Omri Casspi – Growing Pains
Tuesday night, Israel suffered a setback on their way to the Eurobasket 2011 tournament in Lithuania by losing to Italy 81-76 at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
After a phenomenal victory on Saturday night over Montenegro, Israel and their NBA star Omri Casspi were brought back down to earth by a superb coaching and execution effort by the Italians.
This game was never in doubt and Italy controlled the pace and game flow for the full 40 minutes jumping out to an 8-0 lead to start the game all on dunks cutting up the Israeli defense.
The combination of Andrea Bargnani (26pts) and Marco Belinelli (14pts) both NBA stars in their own right were able to hit shot after shot for Italy as they scored 50% of their teams points, a feat that they have now replicated numerous times in this qualification tournament.
Italian coach Simone Pianigiani and manager, Italian legend Riccardo Pittis, out smarted their Israeli counterpart Arik Shivek time in and time out and was extremely satisfied at the post game press conference where he said that this was the first time that he was victorious at the Nokia Arena as he is also the coach of Euroleague club Montepaschi Siena.
When talking to the coach before boarding the bus to the airport I complimented him on the hard work and preparation he had put in, but then he said bluntly, “Well we did win, but not by enough, I had designed a play to bring the point differential to 0 between the two games but the execution was not there in the last seconds and it will probably cost us 2nd place to Israel in the group.”
What Pianigiani said is very true. Most probably Italy and Israel will finish the qualification with records of 5-3 with Israel taking the second spot. That of course is if they defeat Latvia away and Finland at home and lose the final game against Montenegro.
Yes, it would be great if Israel finishes 2nd in the group, the problem still remains though, that Israel needs to be amongst the top two 2nd place finishers in the 3 groups in order to automatically advance to Eurobasket 2011 directly without playing in the last chance tournament to be held next summer just prior to the European Championships.
The way the groups look right now, Israel at 5-3 would probably not punch the automatic ticket to Lithuania. However, if they win all three of their remaining games including Montenegro away they will finish 1st in the group and advance.
Ah the drama of European basketball. Every game is important. Every game is meaningful right until the end.
Which leads me to Omri Casspi. Last night Omri finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12(!) fouls drawn by the opposing Italians. The problem with those numbers are that he went 5/14 from the field including 1/6 from 3 pt land. Just not good enough.
What the box score also doesn’t tell you is that he only had 4 points in the last frame all coming on free throws and it doesn’t talk about all the ill advised forced shots he took.
On one hand I want my NBA player to take responsibility and take the big shots and be the igniter for the club. On the other, he must also know his limitations, and the team’s rebound limitations when hoisting up long distance shots. Without Casspi’s 10 boards the team would have only had 21 compared to 38 for Italy.
Omri is a good player, don’t get me wrong. And it was important that last game he took the keys to the team and drove them to victory with 30 points, and that he wanted to drive them along the same path vs. Italy. But sometimes experience wins out as we saw in Italy’s Bargnani & Belinelli. Especially Bargnani.
As one of my colleagues said last night, Bargnani is an NBA All Star with a proven record and years of experience. Omri Casspi is not yet at that level, plain and simple. I believe he will one day reach it, but one has to remember that Omri is only going into his second season next year and that all the responsibility can not lie just on his shoulders alone. He may want to take that, but he is still developing as a player.
Flashes we have seen. Omri’s future is bright, very bright. But one must be patient as he plays and learns day in and day out, how not to only be a better player, but how to make those around him even better which will continue his development as a leader.
Growing pains will lead to an even brighter and better future for the Israel national basketball team.
Thoughts from the Pulpit
I had the privilege to interview 4 additional amazing people last night, Riccardo Pittis Italian legend best known for his play with AJ Milano who is the manager of the Italian National Team, Jason Thompson NBA star from the Sacramento Kings, the Toronto Raptors All Star Andrea Bargnani and New Orleans guard Marco Belinelli. All four players were extremely nice, kind and professional. I even got a picture of Omri Casspi, Bargnani and Thompson together with a representative from their Sports Agency Creative Artists Agency who represent many greats including, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Lebron James.
Check out http://israelsportsradio.com/ for an interview with Jason Thompson.
Interviews with Bargnani, Belinelli and Pittis will be posted later today!