Thanks to their victory at this past summer’s FIBA World Championships, Team USA has an automatic bid for the 2012 Olympics. Other national teams still have plenty of work to do, as spots to compete in the Olympic pool must be earned through qualifying tournaments held all around the world.
That doesn’t mean we should expect too many surprises; qualifying tournaments typically go as planned. All of the FIBA powerhouses will undoubtedly be present in London, with a few teams boasting far superior squads than they did this summer. Injuries and other commitments kept a number of NBA players out of the World Championships, but health permitting, teams like France will be stronger than ever.
However, this year’s Olympic qualifiers have an odd wrinkle: the potential for an NBA lockout. Without career stability, NBA players may be less willing to risk injury, and though that won’t affect Team USA, members of other national teams could elect to stay home in an effort to protect their professional careers.
Not Luis Scola. According to the Associated Press, Scola has said that lockout be damned, he’ll be suiting up for Argentina in next summer’s qualifier:
Luis Scola says he wants to play for Argentina in next summer’s FIBA Americas championship even if there is a lockout. Scola, a starter on the Houston Rockets, says playing international tournaments is a great way to stay in shape, so he sees “no reason” not to and would get insurance and play — a risk many players might not take if the NBA is closed for business by a work stoppage.
Argentina is hosting the tournament, a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics. Its generation of stars such as Scola and Manu Ginobili, who led the country to Olympic gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008, was viewing the tournament as a chance to say goodbye to its home fans and earn one last trip to the Olympics. “I think we deserve it. We played there in 2001, it was the beginning of this whole thing that we have now and I think this could be a great chance to end it,” the Houston forward said before playing the Knicks.
There’s still a lot of time for players to decide their plans for next summer, but stories like these are something to keep an eye on for the qualifiers. Though the top teams usually win the day, a strong national squad devoid of their NBA centerpieces could conceivably fold and be forced to qualify through alternative means. That’s not the end of the world for non-qualifiers, but it does give them an interesting hiccup on their way to the Olympic games. Scola is doing what he can to make sure that Argentina isn’t put in that position, but I’m not sure how many other quality NBA players will do the same.