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Monday, July 21, 2008

Exclusive Interview with ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, Part I

Fran Fraschilla compiled a 175-100 NCAA head coaching record, earning 1995 NABC Coach of the Year honors and leading three different schools (Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico) to eight NCAA or NIT Tournament appearances in nine seasons. Since 2003 he has worked for ESPN as a game and studio analyst, primarily on college and FIBA broadcasts. On Sunday I conducted a wide ranging interview with Mr. Fraschilla just before he left for Las Vegas to participate in ESPN's coverage of Team USA's five upcoming exhibition games. Part I of this interview includes his observations about why Team USA fell short in previous competitions, what will be different this time around and who he thinks will win gold, silver and bronze in the Beijing Olympics.

Friedman: “What do you think of Team USA’s prospects in the Olympics this year?”

Fraschilla: “Let me give you some background. I am actually doing all five exhibition games for ESPN, so I will be at practice starting tomorrow (July 21). I think that we’ve gotten enough of a wake up call and enough of a slap in the face that this particular team has been put together with the idea that they will respect everybody that they play. When you think back to the World Championships in 2006, I think that Coach K did a great job in getting that first team ready to play until they played Greece, which as you know had a team that only had one marginal NBA player. Now that they have recovered from that loss, it is not just going to be the international teams that have NBA players that Team USA will have respect for. I think that it’s pretty obvious now that the world has caught up and, despite the fact that we have put (NBA players) on the Olympic team since 1992, this team is team oriented and will have a healthy amount of respect for everybody they play.”

Friedman: “When I watched that game with Greece (which I wrote about in a September 1, 2006 post titled Greece Shreds Team USA's Defense, Wins 101-95 and in a September 2, 2006 post titled Team USA Beats Argentina 96-81, Wins Bronze Medal) and then the aftermath of the game—and when I say aftermath I mean the postgame press conferences—what I found disturbing and what really bothered me is that when Coach Krzyzewski and some of the players were talking about Greece they did not mention (Sofoklis) Schortsanitis and the other players by name. By the end of that game even I knew their names and, frankly, I did not know who was on the Greek team before the game—but by the end of the game I knew their names and I had some idea what they could and could not do just by watching them. Even if they (Team USA) did not know about Greece beforehand I thought that it was very disrespectful—and kind of indicative of Team USA’s attitude—that they did not call the players by their names. Even if maybe they are difficult to pronounce, you at least try to do it. You don’t call these guys who just beat you by numbers and say, ‘Number five did this’ and ‘Number eight did that.’ I thought those statements in the postgame press conferences really gave me a lot of insight into why Team USA lost and I am interested to hear your thoughts about that.”

Fraschilla: “I could not agree with you more. I talked to a number of my European coaching friends after the game and, frankly, they were insulted on the one hand and also on the other hand they understood how a team with the talent of USA could get beaten—because of the lack of respect for a team that did not have NBA players on it and I really felt that that was the beginning of Coach K’s learning curve and he has admitted that they weren’t prepared for the type of coaching that exists at the international level and the type of talent that even non-NBA type players had. That particular Greek team had four or five guys who could easily be in the NBA right now but have chosen to stay in Europe and make, frankly, more money than they would make as the sixth or seventh man on a good NBA team. The other thing that came to mind is that we did a very poor job of scouting Greece. We didn’t really have any understanding of how to guard the pick and roll and how to defend the big guy inside—Schortsanitis is not a dominating player in Europe. He’s just a good, solid player. I could not agree with your analysis more but I also think that loss to Greece was the final slap in the face to get our country to understand that it is not just the Ginobilis and Nowitzkis who play great basketball around the world but it is also guys like (Greek players Theo) Papaloukas and (Dimitris) Diamantidis and a guy from Slovenia, Jaka Lakovic. There are so many good players around the world right now who are NBA-level players that we no longer can take anybody for granted.”

Due to a problem with the phone connection I did not clearly hear the word “insulted” from the preceding answer and when I asked Fraschilla what word he had used he repeated that sentence and then added some more remarks on the same subject.

Fraschilla: “I found that to be not necessarily Coach K and those players being disrespectful but I thought that there was a breakdown in terms of scouting and preparation.”

Friedman: “That was what I thought while watching the game.”

Fraschilla: “Here is my point. We have all these NBA guys doing the scouting for Team USA and this is not to throw anybody under the bus but simply put if I had given Mike Krzyzewski the Greek scouting report I would have said that you have got to know that Papaloukas is one of the great playmakers in the world. In other words, I would not have said ‘number seven.’ It would be ‘Papaloukas is one of the best players in the world and is a great playmaker.’ Diamantidis, the lefty, is Europe’s version of Ginobili. Schortsanitis is a big guy and although he is young he is a very physical player down low. In other words, it is incumbent upon the assistant coaches and the scouts to make sure that Coach K and those players knew that these guys are legitimate players. There is no question that if you were playing for Team USA and I said that you have to be careful of (NBA players like Manu) Ginobili or (Luis) Scola or (Fabricio) Oberto or (Carlos) Delfino or if I told you about Spain and said that (Jose) Calderon is a very underrated point guard and we all know how good (Pau) Gasol is—there is no question that if I were to present the scouting report to Team USA that way then those guys would have had a healthy dose of respect for those players because they play in the league. They didn’t have that same respect for Greece two years ago but I think that’s all changed. I think that has all changed. I think that there is a humbleness and a selflessness about this team that tells me that they are going to play very, very well together.”

Friedman: “How much of an impact do you think that the addition of Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd—neither of whom were involved in Team USA’s recent fiascoes—and the attitude that they bring to how you practice, how you prepare and how you play defense has impacted the way that Team USA is going to perform? I think that practice, preparation and defense were three deficient areas for previous teams.”

Fraschilla: “I think that they are both going to have a huge impact. Kidd is 44-0 in international play for Team USA and Kobe Bryant may not only be the best player in the world right now—at worst he is one of the three or four best—but he also is one of the three or four most competitive players in the world. The interesting thing about Kobe Bryant is that he has already gone to Coach K and said that when you need me to I want to guard the other team’s best perimeter player. I think that’s a heck of a statement. People worry about the egos on this team but if you look at what they did last summer in the FIBA Americas tournament—and the competition will be greater, obviously, in the Olympics—Kobe Bryant was their best perimeter defender, LeBron James may be their best all-around playmaker and Carmelo Anthony might be the best FIBA player in the world right now because he has not only led Team USA in scoring the last two years but he is like the prototype international player: he is strong enough and powerful enough and quick enough to score inside and get to the hole off the dribble but he also has a terrific perimeter game. In a sense, he is the classic Euro four man so I think that he will play a lot of power forward in this tournament because he has the versatility that you normally see when you describe the international four man. All-around, he may be the team’s best international player.”

Friedman: “My question about that or the concern that I have expressed about Anthony when I have written about previous FIBA competitions is his defense. I don’t think that his defense is that great in the NBA and I don’t think that his defense is that great at the FIBA level, either. I think that we saw that in the game with Greece but even in some of the games that Team USA won in last year’s FIBA Americas tournament it seemed like a lot of times he didn’t quite know what he was supposed to be doing on defense or he wasn’t quite in the right position. He seemed much more engaged, shall we say, when he had the ball. He’s a marvelous offensive player and you can’t criticize any part of his offensive game--and that goes double in FIBA for all the reasons you enumerated—but what do you think of his defense? Do you think that his defense at the FIBA level as bad as I have said that it is? Do you have some defense to offer regarding his defense?”

Fraschilla: “No, I don’t. I think that he has always been an offensive player. If you look back at his history, he never really has had to play defense, whether in high school or when they played zone at Syracuse or in the NBA he’s in a situation when they don’t want their best player to get in foul trouble. I would say that of Team USA's top six or seven players he is most likely to be the weak link defensively but, you know, you can’t have everything. I watched Nowitzki today get blown by a couple times in the FIBA Qualifying Tournament but he probably averaged nearly 30 ppg in the tournament (Nowitzki scored a tournament-high 26.6 ppg in five games as Germany clinched a spot in the Olympics). You can’t have everything. If you have Kobe Bryant guarding (the top perimeter player) and you have LeBron James at 6-8 260 who can guard a two, three or four and Boozer and Howard go over 260 then when it comes to Carmelo you are not going to get everything out of him. You are going to get far more on the offensive end. I don’t think that there is any question about that.”

Friedman: “Based on what you know and assuming that everyone is healthy, gold, silver, bronze—what do you expect to see in the Beijing Olympics?”

Fraschilla: “I have been toying with this question the last couple days. Obviously, I think that USA will win it. I picked them to win it last time but I was also reviewing a lot of the stuff that I wrote two years ago prior to the World Championships and I think that I had USA, Spain, Greece and Argentina. I think that those are the four best teams in the world again right now—when everybody’s healthy. If I had to predict the three medal winners, I would say USA—and I don’t know how this will work out in the quarters, semis and finals.”

Friedman: “The seeding could affect this.”

Fraschilla: “Yes, the seeding could affect this but I think that the three best teams in the world would be USA, Spain and I am going to go with Greece over Argentina just because Argentina will not have (Walter) Herrmann, they will have a banged up Manu (Ginobili) and they won’t have Pepe Sanchez for the first time in a while; (Pablo) Prigioni, the kid who plays in Spain, will be the point guard. To me, Greece is the best team in the world in terms of playing together as a team. Their ball movement, because they have been together for a while, is just incredible. They are one of the best coached teams in the world. So I think that Greece is going to edge Argentina out (for the bronze medal). That is just a hunch.”

Be sure to check back on Tuesday for Part II when Fraschilla offers more thoughts about Team USA and discusses his methods of player evaluation.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:27 AM

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4 Comments:

At Monday, July 21, 2008 9:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice interview.

Still, as a Spurs fan, I have to ask:

Does Fran Fraschilla's point that Manu is *still* banged up (7 weeks after the Spurs were eliminated) make you want to re-evaluate your oft-stated opinion that the "conventional wisdom" on Manu's injuries was wrong and overblown?

 
At Monday, July 21, 2008 5:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What I said during the playoffs is that Manu looked fine in game seven versus the Hornets, when he was the X factor that I predicted he would be prior to the series, and then he was less effective versus the Lakers, which I also predicted prior to that series. I think that matchups had a lot to do with his effectiveness. As I mentioned in one of my recaps, Manu struggled all year against the Lakers, not just in the playoffs.

Only Manu and the Spurs' training staff know when Manu hurt his ankle, how seriously he hurt it or if playing on what might have been a minor injury initially has now lengthened the recuperation period. My point during the playoffs was that he enjoyed a matchup advantage versus the Hornets but that he did not have a matchup advantage versus the Lakers.

Kobe played half of the season and all of the playoffs with a torn ligament on a finger on his shooting hand, an injury that will require surgery. It would be naive to think that this did not affect his game, yet Kobe never brought it up (unless he was asked about it). Kobe also suffered significant back spasms during the Utah series. Do you believe that his back magically and instantly recovered for the rest of the playoffs? Yet Kobe never mentioned his back again. If someone is on the court I am not going to bring up his injury situation unless he is clearly and obviously laboring or limited in some regard. By playoff time most NBA players are dealing with some kind of injury situation.

 
At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:52:00 AM, Anonymous tp said...

Ginobili played last night vs Spain. He was instrumental in the comeback that took Argentina from 15 points down at halftime to a 2 point defeat with a missed trey at the buzzer. It was a friendly alright, but he scored 18 points, dominated the fourth quarter and did not look injured at all.

 
At Wednesday, July 23, 2008 6:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

TP:

I guess that means I was right all along about him not being hurt :)

Seriously, though, I am glad to hear that he is OK. He really is a fun and exciting player to watch and I hope that he plays well in the Olympics--except against Team USA.

 

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