Blogging through the Copa del Rey (Part Two)

Blogging through the Copa del Rey (Part Two)
Feb 09, 2008, 10:03 am
The second day of the Copa del Rey featured two games that on paper looked to be pretty attractive from a scouting standpoint, as well as from the perspective of the casual fan. DKV Joventut vs. Pamesa Valencia showcased the two most intriguing draft prospects in the ACB going head to head—Ricky Rubio vs. Victor Claver. The second game pitted the top team in the league, Real Madrid, against the top player in the ACB (at least in the league’s efficiency ranking system)—Marc Gasol of Aksavayu Girona. Thankfully for us, everyone we came to see played heavy minutes and did good job putting their game on display.

With the two local teams, Tau Vitoria and Bilbao Basket having the day off, today also gave the other fan bases a chance to make themselves heard. Joventut’s colorful fans deserve the biggest shout-out, as they made a terrific amount of noise despite their relatively small numbers--clapping, singing and blowing their horns the entire game-- and serenading each of their favorite players with personalized chants every time they did something noteworthy. There were a lot of moments like that in this particular game, as their team plays a wide-open, highly entertaining style of basketball, pressing constantly, pushing the ball up the court, passing unselfishly, and always giving the crowd something to cheer about. “Esto esto esto, esto es baloncesto” the Joventut fans sing, this is: ‘this is basketball!’

Their players seem to feed off it, and they don’t seem afraid of trying to make spectacular plays, with Rudy Fernandez throwing two awesome alleyoop lobs to Jerome Moiso on two consecutive possessions, Ricky Rubio (the abuser they call him) igniting the fast break and throwing no-look passes, and the entire team coming up with plenty of steals from playing the passing lanes. Even when it didn’t work, it was a lot of fun to watch.

Even the Valencia fans sitting next to us couldn’t help but applaud the show Joventut put on in the fourth quarter, blowing the game open from single digits to over twenty five points. Rudy Fernandez put on an extremely impressive performance with 20 points, 5 assists and 7/10 shooting. He’s already one of the top players in all of Europe, and is going to go down as one of the biggest steals from last year’s draft class for sure, even if the sentiment here in Vitoria is that the chances of him leaving for Portland next year are remote.

Ricky Rubio had a relatively modest outing offensively, scoring 9 points, but it wasn’t hard to see the impact he had on the game on the defensive end—coming up with 5 steals and many more deflections, and showing unbelievable poise and flair as his team’s playmaker. We’ll have much more on Rubio, Rudy and all the other intriguing prospects once the Copa is over.

We like the fact that Tau Vitoria fans came out in full force today to watch both contests, even though their team wasn’t participating. It was a big difference from the European Championship we attended this past summer in Madrid, with half-empty arenas the staple for every game besides when the Spanish National team was playing. No one wanted to miss a second of action here, and it was nice to see that despite the high amount of intensity between the fan-bases, there wasn’t even a hint of violence between any of them at any point.

A noticeable difference we find in the arenas has to do with the entertainment in between games and during timeouts. Instead of blaring hip-hop, suggestive cheerleaders and mindless contests at all times (they have that too), the Vitorians prefer instead to sometimes show off their traditional Basque dancers, barefoot. It’s something you won’t see anywhere else in Spain apparently, and is a perfect illustration of the conservative nature of the region the Copa is being held in this year.

The second game pitted the 8th seed team, Aksavayu Girona (apparently suffering some financial problems at the moment), against the top team in Spain at the moment, Real Madrid. Girona fought bravely for 39 minutes, but in the end, could not compete with the depth, experience, discipline, toughness and clutch play that Madrid brought to the table, highlighted by excellent games from former NBA player Charles Smith and Denver Nuggets draftee Axel Hervelle.

The defending ACB and ULEB Cup champions are easily the most hated team in Spain, and the entire arena (all seven other fan bases) united together for two hours to root loudly against them. Real is like the Yankees of Spanish basketball, a symbol of financial power, the media’s darling, formerly backed by the dictator Franco and his Fascist government. They were greeted by some of the loudest whistling and horn blowing I’ve ever heard from the local Basque fans spontaneously as they stepped out for warm-ups (both before the game and during half-time). Our guess would be that they don’t seem to like them all that much!

To emphasize that point, consider a funny chant that both Real Madrid supporters and “haters” use depending on the circumstance…when Real is playing good basketball, their fans sing “asi, asi, asi gana el Madrid,” which literally means—‘this is how Madrid wins’. But when a questionable call is made in favor of Real, the opposing fans like to mock the people from Madrid with the same chant.

As much as we love American basketball, these are the different wrinkles of the sport that you only get from crossing the ocean and seeing how passionate our European counterparts can get. The only complaint we have has to do with the constant cloud of cigarette smoke that hovers over the arena at all times. Despite the infinite amount of security and signs warning against it, people here seem to do as they please, making a simple walk around the concourse between games a pretty disgusting experience.

With the quarterfinals in the books, we’re now looking forward to what promises to be a memorable semi-final. The two local teams, Tau Vitoria and Bilbao Basket, kick off the evening, followed by Real Madrid and DKV Joventut.

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