Apparently, we're got basketball news today. Because professional basketball is totally... a thing... that I watch.
Philadelphia 76ers first-round draft pick Nikola Vucevic, who hails from Montenegro and went to USC, signed on Thursday a one-year deal to play for a club in his home nation, KK Buducnost Podgorica. He is the second draft pick to do so, and the first of the first-round picks.
Like many NBA players overseas, Vucevic would much rather be playing in the NBA. But with the lockout in place, that's not an option, so what he and a lot of other NBA players have gotten in their overseas deals is a clause that says as soon as the lockout ends and the NBA is up and running again- whenever that is- the players can immediately break their overseas contracts and go back to the NBA, no hard feelings. The overseas clubs are taking it as the unique, one-time opportunity that it is.
Some more than others. Grantland's Rafe Batholomew wrote in July about how the Philippines, a nation where basketball is the de facto national sport, managed to gather an A-list roster of NBA stars, including Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, for a pair of exhibition games.
Vucevic and fellow Montenegran Nikola Pekovic (of the Minnesota Timberwolves but, for now, signed with Serbia's Partizan Belgrade for the balance of the lockout) will, meanwhile, be representing their country at Eurobasket 2011, the European championship for national teams, which begins on Wednesday in Lithuania and will involve some 28 NBA players in total, with a lot more having their rights held by some NBA team or other should they decide to play there. It will double as Olympic qualifying, and may be the last semi-meaningful basketball that fans are going to get for a while.
For the first time, 24 countries will participate instead of the usual 16. This decision was reached after qualifying had started, and in essence means everybody who participated in qualifying ended up going to Eurobasket. (Except Hungary. Everybody laugh at Hungary.) Montenegro did not need any of the additional qualifying spots; they won their qualifying group and would have gone through anyway.
The more marquee players involved in Eurobasket: Joakim Noah and Tony Parker (France), Zaza Pachulia (Georgia), Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Luol Deng (Great Britain), Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Andrei Kirilenko (Russia), Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio (Spain), and Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey).
Montenegro has been drawn into Group C, which is sure to be highly contentious, as alongside them are Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Greece, and Finland, who must be wondering why it had to get drawn into this neighborhood. The only other component of the former Yugoslavia to be in the tournament is Serbia, who would have replaced Greece had they been drawn into the group. Serbia instead sits in Group B with Italy, France, Germany, Israel and Latvia. Pre-tournament favorite Spain is in Group A alongside host Lithuania, Portugal, Great Britain, Turkey and Poland. Group D contains Russia, Georgia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Slovenia.