Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Imported From Europe

TigerBlog's first line today will be his last line from yesterday.

Well, let him put that another way, since he's already on his second line of the day and hasn't gotten back to yesterday's last line.

How about this: TigerBlog's will essentially start today where he left off yesterday, when his last line was this: "If you're still ho-humming the World Cup, you're missing out big time."

TB got a few emails yesterday about that, from people who said that they were in fact ho-humming the World Cup. It got TB to thinking why that is.

Why is it that there is a huge section of this country that not only isn't enthralled by the World Cup but also is completely, unwavering against the whole show?

TB has three theories.

First, there's the whole "soccer is dull" argument because there isn't a lot of scoring. TB used to think this way also, until he really started to watch it on the international level. The best game of the tournament so far might have been the 0-0 tie between Mexico and Brazil.

Then there's the whole "the U.S. would be killing everyone if its best athletes played soccer" group. There is some merit to this. The best athletes in the U.S. play basketball and football - and lacrosse, obviously. The best athletes in the other 31 teams at the World Cup all play soccer. The attitude then essentially becomes "if the U.S. put its best effort, it would be the best team, but we don't, so why bother?"

There is something to this. It's hard for TB to believe that Ghana, for instance, would be able to compete with the U.S. in something the U.S. really wants to try to win.

Lastly, there is the fact that the U.S. has little chance to actually win. This one fascinates TB because of its insights into the American psyche.

America loves to root for the underdog, right? But that seems to only apply when the underdog is playing another American team - or if the American underdog wins internationally. The Miracle on Ice, for instance, was the ultimate underdog story, and that, along with the political temperature of the day, is why it has become the No. 1 sports event of all time.

But rooting for the U.S. soccer team if it isn't going to win, or possibly even advance? That's un-American, no?

So TigerBlog gets it. Still, the World Cup is such a tremendous event, with such incredibly drama and fervor, that none of those other things should matter a little bit.

And as for the fervor, that is something that the U.S. simply can't generate. Why? Is it because this country simply can't unite completely about anything?

Ah, TB doesn't want to get all philosophical here. That's all he has to say about it today.

Besides, he wants to talk about international basketball, not soccer right now.

David Blatt has been a lifer coaching in Europe, with a 20-year run that includes stops in Turkey, Italy, Russia and most recently Israel, where he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague championship this past season.

Blatt is a 1981 Princeton graduate who played for Pete Carril on the men's basketball team and was the captain of the 1980-81 team that beat Penn in a playoff game to get to the NCAA tournament.

Blatt's introduction to overseas basketball came in Israel, where he played on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the 1981 Maccabiah Games.

His reputation as a basketball coach skyrocketed in recent years, first when he led Russia to the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and then with the Euroleague title with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

And now he's back in the United States, with his first shot in the NBA, as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

TigerBlog has a friend in Ohio who is an actual Cavs fans. Yesterday's messages: "anything would be better than Mike Brown again" and "I think we're paying three coaches that have been fired."

The Cavs job is radically different if the team lures LeBron James back to town or if it doesn't, but the team should be improved even without James. With James it obviously would become an instant title contender.

Blatt would never have gotten this chance even a decade ago. Now the basketball world is a much bigger one, and the selection of a coach with no NBA experience but a ton on international experience is seen as enlightened.

TigerBlog counts six Princeton alums who are current Division I head men's basketball coaches - Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, along with John Thompson at Georgetown, Chris Mooney at Richmond, Joe Scott at Denver, Sydney Johnson at Fairfield and Mike Brennan at American.

Blatt is Princeton's first NBA head coach since Butch van Breda Kolff. He's in a great situation in Cleveland, one that could expand exponentially with the right free agent domino.

And now it's back to the World Cup. After all, Los Ticos play at noon.

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