Basketball has become a global game. Thanks to ambassadors like Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming, the sport has been enriched with a healthy dose of international flavor over the past several years or so.
That international flavor is on full display in the men’s basketball competition at the 2012 London Olympics. Hardcore basketball fans would be well advised to keep their eyes on many of the great players who will take the court across the pond and are not wearing a Team USA jersey.
Here are some international NBA players that are poised to intrigue and capture attention in the Olympics.
Everyone already knows about the star power that Spain’s imposing Gasol brothers (Pau and Marc) bring to the table. But fellow Spaniard Serge Ibaka is making quite the name for himself these days.
Ibaka has gone from a relative unknown to one of the NBA’s most imposing shot blockers, playing alongside Kevin Durant for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now playing next to the Gasol brothers up front could free up Ibaka to wreak havoc on defense during the 2012 Olympics for Spain.
And in case you thought Ibaka was just a one-dimensional player, you haven’t seen Ibaka’s blossoming offensive game. He’s become a player who can keep defenders honest with his ability to sink the mid-range jumper occasionally.
Ibaka had a solid Olympic debut against China, tallying 17 points and three blocks in Spain’s easy victory.
Andrei Kirilenko just wanted you to know that he’s back—in a big way. After a decade of playing for the Utah Jazz, Kirilenko left the NBA last season to play professionally back in his native Russia.
Now, Kirilenko feels rejuvenated, and that’s already showing for Russia during the 2012 Summer Olympics. During the team’s opening game in London, Kirilenko exploded for 35 points on a staggering 14-for-17 shooting from the field in Russia’s 95-75 win over Great Britain.
That performance led Kirilenko to declare after the game that he feels “like a young deer.” A vintage performance like that from Kirilenko will have fans harkening back to his glory days with the Jazz, when he ran the floor like that aforementioned young deer and attacked the basket with a unique blend of rage and grace.
If Kirilenko can duplicate that effort against the rest of the Olympic competition, then the Minnesota Timberwolves will be ecstatic that they signed the star Russian for the upcoming NBA season.
A few weeks ago, Tony Parker almost lost an eye after being caught in the middle of an ugly nightclub brawl between music stars Chris Brown and Drake. With that scary incident behind him and some trendy sports goggles now hugging his French face, Parker is ready to lead his team to an Olympic medal in London.
With so many young guns vying for the title of NBA’s Best Point Guard these days, it’s easy to forget that the veteran Parker is still among the cream of the elite point guard crop. He’s a four-time All Star who’s coming off a postseason where he averaged 20.1 ppg.
If Parker can carry that momentum into the Olympics, then France will have a great chance to come away from the Games with a medal.
Olympic basketball fans will get a great look at much-hyped Lithuanian star player Jonas Valanciunas. The 20-year-old center has a world of unlimited potential.
He was considered the top international player to come out of the 2011 NBA Draft and was thought of so highly that the Toronto Raptors selected him with the Draft’s fifth overall pick, despite the fact that Valanciunas had to wait a full season before joining the team (he will finally take the floor in Toronto this NBA season).
Before the NBA, though, Big V (as Valanciunas is affectionately nicknamed) will have a chance to make a big impact for Lithuania in London. With that said, Big V came up quite small in his Olympic debut against Argentina, scoring just six points and pulling down six boards in Lithuania’s loss.
Valanciunas’ struggles could just be early game jitters. The Raptors are certainly hoping so, because their future is banking on Big V.
When you think of Argentina basketball, you think of San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili.
Even at age 34 (soon to be 35), Ginobili will leave his mark on yet another Olympic Games, this time in London. Who can forget when the energetic Ginobili almost single-handedly led Argentina to a victory over Team USA in the semifinals of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. A game later, Argentina would defeat Italy to win the country’s first ever gold medal in men’s basketball.
Eight years later, Ginobili may be older, but he’s certainly got plenty of game left in his tank. He’s a feisty scorer, able to break down defenders off the dribble, attack the basket with tenacity and step outside to hit devastating three-pointers.
Ginobili has had a tremendous impact on international basketball during his decorated career. Don’t expect it to be any different in London.