Macedonia has been the surprise of EuroBasket (the European championship and Olympic qualifying tournament), with a country more known for violent internal strife than hoops finding itself in the semi-finals on Friday. If Macedonia can beat powerhouse Spain they are into the Olympics next summer. Even if they lose they will be in the Olympic last chance qualifying tournament next summer.
And they have a guy from New Orleans to thank for it.
Bo McCalebb has been the key to the Macedonian offense, the leading scorer whose uses quick penetration to break down defenses. He takes over at the end of games. He’s just fun to watch, another underdog on a team of underdogs who just keep on winning (beating traditional power Lithuania in the quarterfinals).
McCalebb was born and raised in the Crescent City, played some college ball at the University of New Orleans and since has been one of the many guys you don’t hear of who make a nice living playing overseas after school.
So how did he end up a Macedonian legend? He explained it to the New York Times.
“I was playing in Serbia last year and I got a call from the Macedonians — they asked me to play for them,” explained McCalebb, who grew up in the Algiers section of New Orleans…. “I didn’t ask any questions about the place,” he said. “I just said, ‘Yes,’ and I got a plane for Skopje the next day.”
Three days later, Bo McCalebb had morphed into Borche McCalebbovski, a newly minted citizen of a country he was previously only vaguely aware of.
“Every team has the right to one naturalized player,” explained Dejan Lekic, the secretary general of Macedonia’s basketball federation. “He came, he liked our country, he liked us and everyone liked him. He is Macedonian in full now.”
Macedonia chose it’s naturalized player well. (McCalebb would want to become naturalized because with a European passport he becomes more marketable to teams on that continent.)
Next season McCalebb — or McCalebbovski if you prefer — will play for Italian club, Montepaschi Siena. But with the buzz he has created at EuroBasket, don’t be shocked if he is at Summer League next year and if an NBA team wants to take a longer look.
Maybe it won’t work out that way. But whatever happens he will always be Borche McCalebbovski, Macedonian hero.