Hello, Suns fans. Writing you from Madrid, Spain, home of the 202007 European Basketball Tournament. Much like the Americas Tournament in which the USA just defeated Argentina, the top 2 teams from Europe will automatically qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
I have been traveling with the French National Team while training with Boris Diaw to prepare him for the upcoming Suns season.
Since my last blog, we left Maribor, Slovenia and had “pool play” games in Alicante, Spain. These games would decide the seeding for Madrid. France was in the bracket with Italy, Poland, and Slovenia. The top three teams would move on to play in Madrid. After three days of practices, the French team matched up with Poland in game one. Boris had a solid game scoring 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists and France defeated Poland by eight points. Tony Parker and Tariq Kirksay also contributed big in the win. The buzz around the gym was directed more at Tony’s wife, Eva Longoria, who joined us in Alicante for a few days.
France then matched up with Italy in the second game. Italy has a tough team including NBA players Andrea Bargnani (Toronto) and recently drafted Marco Belinelli (Golden St). It was also great to see Massimo Bulleri, who was a 2006 Summer League player for Phoenix. Tony Parker once again had a huge game, scoring 36 points for France and lead the team to a close 69-62 victory. Boris had a quiet game stat-wise, but had probably the two biggest plays of the first round. In the third quarter, Boris got a rebound and took the ball coast to coast for a tomahawk dunk – jumping from outside the dotted line in the lane – over Bargnani. The arena went berserk and even the Italian fans cheered. The second play was a great defensive stop with France leading by�two points with under�two minutes left in the game. Belinelli had what seemed to be a clear path to the basket and went up for an easy dunk. Boris then came from the weak side, cleanly blocked his dunk, pinned the ball against the backboard and started a fast break in which France scored. It was great to see such intensity out of our guy! The Suns players and staff will be happy to hear that I got my fill of the Italian chant to the White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” in the process!
With France sitting at 2-0 they had qualified already for Madrid, but being the one or two seed was still on the line in Game 3 vs. Slovenia. France beat them twice in the last few weeks and had an�eight-point lead at halftime. The second half started with Rasho Nesterovic (Toronto) getting his second intentional foul (much easier to pick up in International play than in the NBA) and was ejected from the game. It gave France four free throws and the ball on the side which resulted in a 14-point lead. It was all downhill from there as Slovenia fought back with Matjaz Smodis leading the way. Smodis looks more like Brian Urlacher than a basketball player, but was scoring from inside and out. With France down two with 1.2 seconds left, Tony Parker had a chance to tie the game with two free throws. He made the first and missed the second for a one-point loss. Why Tony cant miss shots like that in the Western Conference playoffs, I don’t know!
That brings me to the point that many Suns fans may ask me…how can you cheer for Suns rivals Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf? I told them that I could root them on through the FIBA Europe Championships. They are both great people to be around and they have made me feel at home here with the team. But c’mon, all bets are off come October 1! Plus, I have picked up a few choice French sayings to shout when Tony is taking a corner�3 in front of the Suns bench next year!
Alicante is a great resort town located right on the beach. I spent a few afternoons on the beach (clothing optional) and saw a good part of the town by walking around and taking the bus to and from the arena. I went on a morning run every day with a few of the staff and along the way I would scout out stores or restaurants that I wanted to check out later. The hotel also had a great workout facility, so Boris and I could get some work done between games and practices. Our best workout may have been a night swim in the Mediterranean Sea when a few of the players and I swam to the farthest buoy and back. It was pretty crazy at night fighting the waves, but I was assured there had been no recent shark attacks.
All of the meals were provided for us buffet-style at the hotel but I got out for dinner on my own a few nights. We did have one night where most of the staff went out for drinks because we had the next day off. I led them to a Irish Pub that I had seen in town. That’s right…I (American) led the staff (French) to a bar (Irish) for some pints in Spain. That’s how I roll. We later took in more of the “local” Spanish scene on the way home. There are so many cafes to just relax at along the beach and in the streets. It was a great time.
We left Alicante after the last game vs. Slovenia. All three teams that made Madrid flew on the same plane…France, Italy, and Slovenia. We arrived at 5 a.m., checked into the hotel, and then slept until lunch. We had a late evening practice to get the bodies moving again and found out the pairings. France plays Germany and Dirk Nowitzki on Saturday. So many conference rivals here to deal with! I have made friends with the local Policia if I happen to run into Robert Horry. More later from Madrid. Go, Suns, Go.
PS: Congrats to Coach D’Antoni, Amare, and LB for having such a good outing in Vegas.