Blatt '81 Guides Russia to Bronze Medal in Men's Basketball
Men's basketball alumnus David Blatt '81 has coached Russia to the bronze medal in Olympic men's basketball, heights unreached for that nation in more than 20 years.
Winning a medal in men's basketball for the first time in post-Soviet history, Russia upset Argentina 81-77 Sunday afternoon in London, with 25 points coming from Alexey Shved and 20 from Andrei Kirilenko, both of whom will be Minnesota Timberwolves in the upcoming NBA season.
In the most recent FIBA world rankings, released after the FIBA zone championships last August and September, Argentina had been ranked third, behind the top-ranked United States and Spain, and Russia 11th.
It wasn't Russia's first upset of the knockout round. Russia's place in Sunday's medal games was confirmed with Wednesday's 83-74 quarterfinal win over Lithuania, fifth-ranked by FIBA, sending the Russians into Friday's semifinal against Spain.
Russia led by 11 at the half in the semifinal but saw Spain, led by Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol and Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, roar back in the second half for a 67-59 win. Russia went 4-1 in Group B play (the U.S. was in Group A), defeating Great Britain, China, Brazil and Spain before falling by two to Australia in the group finale.
While some memories of the Soviet Union's high standing in men's basketball have been stirred up this summer with the 40th anniversary of the 1972 final against the U.S., it may come as a surprise that the last medal the Soviet Union or Russia won in the sport was the gold in 1988.
At that time, Blatt was finishing his playing career in Israel before getting into coaching full-time in 1993. He led teams in Israel, Italy, Turkey and Russia, becoming the head coach of the Russian national basketball team in 2006.
Since taking over Russia's reins, Blatt guided the team to the 2007 Eurobasket title, a third-place finish in the 2011 Eurobasket tournament, and now, a chance at the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Among the last four teams remaining in the Olympic tournament, Blatt's team had the least amount of NBA experience. Only three Russian players are set to suit up for NBA teams this fall, including Shved and Kirilenko for Minnesota along with Timofey Mozgov for the Denver Nuggets.
The bronze medal now won, Blatt and the Russian roster will return to their traditional teams for the upcoming 2012-13 season, Blatt heading to Israel to coach Maccabi Tel Aviv. In 2012, Blatt guided Maccabi to titles in the Adriatic League, based in the former Yugoslavia, and in its home Israeli league, where it has won a total of 50 titles.