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Gregg Popovich: American players don’t work as hard as foreign players

Jun 11, 2013, 6:37 PM EDT

Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan

I always figured the Spurs’ large contingent of international players – Tim Duncan (U.S. Islands), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Boris Diaw (France), Cory Joseph (Canada), Nando De Colo (France), Patty Mills (Australia) and Aron Baynes (Australia) – was the product of three main reasons.

1. Scouting. San Antonio does an excellent job of scouting overseas, which gives the Spurs an edge when it comes to drafting international players who stick in the NBA.

2. Chance. Tony Parker was the best player available when the Spurs’ pick came up in the 2001 draft, but if he had gone one spot earlier, they might have drafted Jamaal Tinsley or Gilbert Arenas instead. Similar situations came into play when San Antonio acquired its other international players.

3. Self-fulfilling prophecy. International players see how well the Spurs treat international players, so they attempt to position themselves to land with San Antonio.

But there’s actually a more-calculated fourth reason. The Spurs prefer international players to American ones. Seth Wickersham of ESPN:

Consider Pop’s brutal assessment that foreign players are “fundamentally harder working than most American kids,” and it’s no wonder the Spurs want to avoid the fate of so many NBA teams

A few months ago, Pop was scouting an opponent. He won’t say which one. On video, Pop saw an international player wide open for a shot, with a confused look on his face. That’s because his point guard, an American, was dribbling in circles. “It has to be a really different experience for him,” Pop says, laughing. “ ’Where am I? Is this is a different game? Is it a different sport?’ ”

Criticism of AAU basketball, which Spurs general manager R.C. Buford engages in, is often heavy-handed and exaggerated. I’ve seen firsthand plenty of America’s top young players sacrifice their individual games to play within a team concept.

It’s hypocritical to claim, as many do, AAU culture has led to players both forming super-teams and and playing for only themselves. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are making it cool to trust your teammates, and the commonly held perception of American players becoming out of date, if it were ever accurate in the first place.

But it’s hard to question the culture the Spurs have created, and to their credit, they’ve drafted Kawhi Leonard and given Danny Green multiple chances. There’s a happy medium somewhere, and San Antonio has probably found it.

  1. pmx8411 - Jun 11, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    Americans can rely on TALENT, bottom line and end of story.

    • azarkhan - Jun 11, 2013 at 6:53 PM

      Oh. Well, if you say so. I mean, what does a 4-time NBA champion coach know?

    • gmsingh123 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:34 AM

      What country is Chris Bosh from?

      • Kurt Helin - Jun 12, 2013 at 1:14 PM


    • andrewluckinc - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:17 AM

      …and lack of film study. Which is why smarter players (like LeBron, Duncan, et al) are better than ‘Melo and Company.

    • fanofevilempire - Jun 13, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      if Pop likes Int’l players so much go to another country and coach those better players, oh but
      he can’t make as much and live as good.
      he is just another BS artists making crazy money and complaining.

  2. RavenzGunnerz - Jun 11, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    I know, right?

    If these fools had any work ethic in them, they could have mastered the art of flopping.

    Goes to show. The 2 teams in the NBA Finals are good at it, and so, they are the ones competing for the title.

  3. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    You hear that? Pulling for the Spurs is equivalent to cheering against America!

    • cantonbound13 - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:10 PM

      wow! You’ve sunk to a new low.

      • scorp16 - Jun 11, 2013 at 9:01 PM

        yeah ….well…..he needs to sink a lot lower just to be able to reach you with a shovel…….

  4. jack3dsd - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    Americans fell entitled its been to easy for too long

  5. tigerpork - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    If Pop can make Darko Milicic a starter…I will believe him.

    • homegrowntalentmn - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:02 PM

      hahahaha that’s awesome!

    • 88heatnation - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      He is known for bringing the best out players, don’t rule it out

  6. cantonbound13 - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:14 PM

    These young American guys are just concerned with dunking & getting on espn highlights. Meanwhile the foreign guys actually play a team game & focus on skill at a young age. It’s sad but true. Just look at free throw shooting, an easy, uncontested shot & there are American players shooting 50% or less. That’s just laziness & not working on your craft.

    • anhdazman - Jun 12, 2013 at 5:15 AM

      Yes a lot of international players have improved and are now a big part of the NBA, but don’t forget which country have been winning in the Olympics.
      The USA top players are still way above any international team. You can put the best team of international players on the court vs the US and we’ll still kick their butt. End of story.

    • gmsingh123 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:35 AM

      And that doesn’t even take into account whatever the hell Derrick Rose thought he was doing.

  7. jadaruler - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    I was anti-AAU for a while until I was invited to watch some teams play and you’re 100% right about how committed some of the stars are to team ball.

    I think its the bad apples (aka the tweener point guards) that hurt the game.

  8. jbeagles23 - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    It works both way. Anyone head over heels for bargnani?

  9. scorp16 - Jun 11, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    Look I am a Heat fan……..But really……..resorting to Pop being Un-American…….
    Is the OP on Prokhorov’s payroll?

  10. kinggw - Jun 11, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    That is a ridiculous generalization. Was Sasha Vujacic a hard worker? How about Vladimir Radmanovich, Peja, Bargnani, the aforementioned Darko? I dont think that international players are harder workers than Americans. Popovich might feel that way because of the guys he’s encountered. I think a players effort has a lot to do with the situation they are in. Regardless of nationality, players buy in to winning. The Spurs have been a winning organization for the past 15 years. Because of their success players are more likely to buy in to their program than to a team like the Bobcats. Bottom line, there are plenty of lazy and unmotivated foreigners in the league.

    • paleihe - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:23 AM

      Case in point, how much effort did Diaw give when he was with the Bobcats? Not much effort at all.

  11. cj1403 - Jun 11, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    Spirs didn’t draft Leonard, they traded for him.

    • spursareold - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:18 AM

      Nobody trades a pick anymore. It cuts your options in future years, because the NBA must approve trades of first round picks in consecutive years. You work out a deal, the team picks FOR you, and then you trade for the player. You can do that any number of years in a row.

  12. pavelfitzgerald - Jun 11, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    Pop’s opinion > Feldman’s opinion everyday

  13. magicbucs - Jun 11, 2013 at 11:53 PM

    I think he means international players are more about learning to play a complete game. Not focus on just being a scorer or shooter. International ball is more about passing and looking for the open guy not 1on1 and forcing up shots. Tho their D is still weak.

  14. louhudson23 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:39 AM

    He didn’t say without exception…Go watch a Euro youth team. Generally speaking,European kids are coached up. Kids eyes are locked on and ears are up. Fundamentals are hammered home and worked on in drills incessantly. Scrimmage and games are secondary to learning skills. Then team play. AAU corrupts in more ways than lack of team play. Fundamentals take a backseat to travel and game play.Dunk,lob,drive on lazy defenses… Coaches are babysitters and handlers . Generally speaking…….. and not without exception…..

  15. sportsnut101 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:13 AM

    The players pop picked has worked harder

    It’s different overseas because the players usually play longer together to be reached the right way

    In America u have one n done college players who are out of league now because nba doesnt babysit u to get better u have to work at it also in offseason

  16. unxpexted1 - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    I feel like what he’s getting at is not that American players don’t work hard, its just International players “seem” to work on the fundamental aspects of their game. American players seem to work hard on growing their talent. And even if they play team ball, its not fundamental team ball. Just cause a person passes doesn’t make them fundamentally a team players. But working hard on screens n rolls, back cuts, give n goes is different.But I think a lot of it just has to do with how the game is played now. Fundamentals aren’t as important for young players with talent. Athleticism rules.

  17. ogbobbydeas - Jun 12, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Other side of that Arc of reasoning is Washington Wizards players Olesky Petcherov and now Jan Vesely, if they played for the Spurs and Pop would they be better or work harder?

  18. bbk1000 - Jun 12, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Popovich coaches the Spurs….foreign players means anybody outside of Texas….

  19. drago2012 - Jun 13, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Actually , Popovich is of foreign descent himself. He is a son of Serbian immigrants to this country. His beginnings are very humble and he believes that you must earn anything you get. He is very demanding of himself and his players. All his players,foreign or not love him and trust him completely . Parker was interviewed once after the game that they won in the second half , after a bad performance during the first half and he responded ” Pop went Serbian on us”, which meant he was not very kind and passive. He willed them to win!

  20. drago2012 - Jun 13, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    When the Spurs win the NBA championship, coach Pop will bust the myth that you must have a superstar of LeBrons stature to win the tile. Basketball is a team sport and in his system everyone gets to touch the ball on every play and they get to shoot it if they are open. By the end of this series Lebron will be so exhausted that his cahones will be dragging on the ground causing him to trip over them. He is already starting to get that bewildered and confused look on his face. Pop and Spurs are good for the NBA and will end up saving NBA from themselves!!!!!!

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