Web Posted: 08/10/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Juan Pablo Figueroa is a 5-foot-11, sharp-shooting point guard on Argentina's junior national team. Like most young point guards these days, he calls the Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash his favorite NBA player.
But as much as Figueroa, 19, hopes to model his game after that of the NBA's reigning MVP, he knows he will always be indebted to a pair of basketball pioneers from his own country: Spurs guard Manu Ginobili and Chicago Bulls forward Andres Nocioni.
"Because of those players," Figueroa said, "we think our dreams can come true."
They did for Fabricio Oberto last week. Oberto, 30, a power forward who has spent the past six years playing in Spain, became the sixth member of Argentina's gold-medal Olympic team to reach the NBA when he signed with the Spurs on Aug. 2.
Luis Scola, whose draft rights are owned by the Spurs, would have joined that group this summer had he been able to reach a buyout agreement with his Spanish team. Forward Walter Herrmann also has attracted interest from NBA scouts.
"Manu has opened big doors for Argentina players," Oberto said. "NBA teams trust Argentina players now."
The MVP of last summer's Olympics, Ginobili has helped lead the Spurs to two championships in his three NBA seasons. While Pepe Sanchez and Ruben Wolkowyski became the first Argentines to play in the NBA almost five years ago, Ginobili' success has allowed basketball to grow in a country once considered fertile only for soccer.
Nearly 79 percent of 18,671 Argentines polled by Clarin, the country's largest daily newspaper, said they are more interested in basketball because of Ginobili.
"The interest level is at an all-time high," said Horacio Moratore, president of Confederacíon Argentina de Basquet (CABB), the sport's governing body in Argentina. "There are so many young kids wanting to play basketball. What Manu has done for the sport in the entire country — there is no way to categorize it."
The NBA has noticed. The league held its Basketball Without Borders Americas camp here in July, attracting 54 top young Latin American and Caribbean players. Nearly a dozen NBA teams sent coaches or scouts, a result of the increasing number of Latino players on league rosters.
Carl Herrera (Venezuela) and Felipe Lopez (Dominican Republic) were the only two Latin Americans in the NBA during the 1998-99 season. By the start of last season, there were 16.
"We Latinos are in a growing stage in the NBA," Ginobili said. "It's all part of the international basketball boom."
Despite the dominance of soccer in Argentina — "the first ball you have as a child, you kick" said Detroit guard Carlos Delfino — basketball has long enjoyed grass-roots support. Ginobili's father served as president of a club in Bahia Blanca, one of a handful of cities where the sport has thrived.
The late Leon Najnudel, a coaching legend in Argentina, strengthened the level of competition in the country's professional leagues in the 1980s by allowing each team to import two American players. Though Argentine players typically displayed the type of passion and aggressiveness Ginobili and Nocioni have brought to the NBA, they had a frustrating habit of playing too tentatively in international competition.
That began to change in recent years as the current crop of players matured under the guidance of coaches that included Najnudel, Guillermo Vecchio, Julio Lamas, Ruben Magnano and Sergio Hernández. Many players, such as Ginobili, also broadened their games in Europe.
Nocioni's stunning dunk over Kevin Garnett in the 1999 Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico served further notice Argentina was on the rise.
"This was a special group of players who have grown together and had great coaching," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. "There were a couple of guys earlier, the role models for this group, but this group set the tone for Argentine basketball.
Lock if already posted
Tell me the truth.
If I asked you 4 years ago: Where is Argentina located in the map?
How many of you would´ve known the correct answer?
Manu taught geography to a lot of people...hahaha
How many of us would´ve said the correct answer?
Manu taught more than geography this last few years ...
"I´ve learned not to think in the past..." - Walter Herrmann
|Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)|