On September 7 in Poland, up to three L.A. Lakers could be representing their National Teams in EuroBasket 2009, an international tournament intended to designate Europe’s best team.
Pau Gasol of Spain, Sasha Vujacic of Slovenia and D.J. Mbenga of Belgium, are all expected to play, though Gasol is in the process of recovering from a torn volar plate on the index finger of his left hand. Gasol will be re-evaluated in just over two weeks when Lakers Athletic Trainer Gary Vitti travels to Barcelona.
Gasol and Vujacic’s teams have already qualified for the tournament, while Mbenga’s battling for Belgium to join his Lakers teammates in Poland.
Mbenga (who grew up in Congo, Africa, before moving to Belgium) has averaged 20.3 minutes on the way to 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game for his country. Belgium needs to win its final game in Group A of the Additional Qualifying Round to finish 3-1 and thus advance to play Group B winner France for the right to play at EuroBasket in Poland. Just as the folks in the “Banging with Mbenga” fan club would have expected, D.J. swatted five shots to open the tournament, then contributed seven points and four boards in a 102-79 victory over previously unbeaten Bosnia and Herzegovina to put the Belgians in place to beat Portugal and move on to join Group B, featuring Russia, Germany and Latvia.
Gasol and Vujacic’s countries are both in Group C, widely considered the tournament’s toughest group, which also features former Laker Vladimir Radmanovic’s Serbia as well as Great Britain.
According to Vujacic’s website, he’s been dealing with a sore knee, but began practicing again on Monday, August 14.
Slovenian Basketball Federation national team director Matej Avanzo confirmed that Sasha will be practicing with the team again on Monday and travel with them to Spain for their next match after the games against Croatia.
Stay tuned for further coverage of Gasol, Vujacic and Mbenga as EuroBasket 2009 approaches.