Welcome to the 10s, everyone! Now, enough with the pleasantries: With an entire demarcated decade stretching out before us, Ball in Europe wonders about future headlines, about who’s coming up, about “Who’s Next” in ESPNspeak. Here’s to thinking we’ll be talking about some of the following this decade…
• Enes Kanter. It’s impossible to tell at present where the sensation (and MVP) of the 2009 FIBA U18 European Championship will be going in 2010 and beyond, unless “upward” is included as a potential location. Despite announcing his intention to play NCAA basketball at University of Washington next season, certain improprieties Kanter may or may have not been involved with at Fenerbahçe Ülker could keep him from playing at his stated destination next year; the question of whether Kanter actually played professionally with Fenerbahçe reportedly led to his departure from Las Vegas’ Findlay College Prep in September.
No matter: Kanter has been ripping up American high-school ball this season, recording an insane line of 48 points and 24 rebounds in a November game; some 50 to 60 NCAA schools sought to recruit Kanter before he settled on getting with the Huskies. Be certain that, whether the Turk is playing college ball or Euroleague in 2010-11, this dude will make his mark on the game before 2020.
• Team Serbia and Team Slovenia. A pair of national men’s teams that were competitive throughout the 2000s nonetheless ended up the surprise squads of Eurobasket 2009. While Slovenia recorded its best-ever finish as an independent nation with a mix of veterans and youth (the tournament roster included four players born in the 1970s five players aged 26 or younger), the Serbians went in with a relative bunch of unknowns who stunned Spain in the opener and ended up taking home silver.
In the coming decade, we’ll be watching the evolution of the Slovenian program and fearing that of Serbia: Just imagine how the latter will be playing in, say, the 2014 FIBA Worlds with four more years under their belts.
• Team Finland. Talk about your no-names. Finland snuck into the Eurobasket Qualifying Rounds this year to face off against the likes of France and Italy, but left the tournament with a little respect earned. The Finns will hardly become a world power this decade, but it would be shocking to not see this nation a bit, um, higher in the FIBA rankings (They’re not even in the top 73? I swear i don’t get this system) by decade’s end. Plus, who else is curious about Petteri Koponen, a former no. 30 overall draft selection, playing NBA ball?
• Alba Torrens. After pummeling The Continent’s men’s teams for most of the decade, is Spain now ready to achieve such dominance on the women’s side as well? Surely the Spanish women have hearts set on making The Leap into the discussion alongside the big three of Team USA, Russia and Australia in the 2010s, while all eyes for the time being are on point guard Torrens, star of Spain’s 2008 Olympic squad and MVP of the U20 European Championship Women 2009 with an average line in the latter of 16 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game – and she’s just 20, folks. Torrens is currently playing with Avenida and may someday suit up for the Connecticut Sun.
• Darko Milicic. The most infamous NBA no. 2 overall pick not named Sam Bowie returns home. Darko’s quest for redemption will surely be an unavoidable story for years to come.
• The economy, attendance. Still. At least in the short-term. With eight games gone, only Asseco Prokom (nearly plus-23%) and Real Madrid (plus-22%) are showing significant gains in attendance on last season and both teams play to less than 70% capacity in the average home game. Meanwhile, Fenerbahçe Ülker is down a whopping 78% on last season and mighty FC Barcelona plays to half-full home crowds and is down nearly 30% in ticket sales from 2009-10. Though international finance may right itself overnight (or not), the repercussions of the poor 2008-2009 economy will be felt in Europe’s highest levels of sport for seasons to come.
• Women as guns for hire (on both sides of the Atlantic). Hey, guess what: Sue Bird’s back with Spartak Moscow, the insta-team of Russian women’s basketball, thereby making Spartak the prohibitive favorite to take their fourth consecutive FIBA Euroleague Women title alongside the 2010 national title. Of course, Spartak is merely the ultimate extension of big-money European women’s pro team, successfully assembling a team month-to-month – day-to-day if necessary – that is designed to win tomorrow and nothing more.
In fact, in times of the tanked economy, the world’s highest-level women’s basketball players are among the few fortunate to potentially bag two decent-sized paychecks: One in Europe and a second in the WNBA. As long as that league remains solvent, that is.
And what do you figure we’ll be talking about in the next 10 years…?