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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "If the United States is looking for any extra motivation as the quarter-finals of the world basketball championships unfold, the players can look back on one of the darkest moments in the international history of the sport in that country, to a time before any of them were born. It was at the 1972 Munich Olympics, in one of the most storied games in international basketball history, that Russia beat the United States in a gold-medal game marred by a replayed finish that had all the stench of a pre-ordained result. Russia prevailed in that game -- 51-50 after the final three seconds were replayed three times -- and it’s been a festering sore with American basketball ever since. ... Fair or not, it’s certain that this group of Americans, who face Russia on Thursday, will be reminded of it in their pre-game preparation."

  • Pete Thamel of The New York Times: "The best recruit in Kentucky’s top-ranked recruiting class, the Turkish center Enes Kanter, received more than $100,000 in cash and benefits over three years from the professional team he played for here, according to the team’s general manager. Kanter was expected to play one season at Kentucky and then become a high choice in the 2011 N.B.A. draft. In an interview in his office here this week, the general manager of Fenerbahce Ulker, Nedim Karakas, said the club had given banking and housing records to the N.C.A.A. that show Kanter received benefits that could jeopardize his amateur status for college basketball. 'I am sorry for telling this for Enes, but we cannot lie if someone asks the whole story, we cannot hide,' Karakas said. ... Fenerbahce stands to benefit if Kanter is declared ineligible to play college basketball since the team would be due a transfer fee if he plays in Europe next season, but Karakas said turning in the documents to the N.C.A.A. eligibility center was a matter of telling the truth. 'This is real, and the N.C.A.A.’s main goal is to protect the amateur side of sports,' Karakas said. ... Karakas said he is skeptical of Kanter’s intentions. 'I don’t believe that Enes will be a very good student at school in the States,' he said. 'He won’t be a hard worker. I know. I know his fundamentals for school. We know the education that he had before and what he did here in Turkey. But he’s a very hot prospect for basketball.' "

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "There really wasn't much doubt that Yi Jianlian would take the floor for what likely was going to be China's last game in the FIBA world championships. His left Achilles' injury had improved after a few days' rest, he felt good after a light practice on Monday, and his team -- his nation -- needed its best player when it went against Lithuania, one of just three undefeated teams remaining in the tournament. Yi scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 35 minutes during China's 78-67 loss on Tuesday and lowered his head as he walked off the court. ... But Yi could leave with a sense of accomplishment as he put together one of the better individual performances in Turkey, as he finished as the only player to average at least 20 points (20.2) and 10 rebounds (10.6). Yi heads back home to China on Wednesday to rest and recuperate for a week before coming to Washington. ... It's hard to tell how Yi's performance will translate to the upcoming season, since he will not be featured with the Wizards as he was with China, which was not good enough to survive a sub-par performance from Yi. But if Yi arrives at training camp healthy, as expected, he should also come with much more confidence in his abilities. There are still flaws that he will have to overcome, and his defense still leaves much to be desired, but the Wizards shouldn't have any regrets about basically renting Yi's services for free for a year."

  • Jason Friedman of Rockets.com: "Liuis Scola was a whirling dervish of a one-man wrecking crew for Argentina two years ago during the Summer Olympics in Beijing and he’s at it once more at the FIBA World Championships, leading all players in scoring by averaging more than 30 points per game – all while shooting the ball at a scintillating 61.8 percent clip, no less. And just when you think he can’t possibly raise his level of play, the guy goes for 37 points (on 14-of-20 shooting) and 9 rebounds while leading his country into the quarterfinals and past powerful Brazil. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey remarked on Twitter that Scola went into 'video game god mode' to help Argentina vanquish their archrivals 93-89 Tuesday afternoon and the description couldn’t have been more apt. The delicious irony, however, is that such a performance came from someone who couldn’t possibly appear more mortal (at least in a basketball sense, anyway). Scola’s vertical can probably be measured with a ruler rather than a tape measure. An hour glass would be just as relevant as a stopwatch when it comes time to size up his speed. He uses his left hand when operating out of the post only as an option of last resort. And his jumper (can you still call it a jumper if the person's feet never leave the ground?) will never be taught in a how-to manual. Yet none of it matters. The man still finds a way to get it done."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "For years, they have been two of the biggest personalities on the South Florida sporting landscape, even as they have chosen to mostly remain in the media shadows. Now, Bill Parcells is handing off his day-to-day responsibilities with the Dolphins. The question is whether Pat Riley even has the same option with the Heat. The simple answer is no, because Riley has no Jeff Ireland, no day-to-day player-personnel manager already in place, no clear-cut second in command. What Riley has, essentially, is a cabinet, a group of undersecretaries who handle the prep work so Riley can enter as the closer. ... nowhere on the organizational flow chart is there a general manager, someone like the Dolphins have in Ireland. That position has been vacant since Randy Pfund departed Sept. 29, 2008, amid increasing friction with Riley. That doesn’t mean Riley’s heir apparent as team president isn’t already in place. He is. That would be Nick Arison, son of owner Micky Arison. A presence throughout the Heat’s offseason recruitment of James and Bosh, Arison is being groomed to one day hold the position Riley now holds. The difference is that when that transition comes, it likely will revert to something closer to what Riley had with Pfund, with Nick Arison expected to then add a director of basketball operations, or even someone with the title of general manager."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "After one season, many have written Charlie Villanueva off as a bust, the ultimate underachiever. He has more time to extricate himself from being lumped in with the likes of former Piston William Bedford, a talented big man who was a pet project of former general manager Jack McCloskey during the Bad Boys era before a drug suspension ended his career. This time around, Pistons president Joe Dumars made an investment with Villanueva, who's talented enough to be a 20-point, 10-rebound performer. Villanueva calls Dumars "a father figure," someone he can talk to about things in and away from the game. He wants to fulfill the faith Dumars placed in him. 'Joe always talks to me,' Villanueva said. 'He knew my situation, that I wasn't healthy. They made a commitment to me, so I'm going to be here for the long run. I could've been on vacation all summer, sipping lemonade.' With training camp looming, Villanueva hopes to be the starting power forward on opening night. He'll have to beat out, and even more so outwork, Jerebko and rookie Greg Monroe. It's unlikely Kuester will alter his standards, so Villanueva will have to turn some heads."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The conference finalists have been put back on the playoff bubble. A poll of 93 ESPN NBA experts slotted them ninth in the West. 'Instead of worrying about what we don't have, I'm going to worry about what we do and be excited for that,' guard Steve Nash said. 'We should have a good locker room. We should have a smart, skilled team and a team that can move the ball, play together and make good decisions. Hopefully, defensively, we'll understand our roles and pick up from where we left off last year. We've got a lot to be optimistic about regardless of losing our big power forward (Amar'e Stoudemire).' Hedo Turkoglu looks to start at power forward but there will be others, possibly including Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Childress. With multi-position players, coach Alvin Gentry will use even more lineups. Establishing chemistry early last year went a long way later. 'You still have to not only work hard and be committed but spend time building the chemistry and camaraderie,' Hill said. 'It's not something you take for granted. It's easier to focus on when you have new guys, new faces, new pieces. You're forced to work on it. It's a challenge. The fact that we have guys here working and trying to get in shape is a good first step.' "

  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "Statistics don't fairly measure the value of Kings veteran Francisco García. Last season's numbers are especially unjust, considering García played in just 25 games because of a wrist injury he suffered in training camp. But even while sidelined, García did enough to make an impression on coach Paul Westphal and his staff. Instead of making his presence felt on the court, García became a mentor to the rookies. During timeouts, he offered instruction and encouragement. So even in limited playing time last season, Westphal learned how García would fit in the locker room. 'Certainly, you get to know the person, and you can tell how passionate he is and what a good teammate he is,' Westphal said. 'Getting to know him, we learned a lot. I'm real anxious to see him play.' ... García was also instrumental in helping Omri Casspi adjust to life in the NBA last season. Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said García has 'always been a welcoming type of personality.' 'I just try to show them the ropes and the right way to stay in this league,' García said. 'It's easy to make it, it's hard to stay. That's one thing they've got to understand.' "

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: "When it comes to beating the odds, Adrian Griffin has mastered it. After a stellar career at Seton Hall, not one team selected Griffin in the 1996 NBA draft. But that slight didn't deter him. Griffin labored three years in the Continental Basketball Association and Italy before earning a spot on the Boston Celtics in 1999. Griffin not only made the Celtics' roster, he earned his way into the starting lineup. He then spent nearly a decade in the NBA before being released by the Milwaukee Bucks in October of 2008. Most players in Griffin's situation would have faded from the pro basketball scene. While many ex-players covet being an NBA coach, most are shunned, deemed too young, too inexperienced. But Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who also had coached Griffin as a player in Chicago, was impressed with Griffin's work ethic and conscientiousness and hired him as a behind-the-bench coach. Now, two years later, Griffin has beaten the odds again. Monday, he was on the verge of being hired as a bench coach for new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. At 36, Griffin will become one of the youngest bench coaches in the NBA. 'I am very fortunate,' Griffin said. 'I was just a player two years ago and now I'm a coach. It's very competitive to make an NBA team as a player, but it's even more competitive to become an NBA coach. There are only a few of them (usually five) on each team. God has been good to me.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Her bucket list included just one item. Kay Kellogg didn't want to climb the Eiffel Tower. Or run a marathon. Or jump out of an airplane. She just wanted to have a nice conversation with her hero. 'Dwight Howard is just such a precious, wonderful kid,' she says. 'Whenever I watch him play, he just makes me feel good inside.' And for a woman who feels so bad inside most of the time, this is quite an accomplishment for Dwight. You think leading the league in rebounding and blocked shots is difficult? Try leading the cancer ward in smiles elicited and hearts warmed. Kay, 62, is sitting at her apartment Tuesday telling her story. She's just finished yet another round of chemo. In her younger days, she was a ballet dancer, gracefully spinning and twirling as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Now, she slowly gets around with a walker. ... why is he the only one on her bucket list? She looked at him and said, 'Because some people get a choir that sings them into heaven and some people get a chariot that rolls them into heaven. Not me. I want to be slam-dunked smack, dab into the middle of heaven by Dwight Howard.' "