LAS VEGAS - In the waning moments of today's media availability session with Team USA and members of the Select Team working out here this week, the conversation turned political. Sort of. Several of the numerous college and NBA types assisting the national program have spent considerable time scouting in basketball-rich Serbia, and accordingly, were more than mildly interested to learn about the capture of accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic.
The leader of the Bosnian Serb forces during the height of the Balkan conflict in the 1990s has been accused of masterminding the massacre of approximately 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. He is said to have eluded authorities partly because of his various disguises, but reportedly was captured near Belgrade, which means he probably wasn't apprehended far from the two hotels where the NBA types stay during their visits. (This also brought back memories for those of us who traveled to Belgrade for a pre-Olympic tournament 2004. In one of those hotels - the Intercontinental - that are within a few hundred yards of each other, the former paramilitary leader known as "Arkan" was assassinated while seated in the lobby area. The front desk employees say visitors frequently ask about the exact spot where Arkan - Zeljko Raznatovic - was ambushed, and they oblige, of course. According to what we were told, Arkan was surprised by gunmen coming down an escalator in the back and through the revolving door in the front.)
Anyway, one of the more interesting recollections was offered by Detroit Pistons international scouting director Tony Ronzone. The Oakland native, who also has worked for the Dallas Mavericks and played and coached overseas, recalled how he sneaked into Serbia (flouting UN sanctions) on a scouting mission right about the time the massacre took place. "I took a little jump plane into Montenegro, and some guy met me on the runway," Ronzone related. "He walked me to the other plane and said 'Don't say anything.' I'm not crazy. We landed and I got my bags, then they checked me into the Hyatt (in Belgrade). I paid the guy some money. They told me, 'Don't go anywhere.' But I'm sitting there, thinking, 'I'm not going to stay in my room the whole time.' "
As the story continues ... Ronzone managed to find his way to some of the area's gyms.
Basketball's mutual admiration society
Well, so much for that Kings-Lakers rivalry. On Monday, Kevin Martin speaks glowingly of Kobe Bryant. On Tuesday, the Lakers star returns the praise. "Kevin's one of my favorite players," said Bryant, while icing his knees after the workout. Asked whether he noticed any improvement in Martin's ability to create off the dribble, the Lakers guard replied, "Um, he can get to where he needs to go. Bringing it up, he has some trouble. But from the wing, he can get to where he needs to go. He'll get better."
Jokingly, Bryant added, "Actually, I think he's horrible. Put that in the Sacramento paper. Sac should trade him to us for two second-round picks. How about that? Might as well stay on a roll. While we're at it, trade Dirk Nowitzki for a third-round pick. How about that?"
The first misstep
LeBron James became the week's first casualty when he landed on Kevin Durant's foot during a scrimmage and sprained his right ankle. The injury is being listed as "mild," and though it's still early, the coaches didn't seem overly concerned. "We'll find out more tomorrow," said Mike Krzyzewski. "I don't think it's anything, but obviously, we'll look and know more tomorrow."