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Saint Christopher is the patron saint of the playing field.
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I will say this, he did tap outside the galaxy when Dennis Rodman was on board. He was not of this world...
Most of the foreign players not only have more experience playing basketball but more experience playing an unselfish style, with lots of passing and motion and screens, as messy as it is pure. As Spurs director of basketball operations Sean Marks, a New Zealander who played for San Antonio for two seasons, puts it, "The ball doesn't stick." For better or worse, the ball often sticks in America. 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?' "
Of course, Pop's coaching style, as prescient as it is curmudgeonly, isn't for everyone. He's demanding and ruthless; his playbook is pick-and-roll heavy, more structured and complicated than European ball but a blood relative. The traits he scouts for -- players with "character," who've "gotten over themselves, who understand team play, who can cheer for a teammate," who "don't make excuses" -- hold true regardless of nationality. The NBA draft, more than the draft in any other sport, is based on potential. With only two rounds, GMs can't miss, and when Pop looks at American talent he sees many players who "have been coddled since eighth, ninth, 10th grade by various factions or groups of people. But the foreign kids don't live with that. So they don't feel entitled," he says, noting how many clubs work on fundamentals in two-a-day practices, each lasting up to three hours. "Now, you can't paint it with too wide of a brush, but in general, that's a fact."And so it's no surprise that Pop would rather teach unentitled foreign players to be selfless than try to teach entitled domestic players to suppress their egos. The international kids, he says, "have less. They appreciate things more. And they're very coachable." Of course, it's much easier when his best player, Duncan, who was raised in the Virgin Islands and learned the game by playing point guard in pickup games on a rugged outdoor court, is best known for putting team first; when Parker, raised in France, is okay trading stats for wins; when Ginobili, raised in Argentina, is fine coming off the bench. And the Spurs have whiffed on imports (Luis Scola) and scored with Americans (Kawhi Leonard). Still, there's a different vibe in the Spurs facility, as if deplaning in a foreign airport. Argentine reporters stand next to American ones. In practice, Ginobili calls for a screen by saying, "Tienes que poner el bloqueo aca!" The diversity -- San Antonio's roster has players from seven countries and territories -- is a binding force. When Pop talks about his players, a coach who's best known for frowning one-word answers turns not only expansive and animated, waving his arms and laughing, but proud. As he sits on a bench near the team's practice courts, watching Duncan shoot free throws on his day off, he smiles as he sees one of his foreign-born players and foreign-born front office guys hug in the hallway. "It's a family here," Pop says. "It's just geometric, and it creates a mixed culture that we've all enjoyed tremendously."Of course, Pop enjoys it most because they win. None of the Spurs rank high in points per game, the quintessential American stat. But not only were three Spurs among the top 12 players in Win Shares per 48 minutes for the 2012-13 season, they also join with Marc Gasol, the Memphis Grizzlies center from Spain, as the only non-Americans on the list. Parker, at .206, ranked fifth. Duncan's .191 was 12th. Ginobili, with a lifetime average of .211, would have easily qualified if he had been healthy. And ranking eighth was Splitter, the former international superstar who has had to train both his game and mind to relish the thankless tasks Pop demands of him.