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Giddey, Sengun, Garuba among international NBA prospects

Giddey, Sengun, Garuba among international NBA prospects

It wasn’t that long ago 6-foot-8 Australian point guard Josh Giddey’s objective was to play in the NBL — not the NBA.The Melbourne native had his country’s National Basketball League in mind when it came to career goals, but his game kept improving — and eventually so did his goals.“I was good at basketball but I just didn’t think I’d be in the position I am now,” Giddey said. “My goal was to be a good NBL player. The NBA was always a dream, but it didn’t become a reality until probably six to 12 months ago.”The 18-year-old Giddey is among another crop of intriguing international prospects expected to hear their names called in the NBA draft on Thursday. Other projected first-round selections are Usman Garuba, a center/power forward from Spain, and Alperen Sengun, a center from Turkey.Some NBA fans may not know their names yet, as was the case with some other gems that have come from the international pool of players in recent years like Luka Doncic (3rd overall pick in 2018), Nikola Jokic (41st overall in 2014) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th overall in 2013).Giddey, considered one of the best passers in the draft, had turned down college offers and instead chose to play this past season for the Adelaide 36ers.It’s looking like it was a good decision.In 28 games, he averaged 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, a league-leading 7.6 assists, and 3.3 turnovers per game.“Playing against grown men at an early age I thought would fast-track my development,” Giddey said in a pre-draft media session online.He also credits the NBA Global Academy with developing his game and putting him on the radar with scouts.Here’s a look at some of the top international prospects:JOSH GIDDEYWith the ball in his hands, he always seems to be under control and makes great decisions.STRENGTHS: He’s a lanky 205 pounds and not super explosive like other prospects, but makes up for it with, as they say, a high basketball IQ. “I’m not a big highlight reel kind of guy. I’m a team-first playmaking guard,” he said. “My game is kind of as you see it. Passing is my biggest strength … in the NBA because the court is so much more spaced and spread out — it’s going to allow me to get into the paint and make some more reads, whether that’s scoring on the read myself or hitting teammates.”CONCERNS: A knock on Giddey is his shooting, which is a work in progress. He shot 43% overall and just 29.3% from the 3-point line in a fairly small sample size (29 of 99 from long range). He admits he had a slow start to the NBL season.“It took me a little while to find my feet,” he said “I think the shooting thing about me is a bit exaggerated. I started the year so bad it was hard for me to catch up percentage-wise.”USMAN GARUBAGiddey didn’t make it to Japan for the Olympics, but Usman Garuba is playing in the Tokyo Games for Spain alongside Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio and company.STRENGHTS: With his 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame, defense is one of Garuba’s calling cards. The Real Madrid power/forward center only turned 19 in March and already has two full seasons under his belt in the highly respected Spanish domestic league and the EuroLeague,CONCERNS: He averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the Spanish league last season, with slightly lower averages in the EuroLeague. He averaged 7.2 rebounds per game in the EuroLeague playoffs. But he has shown steady improvement. His EuroLeague averages last season were 4 points, 4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals in just over 16 minutes per game — good enough to win the “rising star” award as voted by coaches.“To me, that was one of the most impressive things — watching what he was doing in the EuroLeague playoffs against Efes — switching out on those guards, it’s tricky,” said Will Voigt, who coached in Germany last season with Bonn. “He not only held his own, but was making plays. To see those flashes at that age, at that level, is pretty impressive. He can guard 1 through 5.”ALPEREN SENGUNAlperen Sengun is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound “old school” center/power forward.STRENGTHS: His upside. He just turned 19 on Sunday, which means he was all of 18 years old when he won the MVP award of the Turkish league last season with Besiktas. He averaged 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 34 league games in 2020-21. Sengun has great footwork, an array of low-post moves, finishes deftly with both hands, and is a good passer.CONCERNS: He’s not a good long-distance shooter and lacks quickness, especially defensively.BELGIUM CONNECTIONBelgium is a hotspot for waffles — not usually for NBA prospects. Vrenz Bleijenbergh and Amar Sylla hope to change that. Bleijenbergh had flown a bit under the radar, but not anymore. The 6-foot-10 playmaker has been posting on his social media accounts about his pre-draft workouts — more than a dozen. For Antwerp last season, the 20-year-old averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game and shot 33.5% from distance. In tweets Saturday, he cited draft day and indicated a surprise was in store, posting: “I can’t wait for the day that I prove all of the people that doubted me wrong.” Sylla is another Belgium-based prospect that could find his way onto an NBA roster. The 6-foot-9 power forward is a Senegal native and played for Oostende last season.———More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Wisconsin's 'Rae Rae' leads Italy's 3×3 squad at Tokyo Games

Wisconsin's 'Rae Rae' leads Italy's 3×3 squad at Tokyo Games

Rae Lin D’Alie was born and raised in Wisconsin but is the star of Italy’s 3-on-3 basketball team at the Tokyo OlympicsBy KEN MAGUIRE AP Sports WriterJuly 22, 2021, 9:24 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTo Italians, she sounds American. To Americans, she sounds Wisconsin. That’s fine by Rae Lin D’Alie, because now she’s an Olympian.“Rae Rae” — only her mom calls her Rae Lin — is the 5-foot-3 point guard of the Italian 3-on-3 basketball team fully capable of surprising the favorites at the Tokyo Olympics.The 33-year-old D’Alie is a bone fide star in the 3×3 world, earning MVP honors at the 2018 World Cup when Italy won gold by defeating the United States, China and Russia. Her late jumper against Hungary last month clinched Italy’s ticket to Tokyo.Oh, she also wrote and recorded FIBA’s 3×3 anthem.“I happen to be a dreamer so my mind is continuously thinking about what could be,” said D’Alie, pronounced “Duh-LEE-Ah.”It becomes a reality for the Wisconsin native on Saturday when Italy opens its Olympic campaign against Mongolia. A few hours later they face heavyweight France before taking on other medal contenders like China, Japan, the United States and the Russian team in the following days.The half-court 3×3 is an Olympic sport for the first time. Games are 10 minutes or first to 21, with scoring in ones and twos.D’Alie is Italy’s spark plug, court general and unofficial spokeswoman — in two languages.“I’m grateful to the Italian people because they’ve really embraced me, and my accent they get a kick out of. I’m not perfect grammatically. They like how I do the interviews,” D’Alie told The Associated Press a few days before departing Rome for Tokyo.She had moved to Italy after being a four-year starter at Wisconsin from 2006-10 and gained citizenship. By chance, she discovered that her great-great-grandfather was from Salerno — where she had moved to — but she and her five siblings were well aware of their Italian roots while growing up about 30 miles southwest of Milwaukee.“We were the loud Italian family that was always together, eating pasta on Thursdays at grandma’s house, inviting the whole neighborhood over. Lots of sports, lots of energy,” she said.That energy is key in the fast-paced chaos of 3×3.“I always joke that in the basketball family we’re kind of like the fun little sister that’s growing up and kind of wild, a little bit crazy but really fun to be around,” D’Alie said. “Hopefully everybody will get a chance to experience that.”The anthem came about after D’Alie began writing songs to inspire her 5-on-5 teammates; she splits her time between traditional basketball and 3×3. Two years ago during the 3×3 World Cup in Amsterdam — held outside in the Museumplein — she started writing lyrics. She pitched it to FIBA and they were off to the studio.“I was really inspired by Amsterdam. There’s the museums, the court, we were in the downtown. It’s such a creative space,” she said. “I’m a believer in God, so I was just praying. I really believed that one day it was going to be the anthem.”The United States team that Italy beat 17-14 in 2018 was a University of Oregon squad that contained future WNBA players Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard. Ionescu was the No. 1 draft pick in 2020.For Tokyo, the US has sent a squad of four WNBA players, including former top draft picks Kelsey Plum (2017) and Jackie Young (2019). Italy plays the Americans on Monday. The eight-team tournament concludes with the gold medal game Wednesday.“It’ll be a cool moment — I’m still American,” D’Alie said of facing the United States. “They’re going to be a very tough team to play against and a very tough team to try to beat but we’ll give our best shot and see what happens.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Dutch dreams: 3×3 Olympic basketball team eyes Tokyo gold

Dutch dreams: 3×3 Olympic basketball team eyes Tokyo gold

AMSTERDAM — Dimeo van der Horst’s time was running out with the Dutch national basketball team, so he gave 3-on-3 a shot.Swish.The Netherlands 3×3 men’s team is headed to the Tokyo Olympics after knocking off the United States and France to qualify — unlikely propositions in 5-on-5 — with Van der Horst sinking a long-range effort to clinch victory over the French.The fast-paced, half-court 3×3 is an Olympic sport for the first time and presents traditionally overlooked hoops countries — Japan, Poland and the Netherlands among them — with opportunities for medals.“For me, it’s one of the most beautiful things you can do as an athlete,” the 30-year-old Van der Horst said. “But also for the country — to show that we’re here, we can play basketball.”FIBA has grown the sport for more than a decade, getting it into the 2010 Youth Olympics and holding its first world championship two years later. Now, it’s an Olympic sport.Many of the players also compete in FIBA’s professional circuit. Tournaments are held in historic European squares, near beaches, even in shopping malls as a DJ cranks music throughout the games.Countries with less-established and less-lucrative 5-on-5 leagues tend to gravitate toward it.“It’s a great chance for the smaller basketball countries to show themselves,” said Jesper Jobse, one of the Netherlands’ first official 3×3 players who now advises the national team, manages a pro squad, and runs a 3×3 foundation.The Netherlands had never qualified for the Olympics in basketball before. The sport ranks way behind soccer, cycling and volleyball in the Netherlands.“Even baseball is bigger here,” Jobse said.The Netherlands finished near the bottom of the 2014 world championships — now called the World Cup. But the Dutch federation hired a coach, budgeted for 3×3 and reached the World Cup final twice with a team captained by Jobse.At a recent practice session in an Amsterdam indoor tennis facility converted to a basketball court, players were reminded constantly to defend against the 2-point shot — in 5-on-5, that would be a 3-pointer. The scoring is ones and twos — like in playground 3-on-3.Because of the immense value of the 2-pointer, defenders usually don’t leave their opponent to help a teammate during drives to the basket — that could leave someone open at the 2-point line.“We have a rule,” Netherlands coach Brian Benjamin said, “you can never be too tired to take the 2-point shot away. For guys to get that, it takes sometimes nine months to a year for them to understand that you can never give up — you can never die on a play.”The 12-second shot clock spurs the frenetic pace. Games are only 10 minutes long or first to 21. Coaches are not allowed on the floor — players make decisions like when to substitute. Teams consist of four players.Versatility is vital. The Dutch players who competed in the qualifying tournament — Van der Horst, Arvin Slagter, Jessey Voorn and Julian Jaring — are all under 6-foot-6.The 6-foot-5 Van der Horst was a point guard in the Dutch Basketball League, where Slagter was the MVP in 2014, before 3×3.“I went from outside and passing the ball to the big guys to setting screens and receiving the ball,” Van der Horst said. “In 3-on-3, the most important (aspect) is that you can do multiple things.”Van der Horst, Slagter and Voorn were selected along with Canadian-born Ross Bekkering to compete in Tokyo.Serbia is the favorite on the men’s side, and China is the women’s defending world champion but the United States is sending a women’s team boasting four WNBA players, including Kelsey Plum.Serbia’s top weapon is Dusan Bulut, who has led the world player points rankings for years.Bulut has been at the center of FIBA’s battle to grow 3×3 in the United States, where rapper Ice Cube has his Big3 league. He was set to play in the Big3 in 2019 but withdrew, saying FIBA had threatened his Olympic eligibility. The 35-year-old Bulut appears headed to the Big3 after the Olympics — he was selected third in the league’s draft in June.FIBA, which emphasizes the “x” for branding, has teamed up with the Kevin Garnett-owned Hoop it Up in the United States.FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis eyes more growth.“We expect these opportunities to rise significantly as the sports industry leaders watch a spectacular 3×3 event in Tokyo and some of our best athletes become national and international stars after winning Olympic medals,” Zagklis said.First up for the Netherlands on July 24? Serbia.“They are the team to beat,” Van der Horst said, “but we’re working hard so we might change that.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Britain's Kirk scores Coyotes contract, chases NHL dream

Britain's Kirk scores Coyotes contract, chases NHL dream

Liam Kirk has a knack for finding spaces to score. Turns out his timing is pretty good, too.The left winger was running out of opportunities to impress the Arizona Coyotes. They selected Kirk in the 2018 NHL draft, making him the first player born and trained in England to be drafted, but seventh-round picks usually don’t pan out.The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Kirk had developed for two years in juniors in the Ontario Hockey League. But the league canceled last season because of the coronavirus.The 21-year-old Kirk then decided he needed a big tournament with Britain at the ice hockey world championship to show the Coyotes he deserved a rookie contract.“I knew that the worlds was a good chance — if it went ahead — to try to prove myself,” Kirk told The Associated Press in an interview.Against elite competition at the recent 16-team tournament in Latvia, Kirk proved himself as the tournament’s joint top goalscorer with Calgary Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane of Canada — both with seven in seven games — and was named to the all-star team.The Coyotes rewarded him with a three-year entry-level contract. He leaves for Arizona later this summer.“Getting drafted is one thing, but getting an entry-level contract is another,” Kirk said, referring to the NHL’s standard rookie contract. “Players know that. It’s a lot of work.”The next challenge is earning a roster spot. The Coyotes have the option of assigning him to a lower-tier affiliate team like the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL.“For me, being a kid from Maltby, England, growing up watching these NHL players on highlights, it’s something you always dream about,” he said of making an NHL roster. “In England, it’s not an easy pathway to get to the NHL.“My experience at the worlds has definitely given me a lot more confidence. It’s going to be tough, these are top, top players. I’m not underestimating that, but … my mindset is to go in there and do everything I can to earn a spot.”It won’t be his first rodeo in Arizona. Kirk attended Coyotes camps after being drafted and again in 2019 but acknowledges he didn’t wow the decision makers. Instead, he spent two years with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. He had 21 goals and 29 assists in 47 regular-season games in 2019-20.“For me, I was disappointed in my last camp in 2019,” he said. “The first camp … you get there and you’re kind of in awe of the players and the caliber. The second camp … I wanted to go and prove myself. I just let myself down a little bit. I’m not saying that I did bad, but I think that I definitely could have done more.”There’s been management turnover since Kirk’s last trip to the desert. General manager Bill Armstrong was hired last September, and the Coyotes parted ways with Rick Tocchet as coach after a disappointing season.Kirk is intent on showing he can do more than score.“I definitely want to be on the forecheck more, hunt for pucks more, be more physical, create more battles,” he said. “The offensive side of things I have a little bit of a knack for that, but I want them to see me battle for pucks and have a resilience about me.”Before the contract terms were agreed — the team can’t announce the signing until late July — Coyotes director of player development Mark Bell in an interview with the British Ice Hockey podcast praised Kirk but noted occasional inconsistency at Peterborough, cautioning “you can’t do that at the pro level.”Kirk’s success is also a victory for British ice hockey. The Coyotes selected English-born Brendan Perlini in the 2014 draft, but he had grown up in Canada. Kirk is a product of the Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League.“There is a lot of talent that comes out of Britain, and there are a lot of kids who have the potential to do great things,” he said.Britain, better known for its soccer and rugby, earned its first regulation-time victory at the elite level since 1962 by beating Belarus 4-3, backed by Kirk’s two goals. It was Britain’s only win of the tournament but it took another point from a 3-2 overtime loss to Denmark. Canada won the title.“Playing for the national team, we’re kind of used to people not taking us seriously. We like proving people wrong.”———More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports