Everyone I know who was there says this tournament was well worth the trip, mainly for a fantastic performance. So many subplots. Jose Calderon can clearly now shoot. Viktor Khryapa is good. (And remember Sergei Monia?) Lithuania, Russia, Spain, and Greece now join Argentina on the growing list of teams who might give even the re-vamped U.S. team trouble in the Olympics next year. A million other stories.
Some of my favorites:
Memo to Utah coach Jerry Sloan: when you give Andrei Kirilenko some room to roam on offense, things go pretty well. That's what the coach of the Russian team, American David Blatt (great coach), did again and again throughout this tournament, and Kirilenko got high-percentage shots out of the deal.
It's amazing to see Andrei Kirilenko so happy, saying this is the best achievement of his basketball life.
Cheers to ESPN's Chris Sheridan, for singling out Russia's starting point guard, American J.R. Holden, for feature treatment last week. Holden ended up hitting the tournament-winning shot.
Now Sheridan has some advice about how Team USA can learn from Spain's shocking loss to Russia in the EuroBasket finals:
Make 20 or 30 copies of the game tape from Sunday night's final, and send them to every single player in the Team USA program and the Team USA pipeline. Include a little note that says: "Guys, take a look at this tape, and keep one thing in mind as you watch it: Crazy, crazy things can happen in international basketball, and giants really do fall. And DO NOT EVER, EVER take any opponent lightly, or you'll end up looking as shellshocked and downcast as Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and the rest of the Spanish team looked at the end of this one, when they let their entire country down."
I also spoke to chief U.S. scout Tony Ronzone right after the game, and I asked him what advice he would give to the Team USA players if he were to go back to his hotel room and e-mail them about what happened Sunday in Madrid's Palace Arena.
The Painted Area has in-depth coverage of the whole tournament, and highlights, but wants you to remember that the Finals were hardly the whole story. The semi-finals featured Russia's narrow escape of Lithuania. Here's a sample:
Kirilenko did it all offensively: jumpers, turnaround jumpers, post-ups, and driving lay-ins. His key sequence of the second half came in the third quarter, after Lithuania made a run to tie the game at 52, and they seemed ready to take the momentum away from Russia. But AK47 single-handedly sparked a 8-0 run with a three-pointer, then on the next offensive possession he snaked his way to a falling down lay-in plus the foul. Then on the ensuing defensive possession AK made a gigantic block on a Kleiza dunk attempt, which led into a J.R. Holden bucket to all-of-a-sudden make the game 60-52. Huge sequence for Russia. But that was not it for AK; he added some more big plays in the fourth when Lithuania made a few more mini-runs. Andrei ended the day with 29 points on 10/14 (8/11 fts), eight rebounds (4 off), three steals, and three blocks. Jeezum Frickin' Crow.
And the Painted Area says Spain vs. Greece was the real show-stopper (there are also highlights there):
Maybe as intense and entertaining a game as I've ever seen, certainly in FIBA. Both teams expended every bit of energy they could muster and left everything on the floor. I know I'm getting cliche-y, but don't know better way to describe this game. Spain's natural talent advantage basically pulled them through and helped them hold off the gritty Greeks. With both teams exerting max effort, I can't imagine either team could have played any harder. Have to say I was spent after watching the game.