ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Chuck Cooperstein, aka "The Voice of the Mavericks", is with the Dallas Mavericks on their first European excursion and will blog on the team's events daily for ESPNDallas.com.
BARCELONA -- The FC Barcelona Regal team that the Mavericks face today (2 p.m. CT) at the Palau Sant Jordi is the most accomplished team in the most accomplished league in Europe. Barcelona has won the ACB Spanish League title 17 times, including last season when they defeated Real Madrid 3-2 in a best-of-5 final. They also reached the semis of the Euroleague Championship before losing to Olympiacos. They have won two Euroleague title and have been runner-up five times.
So far this season, they have split six games played over three different leagues. That’s one thing about European ball that is so different from what we know in the NBA. It’s not enough to simply win your nation’s league, but teams play in many other competitions simultaneously.
As opposed to the Alba Berlin game where there was really only one player (North Carolina-ex Deon Thompson) who vaguely resembled an NBA player, FC Barcelona Regal is loaded with NBA-caliber players.
The best known of these players is guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 21 points for Spain in the Olympic gold-medal game vs. the USA. Navarro played the 2007-08 season in Memphis and made second-team All-Rookie, averaging 10.9 points. But the chance to sign a long-term deal with FC Barcelona brought him back. Except for the season with the Grizzlies, he has been first-team all-Euroleague every year since 2006. He has been slowed by a foot injury since the Olympics and is just working back into shape. He is a dazzling outside shooter and has one of the best floaters in the game.
FC Barcelona Regal will have enough size to match up against Mavericks. Ante Tomic is a legitimate 7-2 and 260 pounds. The 44th pick in the 2009 NBA draft by Utah is joined by former Michigan State center Erazem Lorbek. When most of us last saw Lorbek, he was a huge part of the Spartans' run in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the Elite Eight to TJ Ford and Texas. Drafted by Indiana in '05 (when Rick Carlisle was coaching the Pacers), his rights are now owned by San Antonio, which acquired them in the George Hill trade in June 2011.
Tomic and Lorbek are joined up front by another big body in Australian Nathan Jawai, whom Mavericks fans might remember was with the team in camp in 2009 before being traded to Minnesota. Those 3 bigs -- Tomic, Lorbek and Jawai -- teamed for 43 points and 18 rebounds in their last game. Pete Mickael, a hard nosed small forward at Cincinnati for Bob Huggins, is the other forward. Mickael was a one-time Mavericks draft pick whose rights were traded to the New York Knicks, but he never played in the NBA.
In the backcourt, in addition to Navarro, Australian Joe Ingles is a guy to watch. The 6-6 shooting guard has a well-rounded game, averaging 15 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists for Australia in their run to the Olympic quarterfinals. Mavericks chief international scout Tony Ronzone says the NBA is watching Ingles, who is in the last year of his contract, and could be signed as an unrestricted free agent next year.
At point guard, Marcelinho Huertas from Brazil was a star in Brazil’s run to the Olympic semifinals, And then there is Sarunas Jasekivicius, the old war horse at age 36, who played college ball at Maryland and was brought over to the NBA to play for Carlisle with the Pacers in 2006. It didn’t work out for him in the NBA, but he is among Europe’s most decorated players, a four time Euroleague champion with three different teams.
Guys with NBA experience. Guys who were drafted by the NBA, but have chosen to stay over. And players without NBA experience, but whose pedigree suggests they are NBA players -- and could be in the future. Indeed, the Mavericks will learn a lot more about what they are after this game.