Blogging Through Europe (Part 2: Belgium)

Blogging Through Europe (Part 2: Belgium)
Nov 28, 2007, 09:28 pm
As I travel through Europe for the next few weeks, watching games, taking in practices, meeting with teams, players and other people in the basketball industry, I’m attempting to keep a log of some of my thoughts from the different stops on the road and keep you posted on how the draft prospects I’m watching look. After a few days in Liege, I took in a fantastic mid-week matchup between Girona and Charleroi at one of the premier arenas in all of Europe.

Spectacular Spiroudome

After a nice relaxing day checking out the sights and tasting the nightlife in Europe’s unofficial capital, Brussels, a short 40 minute train ride landed me in the industrial town of Charleroi for a premier ULEB Cup matchup between Spirou Charleroi and Akasvayu Girona. I got to the Spiroudome arena a few hours early, which allowed me to receive a tour of this terrific facility from Charleroi’s General Manager David Desy. The five-year old arena is impressive to say the very least, complete with luxurious skyboxes, excellent restaurants, and nice bars as well. Everything is cozy, tidy and comfortable just like you come to expect from indoor spaces in Belgium, but this one really takes the cake. The layout of the arena is what really makes the experience most impressive, though. You almost feel like you are right on top of the floor no matter where you are sitting, which provides a terrific atmosphere when combined with Charleroi’s terrific fans. It’s really no surprise that the ULEB Cup Final was hosted here for each of the last four years (even if they are moving it to Turin this year.)

I laughed at the six pack of Jupiler beer that was available in the press room after the Liege game…well Charleroi took things even a step further, inviting all the press members to join the VIPs for a special reception with a completely open bar after the game. These guys really know how to organize an event. Everything was like clockwork the entire day. We’re almost getting spoiled here in Europe…

Girona Defeats Charleroi

In the end, the Spanish squad was just too strong for Charleroi, who was missing their starting point guard Michael Jordan. That really showed over the last few minutes of the contest, as combo guard Justin Hamilton (who is a very good player, but really has too many responsibilities on his shoulders at the moment) was not able to properly organize the team in the half-court set and saw his team settling for a number of poor looks, including a few of his own.

Girona sports an outstanding frontcourt, with two NBA draft picks at the big man spots in 6-10 Jackson Vroman and 7-0 Marc Gasol, giving them an incredible force inside that Charleroi just could not overcome—combining for 31 points and 15 rebounds in just over 50 minutes between them.

Vroman is still the same scrappy power forward who plays efficiently within a half-court offense, moves off the ball intelligently, is unselfish and really makes everyone around him better with the intangibles he brings to the floor. If he were willing to play for the minimum, there is no question that he could play in the NBA, and he’s even improved his ability to create shots facing the basket off the dribble or in the post with some basic moves.

Gasol on the other hand looks like an absolute steal for the Lakers, having drafted him in the late second round (#48) this past June. His skill level is looking better and better these days, knocking down a 3-pointer calmly, hitting a pretty turnaround jumper, and doing a terrific job moving off the ball and creating space for his post-mate Vroman to operate. He’s a team player who really knows how to pass the ball and is looking much more comfortable in his own skin than we ever remembered him. He also utilized his size very nicely both on the glass and inside the paint, making his presence felt here and altering quite a few Charleroi shots. In short, we’re talking about an absolute stud at this level. It’s still not 100% clear that he’s athletic enough to play substantial minutes in today’s NBA, especially early on, but to land a player this big with this kind of skill level and basketball IQ is an absolute coup. He might be the best big man in the ACB these days, which is saying an awful lot.

Another player who deserves some credit is 6-6 Spanish swingman Fernando San Emeterio. He’s only 23 years old at the moment, and is already a go-to caliber player at this level. He hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves because the Spanish National Team is so stacked at his position (Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, etc), meaning he hasn’t chance the chance to showcase himself that much outside of Spain. San Emeterio is a mobile swingman who can create his own shot and get to the basket at a nice rate, being particularly effective in transition. He’s a smart, efficient player who can really pass and always shoots a high percentage from the floor (62% for 2’s in the ACB, 77% in the ULEB Cup), although he’s not quite as good stepping out from behind the arc, even if he can knock down 3-pointers (with a not so pretty flat-footed release). San Emeterio had a very nice game here, scoring 13 points (5-7 FG) and grabbing 8 rebounds.

Final Word

Those who think that the European game is soft really need to take a look at what is going on these days on the Old Continent and rethink that theory. Whereas almost every sign of contact in the NBA draws the ire of the referees, what I’m seeing so far in Europe is a game where very physical play is a way of life and very little gets called. You see tons of slaps, pokes and chops that are intentionally ignored by the referees in favor of letting the game flow, while players are allowed to fend off players posting up with an elbow in the back (a no-no in the league) and freely meet slashers at the rim with plenty of body contact. Some people might object to this style of basketball, but I thought it made the game really enjoyable.

Next Up: Danilo Gallinari’s Armani Jeans Milano (Euroleague game vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv)

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