HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mike Fratello has spent decades making himself comfortable on the basketball court wherever he’s been. But Fratello has always felt especially at ease in the baby blue and gold he wore at Hackensack High back in his native New Jersey.
Those North Jersey roots were on Fratello’s mind as he prepared his latest team for EuroBasket 2011, where Ukraine’s national team will sport the same colors this week as they attempt to chase one of the top spots in the tournament and the spoils that come along with being one of the best teams in European basketball.
“I do feel very comfortable putting the old blue and gold on,” Fratello said with a chuckle. “Plus, this competition is as big as it gets right now in the game of basketball, given the circumstances with the lockout and everything else that’s going on right now in the NBA.”
You’ve read about it all summer, this wave of NBA talent that will hit foreign soil to play ball if the regular season is delayed because of the lockout.
You won’t have to wait around to see NBA talent in action now. With EuroBasket in Lithuania Aug. 31 through Sept. 18 and the FIBA Americas being played in Argentina Aug. 30 through Sept. 11, there will be plenty of familiar faces on display, including reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and Clippers center Chris Kaman leading the German team in EuroBasket. Brothers Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Marc Gasol of the Hang Time Grizzlies headline the Spanish team.
Spurs star Manu Ginobili and Rockets star Luis Scola are the biggest names for the host team in Argentina. Mavericks point guard Jose Barea and Celtics point guard Carlos Arroyo will run the show for Puerto Rico while Hawks All-Star center Al Horford will team up with Kings swingman Francisco Garcia and Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva for the Dominican Republic.
Our nearly two month hiatus from basketball as we know it comes to a momentary end this week with the game itself back on the global stage with national teams on both sides of the globe vying for those coveted early invites to the London Olympics. Every game can be seen on ESPN3.com.
Automatic bids to the Olympics are at stake for the top two teams in each competition. Four more teams — the third through sixth place finishers from EuroBasket — will also earn bids to the Pre-Olympic Qualifying tournament next July. Three more teams — the third through fifth place finishers from FIBA Americas — will earn bids to the Pre-Olympic Qualifying tournament next July.