Why Argentina can't be counted out
LAS VEGAS -- The Argentine team that is playing in the FIBA Americas Championship in Las Vegas made news before the first whistle was blown, thanks to the the absence of some of the best players in the history of Argentine basketball.
From the defending Olympic champions, seven players were excused from this tournament for different reasons. Four of those play in the NBA, and are well-known by American fans: Manu Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nocioni and Walter Herrmann.
Two others, Pepe Sanchez and Ruben Wolkowyski, had a short stay in the NBA. A seventh player who'll play an important role, Gabriel Fernandez, also decided to take this summer off in light of the absence of those teammates.
With so many players missing, Argentina is not considered likely to finish among the top two teams in this tournament, meaning it would still not yet be eligible for the Beijing Olympics next year.
The United States, composed of NBA stars, is the big favorite to go unbeaten throughout the competition. Brazil, with players such as Leandro Barbosa, Nene and J.P. Batista, is a favorite to gain the second spot, after winning the past two lower-level competitions, the Pan American Games (which took place in Brazil) and the Copa Genaro Marchand in Puerto Rico.
But underestimating Argentina could be a big mistake, which it has demonstrated with good performances in tune-up games and by handily beating Uruguay 90-69. Argentina's roster contains only two players that are relatively well-known in the U.S.: Carlos Delfino, currently of the Toronto Raptors, and Luis Scola, one of the best players in Europe who recently signed with the Houston Rockets after several years in the Spanish league.
Because he plays in Spain, very few people in the U.S. know that Pablo Prigioni is one of Europe's best point guards, always among the leaders in assists in his league. Nor do most fans know the ability of young veterans such as Paolo Quinteros, Roman Gonzalez, Diego Lo Grippo and Federic Kammerichs.
What makes this Argentine team so special is the willingness of all its players to sacrifice their egos for the good of the team. Argentina moves the ball well on offense, following the tactics developed by its coach, Sergio Hernandez, and always makes the extra pass. It plays good zone defense, double-teams well, and hits the boards.
Because of its selfless team play, Argentina, even with this roster, exceeds expectations. It's always been this way with Ginobili, Nocioni, Oberto and company, and continues to be this way without them. So you can't count Argentina out of this tournament, because with or without star talent, it plays basketball the right way.
Carlos Morales currently is ESPN International's NBA analyst for its Spanish-language broadcasts. He has coached for over two decades in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and coached Puerto Rico's national team at the highest levels of international competition.
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