Robin Lopez: Olympics is a hunting ground for NBA coaches

In his rookie NBA season, Lopez was on the same squad as Shaquille O’Neal (Phoenix Suns) and got a regular place after the latter was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers after 2008.

New York Knicks centre Robin Lopez was in Mumbai after conducting a basketball clinic at Jaypee Greens, Noida.   -  AP

New York Knicks centre Robin Lopez has a Cuban connection (father Heriberto Lopez is Cuban). The seven-footer, in his eighth season in the NBA, has not visited Cuba so far. “Once the dust settles down, I plan to go there.”

US President Barack Obama's recent visit to Havana, has the potential to open up links between the two countries and Lopez sounded upbeat about the possibility of Cuban sportspersons, including hoopsters, looking at pro careers in the US.

NY Knicks is the fourth NBA team for Lopez from 2008 when he joined the Phoenix Suns as a draft pick. “The NBA is very open in that respect. It provides opportunities to talent from different nations.” The Olympics is a hunting ground for NBA coaches.

From the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when professionals were chosen on the US ‘Dream Team’, players from other nations have viewed matches against the US as the opportunity of a lifetime. The 2004 Athens Games saw Puerto Rico and Lithuania stun a star-studded squad.

Lopez observed, “From the USA Dream Team to the time when America lost (Barcelona 1992-Athens 2004), the Olympics has always been a big stage, for players from USA and other countries. The best performers get attention in the NBA.”

He added, “NBA stars taking part surely raises the level of competition. At the same time, players from other nations also have made their mark.” Lithuanians have been signed up by NBA teams since a historic victory in Athens 2004. Argentina won the men’s gold, US ended up with a bronze.

In his rookie NBA season, Lopez was on the same squad as Shaquille O’Neal (Phoenix Suns) and got a regular place after the latter was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers after 2008. “Shaq would always tell us to avoid disturbing the guards. It was a clever way of telling us to work hard to be at our best.”

The seven-footer was in Mumbai after conducting a basketball clinic at Jaypee Greens, Noida. He rates an Agra visit to the Taj Mahal as one of the highs from the India trip to promote basketball.

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