Luis Scola set to lead Argentina’s Golden Generation squad into third Olympics

Luis Scola (right) cannot wait for the Olympics to start.

Luis Scola (right) cannot wait for the Olympics to start.

Before we debate whether the 2012 US Olympic basketball team could defeat the 1992 Dream Team, it would probably behoove the Americans to prove they are the best basketball team in 2012.

Unlike 20 years ago when the Dream Team slaughtered every opponent in its path, this year the US team will face stiff competition from teams like Spain, Brazil, France and Argentina, the team that new Sun Luis Scola plays for.

Scola will be playing in his third Olympics as part of the country’s famed “Golden Generation” team that includes NBA players such as Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni. Eight of its players are at least 32, which means this could be the final run for this special core.

The Argentinians have enjoyed great success in this time, starting with their gold medal in the 2004 Games after sending the Americans home in the semis to deny Team USA gold for the first and still only time since we started sending the professionals.

Argentina later won the 2008 FIBA Diamond Ball and then earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, finishing behind the US and Spain. They finished fifth at the 2010 World Championship without Ginobili when Scola led the tournament in scoring by a good margin by averaging 27.1 a game on 56.9 percent shooting and then earned gold in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship played in Argentina to qualify for the London Olympics.

As Argentina gets set to tip off what could be its final Olympics with the core of the Golden Generation, nobody is more excited than Scola.

“I really like to play for the national team,” he said on a conference call after being acquired by Phoenix. “We were blessed winning the gold and then the bronze a couple years later. I enjoy being part of the national team. It’s a great honor for me to represent my country, and it’s also a great honor to play in the Olympics. It’s a great experience.

“A lot of people are thrilled to have a chance to go watch the Olympics as tourists. I’ve got a chance to play in my third one as an athlete and be there and compete and also be respectful of playing and getting the medal. I think it’s a great experience, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’m happy to come back and play in the Olympics again, and I think we have a good chance.”

Argentina enters the Games ranked third in FIBA’s world rankings behind only the US and Spain, the two favorites in the tournament.

Scola’s team has been placed in Group A for qualifying play and will face FIBA’s No. 5 Lithuania Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Arizona time, No. 12 France at noon on Tuesday, No. 32 Tunisia at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, No. 21 Nigeria at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday and top-ranked Team USA on Monday at 2:15 p.m.

The way the Olympics work is that the top four teams in each group will advance to an eight-team single elimination tournament. With Tunisia and Nigeria in their group, Argentina should have no issue advancing at least that far. Team USA figures to win the group and then Argentina should battle it out with France and Lithuania for the Nos. 2-4 spots. No. 2 Spain figures to be the class of Group B.

“US of course is the main team for everybody,” Scola said. “Spain is right behind them. I think those two teams are one step ahead of everybody else. I think US is one step above Spain, but they’re close, and then after Spain there’s a group of four or five teams, and I think any of those could be fighting for a medal.

“There’s always somebody that you don’t believe is going to be in that group and they end up being in there, and there’s always somebody you thought was going to be in that group that is not playing that well and is out of that group. I don’t know for sure, but I think we are in that group of four or five teams that are going to be fighting for a medal, but those teams are one step or two steps behind US and Spain right now.”

The Argentinians gave Team USA its toughest test of the exhibition schedule last Sunday in an 86-80 loss that came down to the wire despite the Americans running out to a 19-3 lead to start the contest. Argentina never let talented Team USA run away with the game and had it down to four with less than three minutes left.

Like Scola said, Team USA must be considered the heavy favorite for the gold and Spain the favorite for the silver, but after that it’s anybody’s guess. Team Argentina most certainly belongs in that discussion for the third-best team, and if everything breaks right perhaps these wily vets can pull off one more upset in the medal round.

“We’re looking better, and we’ve got some talent, and we have a lot of experience,” Scola said. “I think it’s going to be a good tournament for us. I’m not sure, but I think we’re going on the right path.”

Argentina fourth in Stein’s Power Rankings

ESPN’s Marc Stein ranked Argentina fourth in his Olympic power rankings behind the US, Spain and Brazil.

Stein wrote of Argentina:

Too old to cope with an every-other-day schedule? Best days are behind ‘em? Swan song for a golden generation? Something tells me Manu Ginobili has heard it all before.

Eight years removed from the gold medal in Athens that shook USA Basketball to its core and prompted the Yanks to revamp their whole program, Argentina has been subjected to a lot of the dismissive “they’re done” talk that greets Ginobili’s Spurs most years. The truth is that Ginobili & Co. are indeed old by tournament standards, with an average age of 33 in the starting lineup, but don’t forget that no team played the Americans closer in their five warm-up games.

Although depth and size are issues, I’m not going to be the guy who writes off a group that, when you see the names (Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and soon-to-be New York Knick Pablo Prigioni) next to Ginobili’s, demands respect at this level.

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