Unlike last year, there's not much of a Washington Wizards presence in international competitions. Gilbert Arenas took the summer off to rehab his injured knee (and it's not like Team USA wanted him back anyway), and Antawn Jamison didn't even try out after barely playing last year. Caron Butler's breakout season apparently didn't merit an invitation, and Oleksiy Pecherov's Ukraine team isn't even competing in the Eurobasket Championships.
That leaves Darius Songaila, the one guy who hurt this team the most by playing internationally last year. After averaging 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in the 2006 World Championships, Songaila came to training camp with a strained back that was only supposed to keep him out for a short period of time. Instead, he missed half the season, robbing the team of their most consistent bench performer. You would think that such an experience would encourage the front office to try to prevent Songaila from competing in the Eurobasket 2007 this year.
Well, apparently not, because he's playing again. As a starter for the undefeated Lituanian team, Songaila is averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game thus far in the tournament. The 16.3 minutes per game surprises me the most; it's well below half the game, and a good five minutes below Songaila's 2006 World Championships average. That's good news, I guess. If he's going to play anyway, I'm happy his minutes are down.
I'd tell you more, but I honestly haven't seen him play, because nobody here can watch this tournament. Not that I could watch NBATV anyway, but how crazy is it that nobody is broadcasting these games? It's not like NBATV can say this has nothing to do with the NBA, because so many of its players are participating.
This whole thing raises a larger question, however. Should NBA teams (or European club teams) have the right to bar their players from playing for their national team? I personally say yes, because they are under contract, and it's not fair for a team to suffer because their star player got hurt when not even playing for them. On the other hand, this system works in soccer, so I guess it could work in basketball too. It's not an easy question to answer, that's for sure.
If there are any overseas readers here that have seen Songaila's games, how has he looked? How well is he banging inside? Is he quicker defensively now that he doesn't have the back injury? If anyone's watching, let us know.