Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Oden Did At Mini-Camp

Click here to watch video of the scrimmage

After two days of practice, Greg Oden wrapped up his stint at the USA Basketball mini-camp with a 10 rebound, seven-point performance in the Blue vs. White scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday night. Performance aside, it had to be somewhat satisfying for Oden wear the red, white and blue after missing out on various Team USA events over the past three years. Even if he doesn’t make the squad that will go on to play in Turkey in 2010 and England in 2012, you would have to think Greg felt a sense of accomplishment when he was able to represent his country, albeit on a much smaller stage.

Not that he was happy with the result. USA Blue, lead by Kevin Durant and Brook Lopez, beat Oden’s USA White side 100-81. Oden had a block, an assist and a steal to go along with his double-digit rebound total, but in the end it wasn’t enough to win the scrimmage.

USA White had a one point leading going into the half, but USA Blue blew the game open in the third, outscoring their counterparts 30-17. It should be noted that Oden, who started the game, sat out almost the entire third quarter as Team Blue built what would end up being an insurmountable lead. The point of the scrimmage was to evaluate which players might best fit in with the returning members of the “Redeem Team,” so it’s within the realm of possibility that Oden sat out longer than maybe he would have if winning were the ultimate goal.

There was much to like out of Oden’s performance. His stamina seemed to be much improved from just two days ago, which was probably due to a combination of increased adrenaline and conditioning. Oden didn’t once look winded in his 24 minutes of play, despite a pace that is likely faster than what he’s accustomed to playing in Portland.

GO once again showed why many think he’ll be much improved defensively in the upcoming season. Rarely was he goaded into leaving his feet on pump fakes or hesitation moves. His lateral quickness and foot speed seem to be better now than anytime after the microfracture surgery. He’s not winning any footraces out there, but he’s doing a fine job of getting up and down the court. He’s moving his feet really well, doing an excellent job of staying in front of his man. On one series in particular, Lopez threw a bevy of baseline moves at Oden, but he never took the bait.

The one glaring mistake Oden made on defense was not closing out on Lopez when he took a FIBA-shortened three-pointer, a shot he made. I think GO can be forgiven for that one considering Lopez isn’t exactly known for his ability to hit the outside shot.

He did commit four fouls, but none were of the foolish, forehead slap-inducing variety. In fact, I thought he did a nice job of using his body to contest shots and staying out of foul trouble. He didn’t throw his body at guys, but he didn’t shy away from contact either.

Oden did get the ball on offense more than he had during practices earlier this week. In fact, they went to him in the post on the very first play of the game. Oden was instantly doubled, so he kicked out, then reposted. He got the ball back, turned and shot his jump hook, which missed the mark, but it was still good to see him work through his progression on offense.

The points Oden did score came off plays Blazers fans would be happy to see in Portland next year. The first was a simple face-up baseline jumper over Lopez from about 15 feet. Oden shot it without hesitation, and I have to say it was one of the prettiest shots I’ve ever seen him take. If he can add a reliable midrange jumper to his game, it’s going to make life a whole lot easier for everyone.

The other play was a bit more impressive and even more encouraging. Oden set a high pick at the top of the key for Derrick Rose. He made a little contact with Thaddeus Young, who was checking Rose at the time. The chip forced Young, who had gone over the screen, to stumble a bit. With Young out of position, Lopez was forced to hard show to keep Rose from turning the corner for an open layup. Oden, recognizing Lopez was preoccupied with Rose, rolled to the basket. At that point Rose threw a bounce pass to Oden, which was a bit low, but he was able to collect the pass, continue his move to the basket and finish at the rim between both Lopez and Josh Smith. It was the most athletic move I had seen out of Greg this week, and I mean that in the best way possible.

All in all, Oden turned in a couple of nice days of basketball in Las Vegas. He set out to prove he could be a defensive presence in the paint, rebound on both ends of the floor and provide a bit of offense when needed, all of which he accomplished. He’s still got plenty to work on this summer, but he’s making progress. In the offseason, that’s about all you can ask for.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

USA Basketball Showcase Rosters

We're a little less than an hour away from Blue vs. White scrimmage tipoff here at Thomas & Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV, so I figure you might be time to pass along the rosters, which I myself just received.

2009 USA Blue Team

D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte Bobcats
Kevin Durant, G, OK City Thunder
Andre Iguodala, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers
Kyle Korver, G, Utah Jazz
Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets
Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Randolph, F, Golden State Warriors
Josh Smith, F, Atlanta Hawks
Russell Westbrook, G, OK City Thunder
Thaddeus Young, F, Philadelphia 76ers

2009 USA White Team

Ronnie Brewer, G, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gay, F, Memphis Grizzlies
Eric Gordon, G, L.A. Clippers
Jeff Green, F, OK City Thunder
Devin Harris, G, New Jersey Nets
O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies
JaVale McGee, C/F, Washington Wizards
Paul Millsap, F, Utah Jazz
Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers
Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls

There is no television or legitimate internet stream of tonight's game, but I'll try my best to provide updates in the blog and on twitter (twitter/pdxtrailblazers). And I'll have a recap of Oden's performance postgame, along with quotes and such.

Team USA: A Numbers Game

Jersey numbers tend to be rather important to basketball players. For many guys, their number is a big part of their legacy. You always hear stories about players paying exorbitant sums of money to get their numbers from other players, usually after a trade. Some guys wear the same numbers from park and rec ball all the way through their NBA careers, so it's easy to see how one could become attached to a couple of digits.

But you have to check pride and sentimentality at the door when you're trying win one of the few spots available on Team USA. Might not be such an easy thing to do. After all, none of the guys here at the mini-camp have ever really had to "earn" a roster spot. Not that anything is given, but the talent level is such that no one who has taken the floor at Valley High School over the last two days has had to worry about making a squad. Not the case for Team USA. These guys are the best, but Team USA is the best of the best. The margin for error is slim.

Which brings us back to the jerseys. On most teams, guys like Devin Harris, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala would get first pick of jersey numbers, but here in Las Vegas, no one is extended that courtesy. You get the number they give you. Don't like it? Tough.

Which is how Greg Oden ended up wearing No. 47, rather than the No. 52 he wears in the NBA.

"It's the first jersey they pulled out of the bag," said Oden, who didn't seem at all worried about the change of number.

Not that No. 52 wasn't available. It was, but it was given to Kevin Durant, who's career will be forever linked to Oden's.

Did KD grab GO's number on purpose? Maybe a little payback for the player picked one spot before him?

"Naw, I didn’t man." said Durant with a chuckle. "It’s just the number they gave us. I wasn’t even thinking about that. This is the first time I thought about it."

For Oden and Durant, the number on their backs isn't all that important, it' a chance to wear USA across their chests that matters.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Video: More Greg Oden At USA Basketball Mini-Camp

I know the Andre Miller signing is the big news today, but there's still a USAB mini-camp going on here in Las Vegas and Greg Oden is still participating. And I've got more video to prove it. Better quality, too. Check it out here.

As expected, today's run featured a lot more scrimmaging than yesterday's. Oden looked good once again, though as was the case yesterday, we didn't get a chance to see much of what he could do on offense. If memory serves, GO got the ball five times in the post. He dunked two of those, was fouled on one, missed a jump hook and fumbled a pass out of bounds. Nothing to get incredably excited about, but efficient nonetheless.

Oden did a nice job rebounding and moving his feet on defense, while committing just one foul. Pretty much the same story as yesterday, though it didn't seem like there was nearly as much interest in taking the ball at Oden today. Quick learners, this bunch.

Speaking of learning, after some advice from Nate McMillan, Oden figured out he could use his height and proximity to the hoop to do something you can't in the NBA: take the ball off the rim.

"You saw it on one play where the ball hit the rim already and he knocked it out, saved the team two points," said Kevin Pritchard, who was again in attendance. He plays above the rim so he can do those kind of plays."

Pritchard said he was satisfied with what he had seen out of Oden the last two days, and he's hoping to see more improvement as the season approaches.

"One of the things we try not to do is watch every single second of what he’s doing but really rebounded today. He had a couple drop off dunks. Getting his wind a little bit better. We like what we see."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mini-Camping With Greg Oden

Go here to see video of Greg Oden working out with Team USA. And go here for a Q&A with Oden.

Watching today's practice I got the sense that, with adequate time, the United States could win a gold medal with a team comprised solely of the mini-camp invitees. Maybe I'm being naive, nationalistic or both, but it seems to me that if you put in three weeks of work with a squad consisting of guys like Kevin Durant, Devin Harris, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, Paul Millsap, Eric Gordon and Greg Oden, you could beat any other team in the world. If nothing else, they'd be hungrier than a few Team USA's of the not-so-distant past.

But maybe it's best not to jump to conclusions after one practice. After all, there's probably some guy in Spain or Greece or Argentina thinking the same thing of his national team. Same thing should probably be said of Greg Oden's performance. I thought he looked great, especially on defense, where his improved lateral quickness and timing was evident, but I don't want to set expectations too high. That's not healthy for anyone.

So here's my attempt at a rational, measured assessment of what I saw in the gym at Valley High School today.

I got quite a few questions via twitter today asking if it looked like Greg had lost any weight. As far as that goes, I really can't say. I'm a horrible judge of such things. What I do know is that he looked to be in good shape, probably more athletic than we saw him last season. The coaches put the squad through a ton of halfcourt drills and Oden didn't back down once. He admitted he needed a blow by time the scrimmage came around, but that was true of everyone.

"They went hard," said Nate McMillan, who sat right up front during the entire workout. "I thought the entire team went hard. For the first day they did a lot of halfcourt and I thought they were pretty gassed once they got into the fullcourt. Coach Jay (Triano) kind of felt that and decided to cut the practice. Hopefully tomorrow they scrimmage a bit more."

I don't think Coach McMillan is alone in that sentiment.

Greg didn't really get much of a chance to show what he could do on offense. Guards, as most anyone will tell you, tend to dominate these kinds of runs, and today's practice was no exception. There's just not that much emphasis on dumping the ball into the post and letting the big guy work. They run some pick and roll, but I don't recall ever seeing the screener getting the ball going toward the hoop. That wasn't exclusive to Oden, as the same could be said for Brook Lopez, JaVale McGee, Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. Big men don't often get fed in this setting.

The two times Oden did get the ball in the post he went straight to the jump hook, and I'm happy to report it looked much improved from the last time we saw it. Both times he put it up over Lopez, making the first attempt and missing the second. But even the miss looked better than his makes from last year (numerous people not affiliated with the Trail Blazers noted this as well). He's getting his shoulders more square to the basket before releasing the ball. There seemed to be times last season when he wasn't able to get a clean look at the rim before letting fly, but that wasn't the case today. Footwork looked clean. Boxing out, which was never really a problem, was accomplished with relative ease.

"Offensively I don’t know that he’s at the level of some of these other guys yet,"said Jay Triano, who is running the mini-camp, "but boy oh boy, having a stopper like that is pretty impressive."

And as stated above, that's the area where Greg really shined. I don't think it would be a stretch to say he turned in the best defensive performance of all players at today's practice. I think there was one time when an opposing player scored in the post when Greg was in the paint. Every time someone tried to take it at GO he'd either block the shot, something McGee, Iguodala, Millsap and Jeff Green can attest to, or force a miss, without fouling (referees were on hand calling the scrimmage).

"Oh geez, I thought he was great," said Triano of Oden's performance. "I mean defensively, he shut everybody out on the inside. The international game is a more physical game and he took advantage of it. I thought he established himself very well. I was really happy to see what he did out there today. He was probably the big surprise for me today, especially on the defensive end of the floor."

Oden looked nice outside of the paint as well. He did a great job of showing in the pick and roll defense, always busting his tail to recover back to his man. His rotations were sharp and instinctual. Thinking, something people had accused Oden of doing to much of last season, wasn't necessary. He's just doing. And he was doing a lot of communicating on defense, something Coach McMillan is an absolute sucker for.

"He looked comfortable," said McMillan. "He looked a bit more relaxed. He was talking. I saw some teeth. He looked like he was having some fun and in a comfort zone with this group of peers."

The one thing McMillan kept going back to when discussing Oden's performance was comfort. Greg seemed at ease on the court today, something everyone in Portland would like to see more of.

Video: Greg Oden At USAB Mini-Camp

I wasn't sure what to expect out of Greg Oden at the USA Basketball mini-camp, so I can't say he surpassed my expectations. But I can say Oden looked very good working out against his peers today in Las Vegas. Completely dominant in the paint defensively. Didn't have many opportunities on offense, but looked more fluid and coordinated when he did get the ball in the post.

I don't think you'll be able to draw too many conclusions from this video I shot at practice today, but hopefully it will give you a little taste of what's to come. I'll try my best to get some better quality footage at tomorrow's practice. And more updates and an interview with Oden to come shortly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trail Blazers Courtside Podcasts

Brian Wheeler was somewhere between Las Vegas and Portland and Mike Rice was too busy golfing, but Mike Barrett and Michael Holton managed to do a fine job of hosting this week's edition of Trail Blazers Courtside all by themselves. Joe Prunty, Dante Cunningham, Joe Freeman and Kevin Arnovitz were all guests on this week's show.

You've got a couple options in the event that you missed Monday night's show. You can watch the show online here (which is the case with all editions of Courtside moving forward), or you can download the podcasts below.

Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour One)

Download the podcast (38.7 MB)

Trail Blazers Courtside (Hour Two)

Download the podcast (38.5 MB)

Courtside Interview With Joe Prunty

Download the podcast (10.5 MB)

Courtside Interview With Dante Cunningham

Download the podcast (5.2 MB)

Nate McMillan Returns For Second Run With USA Basketball Men’s National Team

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 21, 2009) – They’re back! The 2006-08 USA Basketball Men’s National Team coaching staff of head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University), and assistants Jim Boeheim (Syracuse University), Mike D’Antoni (New York Knicks) and Nate McMillan (Portland Trail Blazers), a staff that led the American men to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a three year record of 36-1, will return intact to lead the USA Basketball Men’s National Team program in 2010-2012.

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo officially announced today that Basketball Hall of Fame mentor Krzyzewski will return as head coach of the USA Basketball Men's National Team program for 2010-2012, and that Boeheim, D’Antoni and McMillan were returning as USA assistant coaches. The coaching selections were approved by USA Basketball’s Board of Directors and are pending final approval by the USOC Board of Directors.

“I’m honored to come back and be a part of our nation’s basketball team for a second time,” said McMillan. “Mr. Colangelo and Coach K have put together a great coaching staff, and I know those guys are just as hungry as I am to grow the U.S. program and work towards winning the World Championship and another gold medal. Working with USA Basketball has been a terrific experience for me.”

Over the course of 2010-2012, USA Men’s National Teams will compete in the 2010 FIBA World Championship (Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Turkey); if necessary the 2011 FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament (dates and site TBD); and if the USA qualifies, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (July 26-Aug. 12 in London, England).

“When you have a good thing going you don’t mess with it. We accomplished a great deal last quadrennium and we want to keep the ball rolling in the right direction,” said Colangelo, who served as the Managing Director of the 2005-2008 USA Basketball Men’s National Team program.

“Mike and the staff did an incredible job last quad and he is more than entitled to have another run at it. I’ve said it over and over, he was the right guy at the right time and that is still true.”

“It was a huge honor to be selected as the USA National Team coach the first time. It is still a huge honor. The experience of being the head coach of the USA National Team for three summers was the best experience I've ever had in coaching” said Krzyzewski. “The upcoming three years will be a new experience and hopefully, it will be as rewarding. I am really looking forward to representing our country at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey and at hopefully the 2012 Olympics in London. Also, the chance to work with Jerry Colangelo a second time is such a unique opportunity and one that I am looking forward to taking full advantage of.

“It is amazing that Jim, Mike and Nate would do this again. For the past three years, we’ve handled the staff as if we’re all co-coaches. That is how we’ll handle it again. We’ve all taken ownership, we’ve loved being together and most of all, we’ve loved representing our country. What a great statement for continuity that our coaching staff will remain in place until 2012.”

USA Basketball announced on June 25 that 25 top rising NBA players had accepted invitations from to participate in the 2009 USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp that will be conducted July 22-25 in Las Vegas, Nev. USA Basketball also previously announced that the coaching staff for the mini-camp would be Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano, Utah Jazz assistant coach Tyrone Corbin, Detroit Pistons assistant Dave Cowens, former New Orleans Hornets assistant Kenny Gattison, and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Jerry Sichting.

The July USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp will feature practice sessions on July 23 and July 24 at Valley High School, and the mini-camp will be capped by the USA Basketball Showcase, a Blue-White intra-squad game, on Saturday, July 25, 8 p.m. (PDT) at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2009 USA Basketball Showcase, with seats priced at $10 to $75. Tickets can be purchased through or 702-739-FANS.

USA Basketball initiated its historic men’s national team program in 2005 and capped the 2005-2008 quad competitions with a magnificent gold medal run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

USA Basketball's National Team program during the three-year period between 2006 and 2008 compiled a striking 36-1 overall win-loss record and just as importantly reestablished the USA team and its members as positive ambassadors for the United States and the sport.

The USA squad culminated the quadrennium by finishing 8-0 to reclaim the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the USA’s first gold in a major international competition since 2000. The USA National Team also won gold at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship with a 10-0 record to qualify the U.S. men for the 2008 Olympic Games. In the program’s first year, the U.S. captured the bronze medal with an 8-1 record at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.

Since first fielding a USA Basketball team of legendary NBA stars in 1992, USA Basketball senior national teams comprised of NBA players have claimed gold medals in 10 of 13 major international basketball competitions, while compiling an impressive 100-7 overall record (.935 winning percentage) in those international competitions and a record of 33-1 (.971 winning percentage) in exhibition games.

Mike Krzyzewski

Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, Krzyzewski has a remarkable record of achievement at Duke while also boasting of extensive and successful international experience.

Krzyzewski guided Duke to a 30-7 record, the program’s 10th 30-win sea¬son, and the ACC Championship in 2008-09. The Blue Devils also made their 14th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, earning the second seed in the East Region and reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons. Duke has received a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in 11 of the last 13 seasons. The Blue Devils also reached the top spot in the AP poll on Jan. 26, marking the 14th different season under Coach K that Duke has been ranked No. 1.

Selected the National Collegiate Coach of the Year 12 times, Coach K has averaged more than 25 wins a season during his 29-year (1980-81 through 2008-09) career at Duke and posted 10 seasons of 30 or more wins, including 30 or more victories in seven of the last 12 years. Krzyzewski’s 10 30-win seasons are the most by any coach in college basketball history.

Krzyzewski owns an 833-274 career record and a remarkable 75.2 winning percentage in his 34 years of collegiate coaching. In 29 seasons at the Durham campus, he has logged a spectacular record of 760-215 for a striking 77.9 winning percentage.

Under Krzyzewski, Duke has captured three national championships (1991, 1992, and 2001). He has directed teams to 10 Final Fours, the third highest total in NCAA history. Since 1985, Krzyzewski has directed teams to NCAA Tournaments in 25 of the last 26 seasons, including 14 consecutive. His 71 NCAA Tournament victories rank first in NCAA wins and he ranks first in games with at 93.

Duke teams under Krzyzewski have claimed 13 ACC regular season titles and 11 ACC Tournament championships; compiled 760 total victories and 296 ACC wins. He has had teams ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams for 429 weeks, including 367 weeks ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams and 93 weeks ranked number one in the country.

His players have earned National Player of the Year honors nine times, claimed National Defensive Players of the Year honors nine times, and been named All-American 35 times. Forty of his players have been NBA Draft selections, including 21 first rounders and 15 NBA Lottery picks.

Krzyzewski attended the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and while there lettered three years in basketball (1967, 1968 and 1969) and was captain of Army’s 1969 NIT fourth place finishing team. He directed service teams for three years and followed that up as head coach of the U.S. Military Academy Prep School in Belvoir, Va., for two years.

In 1974 he resigned from the Army having attained the rank of Captain. When Krzyzewski was just 26, Bob Knight, his former coach at Army, hired him as a graduate assistant at Indiana University. That 1975 IU squad posted an 18-0 Big Ten Conference mark and an overall 31-1 record.

Accepting the head coaching position at his alma mater following his season at IU, Krzyzewski spent five years (1975-76 through 1979-80) building the West Point program and led the Cadets to one NIT berth, one ECAC playoff appearance and a five-year record of 73-59.

Krzyzewski also boasts of a long resume of USA international basketball coaching experience. A member of 12 USA coaching staffs, in the 11 international competitions Krzyzewski has been involved in, those USA teams have compiled a 90-7 overall mark for an 92.8 winning percentage, while capturing seven gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals.

Krzyzewski was named on Sept. 26, 2005, head coach of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team program for 2006-2008. Over the course of the three summers, he led the USA national team to a 36-1 overall record. Under Krzyzewski, the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team recaptured Olympic gold, compiling a record of 8-0 in the process, while defeating opponents by an average of 27.8 points a game. Prior to the Olympics, Coach K guided the USA Basketball National Team to a 5-0 record in its tour. He also directed the Americans to a 10-0 record and gold medal finish in the FIBA Americas Championship, which also served as the zone qualifying event for the 2008 Olympics. In 2006, the U.S. finished the FIBA World Championship in Japan with an 8-1 record and the bronze medal. Krzyzewski has been honored by USA Basketball at the National Coach of the Year in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Nate McMillan

In completing his ninth season overall as a NBA head coach and his fourth as the head man for Portland, McMillan has now compiled a 360-363 regular season win-loss record, while advancing teams to the NBA playoffs three times, where he has compiled an 10-12 mark.

McMillan was named head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers on July 7, 2005, after serving as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics for five seasons and compiling a record of 212-183 and a 53.7 winning percentage.

McMillan, 44, led the second youngest team in the NBA to the playoffs with a 54-28 record last season, which ranks as the sixth best mark in franchise history. McMillan’s squad recorded a 13 game improvement on the Trail Blazers’ 2007-08 season and an amazing 33 game improvement over his inaugural 2005-06 campaign. He became just the second coach in NBA history to improve a team by at least nine or more wins in three consecutive seasons.

McMillan stands as the third-youngest coach ever in NBA history to reach the 300 win mark. McMillan gained his 300th win as a head coach on March 15, 2008, becoming just the 50th coach in NBA history to do so. Currently ranked 11th among active head coaches for wins, no coach recorded more wins than McMillan in eight years of coaching experience or less.

He has been named the NBA’s Western Conference Coach of the Month twice, April 2009 and December 2007. McMillan won the April ’09 award after leading the Trail Blazers to a 7-1 mark which included victories over the Lakers, Nuggets and Spurs. He was named the recipient in December 2007 after leading the team to a 13-game winning streak and a 13-2 month. The streak was the second best in the NBA that season and the second longest in Trail Blazers history. The team’s winning percentage in December was the franchise’s third highest, all-time.

Having spent his entire 12-year playing career with Seattle, McMillan was named the Sonics interim head coach on Nov. 27, 2000, after serving as assistant coach to Paul Westphal for the previous two seasons.

McMillan retired from his NBA playing days after the 1997-98 season and left as Seattle's all-time leader in assists (4893) and steals (1544). He now ranks second in both categories and ranks in the Sonics all-time top-10 in eight other statistical columns.

Jim Boeheim

“One of the best basketball experiences I have ever had was working with the Olympic team and that coaching staff. To be able to have that experience again is an unbelievable thrill. Usually you only get one of those kinds of experiences, and to be able to go through and have it a second time, is unbelievable. To be able to work with the coaching staff and the best players in the world is a tremendous thrill,” commented Boeheim.

Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2005, Boeheim in his 33 years (1976-77 through 2008-09) as Syracuse’s head mentor has posted only winning records, winning 20 or more games in 31 of his 33 seasons. Over the course of his 33 seasons, his teams have averaged 24.2 wins a season and just 8.7 losses. His 31 20 win or better seasons rank him first for the most ever.

Syracuse has earned postseason berths (26 NCAA and six NIT) in all but one of Boeheim's seasons. He has pushed the Orange to three NCAA Championship games (1987, 1996 and 2003) and Syracuse won the national crown in 2003. Boeheim has 42 NCAA Tournament triumphs to his credit, good for an eighth-place tie on the all-time Division I list.

Boeheim completed the 2008-09 campaign with a career record of 799-288 for a shining 73.5 win percentage. Boeheim ranks 10th among active Division I coaches in winning percentage and third in wins, trailing only Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun. He is 26th on the all-time Division I winning percentage ledger and eighth overall in victories. Only Dean Smith (North Carolina), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and Jim Phelan (Mt. St. Mary’s) have won more games at one Division I school.

Boeheim is also the winningest coach in Big East Conference history with a striking 356-200 (.640) overall record (regular season and tournaments). Under Boeheim, Syracuse has captured outright or shared in eight Big East Conference regular season championships. Owning a remarkable 45-25 record and 64.3 winning percentage in Big East Tournament play, his squads have won five Big East Tournaments and finished runner-up on nine other occasions.

He led Syracuse in 2008-09 to a 28-10 mark, an 11-7 record and sixth place finish in the Big East Conference regular season, a runner-up finish in the Big East Tournament, and to the 2009 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.

Mike D’Antoni

“I consider it an honor to represent our country by returning to the staff of USA Basketball. Our players' and staff's commitment to this great program was so evident during the Beijing Games that we want to continue the excellence on and off the basketball court,” stated D’Antoni.

After five seasons (2003-04 to 2007-08) as the head mentor of the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni was named the 24th head coach in the New York Knicks' 62-year history on May 13, 2008. Continuing his goal to right the ship in the Big Apple, he finished his first season of rebuilding with a nine game improvement on the prior season.

In his five NBA seasons with the Suns, D'Antoni compiled a remarkable 253-136 win-loss record and a 65.0 winning percentage. In his last four seasons the Suns won 55, 61, 54 and 62 games and had an overall record of 232-96 for a stellar 70.7 winning percentage. He also guided the Suns to the NBA Playoffs four times, advancing to the NBA Western Conference Finals twice.

Named the winner of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA Coach of the Year for the 2004-05 season. D'Antoni also served as head coach of the Denver Nuggets in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season (14-36), and was the club's director of player personnel in 1997-98. He was also an assistant for Portland in 2000-01 and a scout for San Antonio during the 1999- 2000 campaign.

D'Antoni also coached eight seasons in the Italian League and compiled a 288-101 regular season win-loss record for a 74.0 winning percentage. He also compiled a 37-23 record (.617 winning percentage) in the Italian League Playoffs.
In his eight years (1990-91 through 1996-97, 2001-02) as a head coach in the Italian League, he served as a head coach for four seasons (1990-91 through 1993-94) with Milan Olympia and four seasons (1994-95 through 1996-97, 2001-02) with Treviso Benetton. He led teams to two Italian League regular season championships (1991 and 1997), his teams made the playoffs in each of his eight seasons and he won two Playoffs (1997 and 2001). He was twice named the league's Coach of the Year.

His Benetton team captured the Cup of Europe and Cup of Italy in 1994-95 and won the Italian League title in 1996-97 after a 22-4 regular season. D'Antoni guided Philips Milan to the 1993 Korac Cup and to the Italian League regular season crown in 1990-91.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Surprise In the Second Round

Dante Cunningham, who was virtually unknown by Trail Blazers fans when he was selected with the 33rd pick in the 2009 Draft, is quickly making a name for himself two games into summer league play. Most of the focus leading up the Las Vegas centered on Jerryd Bayless but Cunningham has shown that the summer league is anything but a one-man show as far as Portland fans are concerned.

The book on Cunningham, who spent the last four years playing at UConn Villanova, is that of a gritty, hustle player who gets boards and garbage buckets, but he's shown a much more polished offensive game through two games in Las Vegas, hitting jumpers with unexpected consistency from the power forward position while still crashing the boards.

"I end up creating space with the defender on me," said Cunningham. "My ability to be able to shoot and raise up over taller defenders and also my quickness around taller defenders gives me an advantage.

"A lot of times it’s just facing them up, giving them a jab step. I’m not that much larger than other players, but a lot of times they notice I’m a lot faster than them are so they’re kind of leery of me being able to go around them, so they do tend to back up on the jab step and I’m able to raise up and shoot."

Whether it's respect for his quickness or just poor defense, Cunningham has found himself open early and often in Las Vegas. He's also caught the eye of his summer league coach.

"Dante has been very solid," said Joe Prunty. "He’s been aggressive offensively. He’s been getting shots and he’s been confident stepping up and trying to knock those down. And he's doing a decent job on the boards."

"I love to be coached," said Cunningham "I love to always have somebody telling me what I can do to get better. They definitely are always in my ear correcting and making sure I have a good understanding of what’s going on."

And though the Trail Blazers are still winless through the first two contests in Las Vegas, Cunningham is confident that first victory is coming soon.

"I think we’re definitely coming together. We’re still making corrections for a team that’s only been together for a week and a half now. I think we’re starting to click and finding each other a lot better every day."

07.16.09 Podcast

After a two week hiatus caused by my trip to Europe, the Podcast triumvirate is back in action Gavin Dawson of 95.5 The Game, Dave Deckard of Blazer's and I, Casey Holdahl of discuss most everything that has happened since the last time we sat down in the studio before the draft. Seems like an eternity ago.

Topics include Hedo, Millsap, McMillan, Pritchard, Roy, Bayless, free agency, cap space, the trade deadline, Batum and Claver. It's about an hour long, so grab a drink and hit up the bathroom before pressing the play button.

Download the podcast (59.8 MB)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Video: Archived Chat With Prunty, Cunningham, Pendergraph and Mills

Below is the archived UStream video from an online video chat we did last with with coach Joe Prunty, Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph and Patty Mills (this was prior to his unfortunate injury). If you missed it live or would simply like to watch it again, here is your chance.

If you don't have time to watch all of it, I highly recommend skipping to Jeff Pendergraph's interview, where he talks about "beasting" and how he reacts to being dunked on. It's good stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Raptors 92, Trail Blazers 87: Summer League Audio

I thought our first game of the Las Vegas Summer League played out about as expected. You can attribute the 19 turnovers to jitters, conditioning and cobwebs, issues that should be resolved, at least partially, by Game 2 on Wednesday. As for letting the Raptors shoot 51 percent from the field, chalk that up to the difficulties of mastering a defensive system in five practices.

"The one thing I know we can account for that we did not do a good job of -- and again, this is all of us, from coaches to players -- we didn’t do a very good job defensively," said Joe Prunty, who is manning the head coaching duties for the Trail Blazers in Las Vegas. "Fifty-one percent from the field and 92 points is a little bit more than we’re willing to accept."

Aside from being a bit too sloppy with the ball and a bit too relaxed at times on defense, the Trail Blazers played a decent game. And really, this summer league is all about three players: Jerryd Bayless, Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph. No disrespect to the rest of the roster, but those three are the reason we're in Las Vegas. Here's what each had to say after the game, along with a few thoughts on their performances.

Jerry Bayless

Bayless tallied more assists in last night's game (seven) than he logged in all four of last year's summer league games combined, so the initial returns on his ability to be a distributor rather than a volume scorer have been positive. He's still going to get buckets (22 points on 7-of-17 shooting) and trips to the free throw line (7-of-8), but the goal is getting everybody involved.

Bayless Postgame (2.3 MB)

Dante Cunningham

Cunningham probably had the best game of anyone in a Blazers uni Monday night, finishing with 21 points and nine boards. Cunningham showed an ability to hit the open shot while also hitting the boards, skills that will endear him to Portland's coaching staff if he can keep it up.

"We had to pick up the tempo a little bit and try to trap a little bit and I really felt (Cunningham) did a good job there," said Prunty. "For his first game I’m pleased with what I saw. But like everybody tonight, we’ve got to get better, and I know he will moving forward in the next four games."

Cunningham Postgame (1.1 MB)

Jeff Pendergraph

I thought Pendergraph played a nice game, especially considering he played center for the Trail Blazers. He had three dunks, a layup, a made jump shot and a few free throws to finish with 12 points in 26 minutes. Pulling down nine rebounds isn't too shabby, and he did it while committing just three fouls. I really like Pendergraph's chances of making this team. Seems like a real funny dude, and with Channing now gone, we need someone to keep the weird flowing. I think JP might be that guy.

Pendergraph Postgame (2.2 MB)

Nate McMillan

Coach McMillan watched the game from the top of the stands, as he often does in Las Vegas. Here's what he thought of the performance.

McMillan Postgame (2.8 MB)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kevin Pritchard From Summer League Practice

Quite a turnout today at the practice facility in Tualatin for the first Las Vegas Summer League practice. I'd like to say most of the media were in attendance to get their first look at Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Patty Mills and the rest of the summer leaguers, but the big draw was Kevin Pritchard, who addressed the media for the first time since the free agent moratorium ended yesterday. I guess his popularity shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering all that has reportedly transpired over the last week.

You've got three options if you'd like to know what KP had to say today at practice. You can watch the video over at, you can listen to the podcast of his comments, or you can read the transcript below. It's your world.

Q: How has the past week gone?

KP: We’re working hard. There’s no doubt about it. We’re looking at all our options. We’re excited about the possibilities. Maybe they happen tomorrow, maybe they happen in two months, maybe they happen at the trade deadline. But we like the fact that we have a 54-win team, a great young team. We expect our four rookies from last year to really improve, and that would be Oden, Rudy, Bayless and Batum. They’re growth is important, and maybe more important than anything we do in free agency or with a trade. We’re excited about the season. For me personally, seeing guys in this gym playing basketball, makes it sparkle a little bit.

Q: How close are you to signing Millsap?

KP: We’re looking at all of our options. I wouldn’t just say that we’re just looking at that. We are talking with him. That I can verify. But he’s not the only person we’re talking too. But we’re selective. The thing I would tell you is it’s just not a fit here anymore, it’s a special fit. We’re very selective. And I know a lot of free agents have signed with other teams, and that’s OK with us because we feel like there are certain guys that are right for us and some that don’t fit.

Q: Can you see spending money on a power forward when you have LaMarcus there?

KP: I’m a big believer in that you get the best player. Nate is an unbelievable coach. He always figures out how to blend the talent together, and if you can get the best player available, go get him.

Q: Are you worried at all about the contract negotiations with Brandon and LaMarcus?

KP: Well, in any negotiation, they’re complex. That’s just the nature of it. LaMarcus and Brandon are absolutely critical to what we’re doing going forward, and they’re going to be here a long time. We’re having amicable talks with their agents. We’ve known their agents for a long time. They’ve done Martell Webster, so it’s that group. So it’s not like we’re going through this for the first time with those guys. And it’s amicable, and we plan to make it amicable. More importantly, Brandon and LaMarcus will be here for a long time.

Q: How surprised were you that Hedo pulled out and how did you feel?

KP: You know, I was disappointed. I can’t hide my emotions that way. Very disappointed. We went through a process with him. We got to a point where we both felt comfortable. But here’s what I do know: If it wasn’t right for him, then it isn’t right for us. We’re after players who are about winning, who are about being successful, and being unselfish. If it didn’t fit, it didn’t fit, and I’d rather know now than later.

Q: So you’re looking for the best player regardless of position?

KP: We’re looking for the best opportunity.

Q: How important is it for Bayless to come up big in the summer league?

KP: Well I think that it’s part of his development. I don’t want to put the pressure on and say, ‘If he doesn’t play great, then he’s out,’ because last year he was the MVP. It’s a little bit of a change because what we really want from Bayless is to convert a little bit of a thinker, more of a reactor, and a guy who can come in and make other people better. I know for a fact that he can go get 30 points in a summer league game. That I have no doubt. What we want to see is growth as a point guard.

Q: How disappointed have you been at this first week or so?

KP: Not at all. The one thing I can tell you is this: We have a 54-win team that’s young, that’s growing and we hope that they can all continue to grow. I don’t feel like anybody on our team can’t get better, and that’s usually a unique position, and we’re sitting on some cap space. So you don’t make a move just to make a move, you make the right move. And whether it presents itself today or a week or a month, you don’t know. But we’re not afraid to pull the trigger and we’re going to be active in trying to create some of those things.

Q: Would you say you’re focused primarily on free agents or the trade market?

KP: I think you limit yourself if you say you’re just going after free agents. There are so many other opportunities, and we’re one of the few remaining teams that have cap space. So you have to be creative in how you use it. When the right deal come, we’ll know.

Q: How challenging is it to try making this team better when it’s already improved so much?

KP: Well I think that’s the good thing. We have worked so hard to get this team into place that it’s hard just adding someone. It’s just hard adding a player that we don’t feel like is better or isn’t a better fit for us. So that’s the good news. Nate and I talked about it today, and we were like, ‘yeah we could do a lot of things, there are a lot of things out there,’ but we love Batum, we love Roy, we love LaMarcus and we love Rudy. We feel like we have these cornerstones, these foundational pieces, plus we’ve got all these guys that are still growing. It’s good news, and being patient sometimes is the best thing.

Q: How important for big forwards to do well in summer league?

KP: We’re looking forward to seeing if they can step out onto an NBA type of game in summer league and be productive. Now being productive doesn’t necessarily mean going out and scoring. We’ve got scorers. We need some toughness. We’ve always said at the start of the summer, ‘boy we really need that toughness.’ We’re looking at that and from what I saw, and I didn’t see a whole lot, they both bring a lot of energy and we’ll see that throughout the summer league.

Q: Do you feel like you’re in a power position with all that money?

KP: I’m not saying we won’t use it, I’m just saying we might not use it today and we might look to use it later. But I can’t say that with certainty. I do know this: there is an arms race. There always is with the best teams. Now we’re considered one of the best teams in the West. We had the second best record with a young team. Adding the final piece or one of the final pieces is the most difficult thing to do, and you have to make sure it’s a special fit. You can’t just throw it out there because it could mess up your chemistry, it could do some things that you don’t want to do, so we’re selective.

Q: How content would you be going into the season as it is right now?

KP: I would have no problem with it. None at all. 54 wins. Young. Improving. I want to help Nate and we talk about it everyday with bringing in some guys with experience, and we’ll continue to try to do that.

Q: On the negotiations with Brandon Roy.

KP: Of course I can’t comment on the details of the negotiation. What I will tell you is this: We all value Brandon and LaMarcus so much, and we know they’re a part of this organization for a long time. We’re going to do everything we can to come to a solution. Whether it’s this week or next week, I don’t know. But it’s so important to us and to him, and he specifically, Brandon, and LaMarcus have been a part of this turnaround. I was a part of the group that drafted him. I have a special bond with those guys so I understand that. And we’re going to negotiate with those guys always in good faith. Always.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Adios And Au Revoir

After ten days and seven flights covering 9,622 miles, I bid Rudy, Sergio, Victor, Nicolas and the rest of Europe a fond adieu. It's been everything I had hoped for and more.

I don't know what I'll remember the most. Shirtless Rudy? Stumbling through the cobblestone streets of Las Palmas looking for a dance club with Sergio? Listening to a thoroughly butchered street rendition of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" with Victor? Almost getting run over numerous times while trying to find the Champs-Elysee with Nicolas? The Louvre with Lorenzo? It's impossible to say at this point, but I'll always have a special place in mi corazón for all the people and places I've been lucky enough to experience over the last week and a half.

I hope you've enjoyed the stories, pictures and video I've provided for you in this here blog. My goal was to give you a better understanding of what these players are like outside of basketball and how the places they're from shape who they are as people. I'm not sure if I've accomplished that goal, but the I'm not yet finished telling the story. Over the next few weeks I'll be putting together a few in-depth pieces that will hopefully bring some of these issues into focus, so stay tuned for that.

There are tons of people who put in a lot of time and effort to make this trip possible. I had the fun and easy part. So many thanks to Bill, Cheri, Jim, Collin, Larry, Tom, Dan, Caitlin, Rhonda, Alisa, Lou, Gregg, Michelle, Bonnie, Jordi, Miquel, Fernando, Jorge, Anna, Bouna, Luca and Sebastian. Super huge thanks to Rudy, Sergio and his parents, Victor and Nic for making time for me and being such great hosts. And a special thumbs up to Kaleb Canales. Without him I'd probably still be at the airport in Palma, Mallorca.

So with that, I'm going to go down stairs, have my petit déjeuner and hop on the metro to Charles De Gaulle Airport to begin the trip back to Portland. Here's hoping my bags make the trip as well. Wish me luck.

By the way, practice for Summer League starts tomorrow! See you at the practice facility bright and early.

Batum, Meet Claver

Rudy Fernandez may share a common passport with Victor Claver, but Nicolas Batum is probably the Trail Blazer most familiar with Claver's game. Being around the same age, Batum and Claver have played against each other numerous times. Batum guesses it's been about ten times they've lined up opposite each other, so he's got a pretty good understanding of who he is as a player.

But it's not Claver's jumper or his ability to play multiple positions that sticks out in Nic's mind when he thinks about Portland's first round pick in the 2009 Draft. What Nic remembers is some that happened more than six years ago in their first meeting.

"The first time I played him I was 14," said Batum "He dunked on me, but I dunked on him one time. He dunk on me, I dunk on him after."

Nic makes sure to get that last part out as quickly as possible. He doesn't want anyone thinking he didn't get payback for being posterized by Claver at the tender age of 14.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the reason Batum goes so hard at Pau Gasol. Pau has Victor to blame for that.

Bigger Back Home

Nicolas Batum always seems to play it cool. Whether it's on the court at the Rose Garden or on the streets of Paris, Nic has a quiet confidence which is evident in the way he carries himself. He's just so ... smooth. As Channing Frye once put it, Nic just has that "quiet swag," which sometimes seems to border on indifference. I don't think that's the case, but it's easy to perceive it as such.

But get Nic talking about the way he's been received in his homeland, and you can quickly see that there are many things he cares about. The shy, spotlight-shunning boy we've come to know in Portland is replaced by a man ready to receive his closeup. The notoriety Nic deserves from his countrymen is starting to manifest, and he's feeling the love.

"Last year I was a star on (Le Mans, Batum's former club team), but now I’m a superstar when I come back to France," said Batum. "I can’t walk two steps without someone wanting a picture or something. It was crazy. It’s fun. I love it."

That desire for and acceptance of attention is something we haven't seen out of Batum in the United States. It's not as if he was ducking interviews or big-timing requests for autographs, but he certainly wasn't making any attempts to draw attention to himself, at least off the court. But in France, among the people he shares a history with, Nic is excited to come out of his shell. He's down to try on a little celebrity, just to see how it fits.

"My family told me ‘Nic, in France you’re a star right now,’" said Batum. "I didn’t know that, but when I came back to France I think I did three or four or five TV shows. I went with Tony Parker to Roland Garros (site of the French Open). I think I made ten radio interviews. It was crazy. Everybody wants to talk to me. It’s fun. I like it."

Trail Blazers fans should be encouraged by Nic's new-found celebrity. It's good for players to have a little ego, and there's nothing the love and support from your countrymen to fuel that confidence. It's all but necessary to carry a bit of swag when you're lining up against some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, so the fact that Nic's ego is being stroked a bit back home is undoubtedly a good thing.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Video: Nicolas Batum Interview

Had a chance today to talk and walk a bit with Nicolas Batum in Paris. Nic had actually come straight from the airport after having spent the last few weeks training in Dallas in preparation for the European Championships. Nic, along with the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Joakim Noah and Ronny Turiaf, plan on making a deep run in Poland in September. Nic even threw out the possibility of playing Rudy and Team Spain in the finals.

Nic, like Rudy, seems much more comfortable on his native soil. I was a little afraid that, after a few months removed from Portland, Nic's English might have regressed. Turns out the opposite was true. Nicolas was more forthright, direct, explanatory and understandable than I ever remember him being in Portland. Maybe a little time away did him good. Seems like it to me.

I pulled that LaMarcus Flip Cam out for part of the interview, and you can watch that video here. I'll have more from my conversations with Nicolas over the next few days.

In Paris

The third and final leg of the European Tour brings me to Paris, supposedly the most romantic city in the world. I have to admit that, stepping out off the Gard du Nord train station, romance is hardly the first thing that comes to mind, as the smell of urine and vice-peddling isn't really my idea of a turn on. But one shouldn't judge a city by a lone location, let alone a heavily utilized transit center, so I'm keeping an open mind.

I finally found my hotel after walking about ten blocks in the wrong direction, something I was prepared for having previously visited the city five years ago. The streets here branch off in every direction and signage is often impossible to find or nonexistent all together, but if you stay calm and keep your wits about you, navigating this city can be a fun adventure. Thus ends my Rick Steves impersonation.

I'm here to see Nicolas Batum (natch), a task I've accomplished less than 24 hours into my stay. We talked for a while at his agent's office, then walked around the city for a bit. Posts, pictures and video of that on the way soon enough.

I set out for the subway this morning, only to find the trains weren't running. Some poor soul had decided to commit suicide by laying down on the tracks. Things are tough all over.

So I ended up walking about two miles to the meet up spot, which gave me a chance to do a little sightseeing. Getting deeper into the city, I found the filth and debauchery I was greeted by at the train station gave way to a vibrant and historic landscape, a tourist paradise. One might even call it romantic.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bobby Medina: Internationally Known

Living in Portland and working for the Trail Blazers, I’ve become accustomed to people asking me if I know the players personally. Even though I get asked all the time, I’ve never quite certain how to answer.

On one hand, yes, I do know the players and, for the most part, they know me. But on the other hand, I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m hanging out at Brandon Roy’s house on a Saturday night playing Yahtzee and watching Simpson’s reruns (what, that’s not what you do on weekends?). My relationship with the players centers on my work, and I try to represent it as such when asked.

Here in Europe, I don’t have to worry about explaining those relationships, because as much as I’d like to report otherwise, I don’t get the sense that many on this side of the Atlantic even know the Trail Blazers are an NBA basketball team, let alone who the players are. I’m made a point of wearing Blazers gear out and about as much as possible and I’ve even tried to strike up a few conversations about the team, but so far I’ve been confronted with nothing but confused looks during those interactions, outside of Rudy’s and Sergio’s camps, that is.

But there was an inquiry about the team in Gran Canaria by Fernando, one of Sergio’s longtime friends from Tenerife, who wanted to know if I knew one particular member of the team. It wasn’t Brandon Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge or Greg Oden. It was a name that, up until then, I had never been asked about.

“Do you know Bob Medina?”

“Of course,” I replied, though he’s always been Bobby or Coach Medina to me.

Turns out Fernando, who works with Sergio on strength and conditioning in the offseason, is a longtime admirer of Coach Medina’s work, an admiration that predates Sergio’s arrival in Portland.

“I used to read a lot of Bob Medina,” said Fernando. “I have never speak with him but I think I have the same vision of (strength and conditioning) because I agree with a lot of the things that he says in his books and articles.”

Up until then I was unaware Coach Medina was a published author, and it’s rather embarrassing that I had to go thousands of miles away from Portland to be informed of that fact by Fernando. As fate would have it, a book co-authored by Coach Medina got Fernando, who is working on is doctorate in strength and conditioning, interested in field.

“The first I hear about Bob Medina was in a library years ago,” explained Fernando. “Since I began in basketball I have a clear idea and that idea was that strength and conditioning in the NBA must be special because you look at the players bodies and only see the structural view, they are different than Europeans.

“That’s the first time I start to have an interest about strength and conditioning coaches in the United States. I start to look in libraries if there were any books telling about strength and conditioning in the NBA and I find a book and Bob Medina is one of the writers. It’s NBA Power Conditioning. The first time I see him was in a photo when he was in Seattle SuperSonics with Gary Payton. That’s the first time I read about it.”

In speaking with Fernando, you can tell he has a passion for strength and conditioning in athletics, similar to that of Coach Medina. Fernando, pictured above, even bares a slight resemblance to Bobby. And both have a close relationship with Sergio.

“Sergio speaks very well of Bobby,” said Fernando. “He says he’s a great professional. Sometime maybe I will meet him.”

Video: Interview With Victor Claver

After Victor Claver was selected with the 22nd pick, a few of us in the office joked that Kevin Pritchard made the selection just so I would have someone else to track down while marauding through Western Europe. As luck would have it, that's exactly what happened.

Victor was in Gran Canaria for a few days to attend Sergio's camp (congrats, by the way, to Sergio for pulling some of the big names in Spanish basketball) and I had a chance to sit down with him for a bit to discuss the draft and his future as a Trail Blazer. Here's the video of that interview.

A few quick observations about Victor. First, his English, as you can hear from the video, is pretty dang good. Easily better than Sergio's or Rudy's when they came to the states (no offense guys). He didn't have any trouble understanding my questions, which is an accomplishment even for someone who's a native English speaker, and he was easily able to converse freely.

To my eyes, the kid looks like an NBA player. He's got much more muscle definition in his arms and legs that I'm accustomed to seeing from European players. I wouldn't go so far as to call him thick, but he's definitely got some bulk. Again, more so than a lot of European players who make the jump to the NBA. So in that respect, he's probably more NBA-ready than most of his European contemporaries, at least from a physical standpoint. He's still getting back into shape after breaking his ankle, an injury he assured me was almost fully healed, but he looked, again, like someone I could see on an NBA court.

Overall, he seemed like a pretty nice kid. A little quiet at first, but that's to be expected. He signed tons of autographs and took lots of pictures with the kids at Sergio's camp, and he seemed rather comfortable in that element. The kids really seemed to take to him.

Oh, and he had pizza for dinner last night, so he's already accustomed to the diet of an NBA player.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Don't Thank Sergio For Being A Friend

Talk to Sergio Rodriguez about helping Rudy Fernandez through his first season and you may find that he gets a little annoyed. Not because he minds talking about his friend and fellow countryman, but because he doesn't understand why everyone thinks he's done something out the ordinary.

"He would do for me what I have done for him," says Sergio. "It is nothing special what I am doing. I am in Portland for three years, he comes from my country, he doesn’t speak English well, I have to help with everything. That’s normal. That’s not a big deal."

Maybe not to Sergio, but I know it was a big deal for Rudy. Being the humble, kind and good-natured guy that he is, Sergio doesn't like the idea that he's some kind of saint for helping out a friend.

"Like everyone says, ‘You are helping Rudy,’" he explains in a slightly sarcastic tone. "I mean, anybody would do that. If you have a person that comes from your country who is now far away from that country with the same circumstances, you’ve got to help him."

I know Sergio feels that way, and we in Portland are lucky for it, but I don't think it's necessarily something that "everyone would do." In a business that can often feel self-centered, it's actually somewhat rare to see someone put the needs of others on par with their own. The NBA is full of egos, and I don't think anyone would blame Sergio for being a little resentful of Rudy's popularity, but that's simply not who he is.

As for how Sergio thinks Rudy will get along without him, he's got no concerns. In fact, he thinks it will probably be a good thing.

"He’ll be totally fine," he said. I think after one year it’s better for him to be by himself because he’s going to learn more English. He won’t have everything easy. He will have to be independent. He will have to listen more. I think that will help him.

"I think Rudy loves Portland and Portland loves Rudy. He’ll be fine. He wants to play like every player. He wants to play, he wants to win and he wants to have fun. Those three things are principle factors for him and for everyone. He can play with everyone. He understands basketball. He will be fine. "

Video: Sergio Speaks From Gran Canaria

Click here to watch an interview with Sergio Rodriguez from Gran Canaria. Rodriguez discuses his three seasons with the Trail Blazers, the draft night trade that sent him to the Sacramento Kings, what is most important to him as a basketball player and what he'll miss about Portland.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Gran Canaria

The trip from Mallorca to Gran Canaria proved much easier than the trip from the United States to Mallorca. The travel time is about five times shorter, but I was thankful nonetheless.

Only got about three hours of sleep last night thanks to the lingering effects of jet lag and a few loose ends at work, so I was hoping to catch some sleep on the short flight from Palma to Madrid, then even more sleep on the longer flight from Madrid to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

First plan worked perfectly. I crashed out before the fasten seat belt sign had turned off and awoke in the middle of decent into Madrid. I was hoping to repeat the performance on the next flight, but as soon as I saw 40 or so preteens all wearing the same shirt and standing in line for the flight to Gran Canaria, I knew my prospect of getting some solid air snooze was destined to be thwarted. I found no respite between the constant seat kicking and the overemphasized screaming ever time the plane hit the slightest bit of turbulence. No big deal though. I'd be doing the same thing if I were in their situation. Live it up ninos.

After a nap in the hotel, it was off to the lobby to meet up with Sergio Rodriguez. Serg, despite the fact that he's no long a Trail Blazer, has been very accommodating. As KP noted on draft night, Sergio has been a big part of our franchise over the last three years, and I feel like I owe it to him to tell his story here in Gran Canaria.

It's amazing how different life on one island (Mallorca) is from another (Gran Canaria), at least as it pertains to my pursuits. To my eyes, Mallorca was a sleepy, old world paradise. Gran Canaria? Far more industrial, a city of the world. Granted, I stayed in a small town in Mallorca, and currently I'm in Las Palmas, which is the hub of Gran Canaria, but the differences are valid nonetheless.

It's also worth noting the camps have a completely different feel as well. Rudy's was relatively small, about 100 or so kids. An intimate experience in a small town. Sergio's camp tops out at over 300 estudiantes, something Rodriguez is quite proud of. He's got corporate sponsors. Kids chant his name when he walks in. It's no better or worse than Rudy's camp, just different.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Audio: Rudy Fernandez From Spain

The following is a collection of audio clips collected during conversations with Rudy Fernandez during the last couple of days in Mallorca. I appologize in advance for the numerous moped drivebys.

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Saying 'Adios' To The Spanish Armada

When talking to Rudy about his first season in the NBA, Sergio Rodriguez’s name comes up a lot, and with good reason. He was Rudy’s closest friend on the team, his running buddy on and off the court, countrymen and teammates for the Trail Blazers and the Spanish national team. Sergio the lob-throwing half of the “Spanish Connection,” later dubbed the “Spanish Armada,” with Rudy playing the part of the easy gliding finisher.

But Sergio’s most important impact on Rudy likely came off the court. Sergio’s ability to help Rudy traverse his first year in the United States might have been Rodriguez’s best assist of his career. His guidance and friendship played a huge part in allowing Rudy to surpass expectations in his first foray into the NBA.

“In Portland, I think it’s important that Sergio helped me a lot with the transition for the first year,” said Rudy. “But LA, Brandon, Joel, Travis, everybody help me for the transition for the team.”

But while LA, Brandon, Joel and Travis are still Trail Blazers, Sergio is now gone, off to the Sacramento Kings in a draft night trade. The Spanish Armada, for the second time in history, was sunk, or at the very least, docked indefinitely. After having taught him so much in his first season, Sergio’s departure imparted a final lesson on Rudy: That the NBA, as they often say, is a business.

And even though he’ll readily admit he’s going to miss his compatriot, Rudy, true to form, is taking a positive approach to the situation.

“I think it’s an opportunity for him to play in Sacramento, play minutes,” said Rudy. “For me, for sure, I’m am not happy Sergio is going to another team, but it’s basketball. It’s sports. Right now I am focused. For me I’m happy right now because Sergio is happy.”

As for his life post-Sergio, Rudy says he’s ready for the challenge, with a little help from his friends.

“I think (I’m ready). I can tell for sure when I come back to Portland, but I think so. Right now I am focused in my work in Portland with my friends, because LA, Brandon, Travis, Martell, Greg, Bayless these are big friends with me, too.”

Rudy Demands Your Satisfaction

You can tell Rudy expects a lot of himself on the court. In the few days Ive been here I've seen him push himself to the brink of exhaustion during workouts, refusing to quit until he's made a satisfactory number of shots. He gets upset when he misses a few in a row, cursing his hands for not guiding the ball through the net, while he's emotionless after rattling off upwards of ten straight makes from three-point range.

His dedication to improving his game, as far as I'm concerned, is unquestioned, but I'm beginning to wonder if that dedication is matched or exceeded by his desire to provide a memorable experience for the kids at his summer camp. Throughout the course of my stay I've come to realize that, when it comes to showing these kids a good time, Rudy will accept nothing less than perfection.

To be honest, Rudy's dogged pursuit of the ultimate camp experience is starting to worry me. I can see the frustration and disappointment in his face when things don't go exactly as planned, which is admirable, but as far as I can tell, everyone is having the time of their lives. No child who approaches Rudy is turned away without a smile. He engages everyone in conversation and somehow knows all of their names. He's constantly moving, riding a bike or walking from group to group in an effort to spread his time as equally as possible. Everything that someone in his position would be expected to do, he's done, and yet he still worries that it's not enough.

Part of it has to do with Rudy seeing himself in the faces of the kids he's trying to entertain. Having been identified as somewhat of a prodigy at a young age, Rudy remembers attending camps that focused solely on improving skills, sometimes at the expense of a good time, which is why he's tried to gear his camp more toward providing a fun experience for children of all ages and skill levels.

"I remember when I go to the camps in a similar situation a lot of years ago," said Rudy. "I think it's the opportunity of a lifetime to be with one player, an NBA player. For the kids, this is incredible. It think it’s very important that the kids are happy. Only then am I happy."

Making sure the kids are enjoying themselves is part of it, but there's something else driving his efforts, something more personal. Rudy has noted on more than one occasion that interacting with the kids at his camp is preparing him for the day when he will becomes a father, so I think maybe he considers the camp a kind of pre-parenting workout, a practice in fatherhood. To Rudy, failure to provide anything less than a perfect experience for his campers would be akin failing his test as a prospective father, and that simply isn't going to cut it.

"I love kids," says Rudy. "For me, their happiness, it's an obligation. It’s satisfaction that the people go home with a smile, you know?"

Yes Rudy, I know. I know something else as well: If Rudy the father puts in as much work as Rudy the basketball player or Rudy the camp organizer, everyone is going to go home happy.

Random Thoughts: Mallorca

Today is my last day in Mallorca, so I thought it might be time to pass along a few peculiarities I've noticed during my stay. Nothing of any importance, just a few things to keep in mind should you ever decided to take a pilgrimage to Rudy's homeland.

• Banks are only open from 8 AM to 3 PM, which got me thinking one of the reasons the United States is one of the superpowers of the financial world could be due to longer bank hours. If you've got to spend money to make money and you've got to go to the bank to get money to spend, then having banks open until 6 PM gives Americans a leg up against the Mallorcans.

• While street signs are followed by the general populace as more of a suggestion than an edict, you will get yelled at in Catalan by police officers for going the wrong way down a one way street, regardless of how many times you've seen other people do the exact same thing.

• Older women have no problem cutting in front of you should the opportunity afford itself, though I hardly mind. I experienced this firsthand today while buying sunscreen.

• Speaking of sunscreen, you can, in fact, get a sunburn on your eyelids.

• Hamburgers here don't necessarily come on buns.

• It is impossible to find regular water here. Everything is mineral water or carbonated water.

• Don't bother bringing your electric razor. You're liable to trip the breaker in your hotel room, even if you have the proper power adapter.

• Feeding cats table scraps is sometimes permitted, but not always. I guess that's really no different than anywhere else.