The level of competition in international basketball has steadily improved over the past 20 years, to the point where various national teams can do pretty well without a big-name NBA star on board. That said, it's sure a big help for a team to have some of the best players in the world on the roster. That's even more the case if you're a relatively small, baseball-obsessed country like the Dominican Republic.
So it must have come as something of a shock to Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva when he was cut by national team head coach (and, more famously, Kentucky head coach) John Calipari. From Vincent Goodwill for The Detroit News:
After dealing with injuries for the entire lockout-shortened season for the Pistons — he didn't play any significant minutes — he won't play for the Dominican Republic national team because he's out of shape, head coach John Calipari said.
"Charlie was not in good form when we saw him," Calipari told Deportes en la Z. "He was overweight, and unfortunately, we could not slow down the entire team and it was a decision taken collectively. Last year, Charlie behaved really well with us and his only problem was his weight."
Villanueva never was in camp with the team this summer, contrary to the FIBA.com report that said he had a private workout with the team in New York.
It's believed the team wasn't pleased with his conditioning last summer, which led to the decision, after being a big part of the national team in recent years. An ankle injury slowed his progress and any hopes of getting much playing time for the Pistons this season.
Villanueva fired back at Calipari's accusations by tweeting this photo of his scale, which reads 243.5 pounds, or roughly 11.5 pounds fewer than his playing weight of 255. (That reading includes the weight of CV's Connecticut championship ring from 2004, the inclusion of which I don't understand since Coach Cal won this year's NCAA title with the Wildcats.) Check out that photo below:
This development is goofier still because the Pistons praised Villanueva for his conditioning in April, noting that he'd gone above and beyond what they'd asked even as he recovered from his injuries. By most indications, Villanueva is in as good a shape as he's going to be for the foreseeable future. What exactly is making Calipari unhappy?
The answer is probably a fairly dull one: that Villanueva, in any shape, just isn't a good fit for the run-and-gun system that Cal is known for. When he's at his best, Villanueva is still a very deliberate player. Calipari wants to run, and there's no room for big guys who can't keep up (Al Horford, for example, is doing just fine). Even at many pounds below his usual playing weight, CV just isn't the right guy for the system.
What's curious here is that, in almost all cases, mid-range national teams tend to organize themselves around their NBA players — no one implements a game plan that doesn't fit their best players. It's possible that Villanueva's reputation outstrips his talent. Yet it's more likely that Calipari is simply trying to establish his brand, and perhaps even give this nation a basketball character that can take hold for many years. The results will ultimately determine which person is right. For now, though, it's clear that Calipari is going to get his way.
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