So long, Izmir, it's been nice knowing you
Okay, well, that’ll be it for Izmir, I guess.
By the time a lot of you get around to reading this – which is the first thing you do every morning, right? – I should be solidly sitting in Istanbul, getting ready for a couple of days of what I hope is good playoff-round basketball.
Izmir? Nice city, really nice along the water, really cool with little alleys and small streets up away from the sea. Would I come back? I don’t know. I don’t imagine so, there are so many other things to do and I don’t imagine there’d be a work thing that would cause a return so this probably it.
Lots of stuff in here about the city; suffice to say for now that it’s pretty cool.
I am only spending two days in Istanbul – I had the option to stay longer if Canada had made some noise in this tournament – but I think I got the good two days of four of round-of-16 playoff action, or as FIBA calls it, the eighth-finals.
Spain-Greece on Saturday is by far the best of the first round playoff games and for a guy who picked them both to be in legitimate medal contention, seeing one go home will be crushing. I know there will be a large number of “great” games over the next week but that one’s going to be special.
We’ll have more on each of the games somewhere on this site today or in the paper tomorrow (it’s what I’ve got to write when I land in Istanbul) but I don’t think it gets much better a Saturday double-header of Serbia-Croatia and the Spain-Greece.
Toss in Turkey-France on Sunday and this should be a doozy of a couple of days.
Now, the only reason those games worked out is because of the zany Kiwis, right? That same team that so many of you thought should be easy pickings for Canada went out and beat France in the final preliminary round pool game, throwing all of Group D into disarray.
And if that doesn’t underscore the fact that there are good teams out there representing countries you don’t think should have good programs, I don’t know what will.
Anyway, enough basketball, let’s get to some stuff.
One of the things I was warned about heading over by people who know was that it was probably a good idea not to eat the food being sold by street vendors.
Not to say that it’s all bad, but why take the chance, right?
Well, as Gumby (he’d be the lone Toronto grunt on the trip) and I were walking to the fair last night, there was a cart guy selling the most sickly looking hot dogs I’ve ever seen.
Sayeth Mike: “Wanna try?”
Replyeth me: “Not if it was the last food on earth.”
And if that was bad, not 100 metres up the street, there were a gaggle of dudes selling – get this – bags of what looked awfully like raw, close mussels. Off a table. With no ice. In about 25 C heat.
Yeah, right. Funnily enough, didn’t see anyone rushing to buy ‘em up.
You did notice, of course, that only three teams out of 24 are leaving here without a win.
That’d be Jordan, Tunisia and …
Can’t remember the other.
Speaking of food …
If you’re ever in these parts, I think you’d do well to order the following:
Iskender kabab, which is grilled meat served over grilled bread with a nice tomato sauce, yogurt, rice and the omnipresent flatbread.
Either of the sandwiches that would seem to be staples of the diet, a grilled meat with a nice salty cheese served hot on a bun with pickles and the same meat, I think, served cold with tomato and a thin, kind of hot pepper.
Oh, and if you’re at 100 Per Cent restaurant on the Konak Peir, the fish carpaccio is to die for.
So, at the Halkapinar Arena, the media work room is this cavernous joint about 20 metres from the court that’s rather, um, spartan. Rows of tables, about four TVs showing games from other cities mainly, and a rest area that comprised about four couches around a low table you’d see in my living room.
And the, er, hospitality, area was one corner of the big room with a small fridge that was usually out of bottles of water and a table with a couple of vats of hot water and some instant coffee.
But I did hear the oddest thing in there yesterday.
Piercing the relative quiet – it was before Canada-Spain, which was the first game of the day – all of a sudden the familiar sound of the theme song of the Andy Griffith Show (you remember, Gomer and Andy, Aunt Bea and the gang) starts up. Seems they have goofy ringtones on cell phones over here, too.
Got some mail?
You know the drill … write, click, send.
Okay, one last kick at the Canadian team and then I think we need to put it to rest until they get around to making a decision on the coaching situation, and I don’t see that coming until October.
This is the fourth worlds I’ve been at and never once has Canada gotten past its preliminary round group.
There was a loss in a huge game to Greece in Toronto in 1994, the team that went to Athens in 1988 was a dysfunctional a group of mainly self-absorbed kids looking for jobs the next year rather than wins that I can think of, and the one in Indy in 2002 was the first one that Canada played without Steve Nash and they finished 13th of 16 teams.
So it’s not like this trip undid all kinds of great history.
But, and this is an honestly held opinion, there is a greater feeling of optimism about where the program is going than was ever felt after either of those other tournaments.
It’s not going to be easy, no question about it. The kids who are the future of the program – the high schoolers who’ve yet to do anything except build reputations – have to develop and they have to want to play for their country, which is the single most important part of this equation.
It’s all well and good to talk about their talent and the fact they are on lists of potentially good players drawn up in the United States but unless they can see this national team program as something worthwhile, something that will be a good experience with a professionally-run organization, it won’t mean squat.
That’s why the relationships that are being built now by Wayne Parrish and Maurizio and Leo are as important – if not more important – than anything else they do.
The sense I have right now, and this is from casual conversation with a lot of people around the game, is that people are thinking that playing for the national team is something they want to do.
The profile of being at the worlds can’t hurt and, the five losses notwithstanding, there does seem to be more promise at the end of Canada’s run in this tournament than there was at the end of any of the other three I’ve had first-hand experience with.