EuroBasket is not just a random, one-off tournament, it is THE European basketball event of the year, going beyond the radar of international basketball junkies like Fran Fraschilla and Mark Perner and wannabes like myself. MVPs, All-Stars and future saviors of the 76ers franchise will take the court during EuroBasket 2015 in the hopes of capturing a championship for their home country. Here's a guide to the big tourney:
What is EuroBasket?
EuroBasket is a 24-team tournament comprised of national teams from throughout Europe that will take place across the continent in September, beginning with group play tomorrow and ending with the championship game on September 20. The top-two finishers will receive automatic births in next summer's Olympic basketball competition in Brazil.
What teams are in EuroBasket?
The 24 teams are as follows: France, Serbia, Croatia, Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Belgium, Georgia, Finland, Turkey, Russia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, The Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, Israel and Iceland.
If you didn't take AP European History in high school (I scored a three on the test; not showing off, not falling behind), you may want to take a look at a map and refresh yourself on the geopolitical boundaries of Europe.
What NBA players are in EuroBasket?
Big-name players such as Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Pau Gasol (Spain), Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Tony Parker (France), Nikola Mirotic (Spain) and Rudy Gobert (France) will suit up for their respective countries, as well as Sixers big man Furkan Aldemir (Turkey) and some guy they own the rights to named Dario Saric (Croatia).
What team do I root for?
If you're not rooting for Croatia and Dario, log off forever. The Croats, armed with Saric and former future Sixer Mario Hezonja, actually have a decent chance at winning the whole tournament itself, falling just behind perennial European powers France and Spain in who I'd expect to take home the title. Despite never stepping foot in the country and tracing zero parts of my ancestry to the Balkans, I have actually become an adopted citizen of Croatia since the Sixers drafted Saric last summer (Editor's note: No he hasn't).
If you're so used to following the Sixers and want to root for a lovable team who won't win anything, you can get behind Turkey and Furkan Aldemir, as he rebounds everything in sight and screens his way into Europe's heart. If you're a rugged, handsome man who rocks a killer beard, Turkey might be the team for you as well:
When you realize you were separated at birth from your Turkish, offensive-rebounding twin: pic.twitter.com/XFioHVmp0l— Shamus (@shamus_clancy) May 13, 2015
Should I start tweeting Dario pictures all day?
Yes. Max Rappaport and I can't do it alone.
What's Dario like in international competition?
He's fun. I've written a lot about his play with Anadolu Efes this past season, but the last major tournament Saric has played in with Croatia was last year's FIBA World Cup. Here's what I wrote about Saric's play early in that tournament for the Philadelphia Daily News:
This weekend marked the beginning of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the first chance for Sixers fans to watch 2014 first-round pick Dario Saric of Croatia on a large, international stage. The 12th-overall pick has impressed, as Croatia holds a 2-1 record in Group B of the tourney.
Saric is averaging 27.3 minutes, 13.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per contest in three tournament games while shooting 51.7 percent from the field.
The skills that made Saric such an intriguing prospect to general manager Sam Hinkie have been on display: He is 6-10 and can play any position on the court due to his distributing abilities. He also has an increasingly consistent jumper, and solid rebounding skills.
His size and passing conjure images of fellow Croatian and former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Toni Kukoc and two-time NBA champion point forward Lamar Odom.
One play that stands as Saric's most memorable of the weekend occurred in Sunday's win over Argentina. Saric reportedly lost six teeth after getting elbowed by Andres Nocioni, a former Sixer. Saric subsequently nailed a three-pointer and remained in the game.
His feisty nature of crashing the boards, diving for balls, arguing with referees and losing teeth will surely endear Saric to Sixers fans when he has the opportunity to join the Sixers in 2016.
The tenacity and point-forward play that have made Saric's play endearing should be on display again, as seen below:
This time, however, basketball fans get to watch him team up with Hezonja, who has played alongside Saric for years despite their young age:
"And they don't have no award for that..." pic.twitter.com/nIUyPNZzbT— Shamus (@shamus_clancy) May 25, 2015
Saric losing teeth and Hezonja mouthing off to opposing coaches is must-watch basketball.
How can I watch EuroBasket?
ESPN3 will be streaming this weekend's games, as Croatia's match against Slovenia and Turkey's game with Italy both begin at 2:50 EST tomorrow. Croatia/Greece and Turkey/Spain start at 2:50 EST on Sunday as well. Who cares about Made in America? EuroBasket is where it's at.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter to keep up with Saric's play throughout the tourney.