Sensitive about age
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – If ever you come across Argentina’s basketball star Luis Scola, never bring up the subject of age. He’s sensitive about it, especially now that he’s 39. At least, Scola isn’t the oldest player in the ongoing FIBA World Cup. The honor belongs to Angola’s Eduardo Mingas who’s 40 and in his fifth World Cup.

Unlike Scola, Mingas doesn’t mind talking about his age. In fact, the 6-8 forward’s proud of it. Mingas said this is his last World Cup and he’s honored to still be able to represent his country at a high level. Mingas mentioned that he’ll play two more years of club competition before finally hanging up his sneakers.

As for Scola, his face crumpled when press conference moderator Josh Bett asked how he felt to be 39. Scola shot back and said he doesn’t feel his age. “Did you say I’m 28?” he jabbed sarcastically.  “This isn’t a goodbye tour. I can still play at this level, no matter how old I am. My brain isn’t my age.”

I asked Scola about Argentinian coach Sergio Hernandez’ brilliant stroke of mixing young guns Lucio Redivo, 25, Maximo Fjellerup, 21 and Agustin Caffaro, 24 with veterans Scola and Nicolas Laprovittola late in the game against Venezuela last Friday. By then, the outcome was settled. Instead of pointing out the value of the youngsters gaining experience by playing alongside veterans, Scola carped about the reference to age. He didn’t like the idea of being singled out as an oldtimer teaching the new kids on the block. Too bad he missed the point completely.

But that’s just the way he is. Scola, unfortunately, has become a grumpy, not-so-old man. In the Argentinian team that averages 26.6 years, he’s the only player over 30. Yet he stands out as the leading scorer.

Lo and behold, Scola didn’t scowl when a reporter asked why he cut his hair. Scola used to wear his hair like Prince Valiant but now sports a closely-cropped hairstyle, looking like George Clooney. Scola joked that his long tresses showed too much white hair so he decided to cut his hair short.

Maybe, his bitter outlook is the result of moving out of the NBA after 10 years and playing the last two seasons in China. That’s clearly a downgrade but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. He’s lucky that at his age, there remains a big demand for his services as the Chinese league is known to pay good money. Scola’s goal is to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if Argentina qualifies. He has so far played in three Olympics in 2004, 2012 and 2016. This is his third World Cup.

Scola played 10 seasons in the NBA with Houston, Phoenix, Indiana, Toronto and Brooklyn, earning $65.3 million. Proving he hasn’t lost his touch, Scola collected a game-high 21 points, on 9-of-17 from the field, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in 32:08 minutes in Argentina’s 91-65 demolition of Poland here last Sunday. The win set the stage for Argentina to battle Serbia in the knockout quarterfinals in Dongguan tonight.

No doubt, Argentina’s definitely a title contender.  Argentina won the inaugural World Cup in 1950, took the silver in 2002, slid to fourth in 2006, down to fifth in 2010 and further to 11th in 2014. In the FIBA Americas World Cup Qualifiers, Argentina beat the US, 80-63. In this World Cup, “El Alma Argentina” is scoring 87.2 points a game and four players are averaging in double figure points. Argentina has notched at least 90 points in three of five outings.

Scola is leading the charge, averaging 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, hitting 40 percent from beyond the arc and 84 percent from the line. The next highest scorer is point guard Facundo Campazzo, the Magician who’s averaging 13 points, 3.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists. Eight players are logging 20 minutes or more a contest but none playing over 30. Hernandez’ deep rotation is a headache for opposing teams because the firepower from the bench is as potent as the ammunition from the starters. 

With Serbia’s upset loss to Spain last Sunday, Argentina must now go through the pre-tournament No. 1 seed to make it to the semifinals. It’ll be a test for Scola and company. If the Argentines get past the Serbians, they could go all the way.

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