Navarro – the Spanish guard played one season in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007-08.
Fran Vazquez – the Spanish big man was drafted by the Orlando Magic with the 11th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft but never played in the NBA.
Ersan Ilyasova – the Turkish forward played two seasons in the United States – 2005-06 for the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League and 2006-07 with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Daniel Santiago – the Puerto Rican center played college basketball at New Mexico Military Institute (1994-95), New Mexico (1995-97) and St.Vincent College (1997-98). He played in the NBA from 2000-02 for the Phoenix Suns and 2003-05 for the Milwaukee Bucks.
David Andersen – the Australian center was selected in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft (No. 37 overall) by the Atlanta Hawks.