The sport of basketball has become so globalized. Just look at the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, with point guard Tony Parker from France and guard Emanuel Ginobili from Argentina. You can see that the impact has been incredible.
Think about a number of recent NBA first-round choices, like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Peja Stojakovic and on and on. The league is getting a greater input from overseas.
It's interesting to analyze the players now in the NBA. It used to be that international guys were more mechanical, but now we're seeing more athletes, players who have multifaceted skills, running all 94 feet of the court.
|One workout in Chicago vaulted 7-4 Siberian center Pavel Podkolzine into the lottery.|
The new breed of foreign player can aggressively drive to the basket, score from the outside and handle the ball. These players have improved immeasurably, and they're learning at a fast pace. You will hear plenty of unfamiliar names in this draft, but they will gain valuable exposure in a hurry.
Who are some of these new faces coming from overseas? Darko Milicic has already garnered tons of publicity, and the 7-foot teenager is expected to go second overall to the Pistons.
The name on the rise is another teenager, 7-4 Pavel Podkolzine from Siberia. Podkolzine played in Italy this past season.
A recent workout has moved him up on most mock drafts into the top 10 based on his future upside. That one word -- potential -- makes all the difference come draft time.
Another potential top-10 choice is a player being called the "French Jordan" -- 6-6 Mickael Pietrus. His versatility makes him intriguing to a number of pro scouts. Also keep an eye on 6-11 Maciej Lampe, a Polish player who performed well in Spain. 6-7 Serbian Aleksandar Pavlovic and Brazilian Leandrinho Barbosa could figure in the top 20.
Don't be surprised to see a handful of other foreign players move into the first round. Players from Russia, Greece, France and Italy -- it's like the United Nations on the court, baby!
How did this development of international talent occur? I believe the highest standard was set in 1992, when the first U.S. Dream Team played in the Barcelona Olympics.
International opponents had the chance to study the best of the best. They looked at our great ones like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, among others. The work ethic of those players was always incredible; once they put their minds to a project, they attack it with great vigor and vitality.
The gap is being closed thanks to great coaching and clinics and the desire to improve by gaining knowledge. No question, international players are getting better and better. They have invested dedication and determination to get to our level. The rest of the world clearly has made strides in international competition, as evidenced by the U.S. team's shaky showing at the 2002 World Basketball Championship in Indianapolis. Still, they aren't there quite yet on a consistent business.
It's a different world in international and NBA basketball these days, baby!