Sun | Sep 19, 2021

At 41, ageless Scola set for fifth Olympics

Published:Sunday | July 25, 2021 | 12:11 AM
Argentina’s Luis Scola.
Argentina’s Luis Scola.

SAITAMA, Japan (AP):

Luis Scola starts each day with the same wish.

Argentina’s captain is about to play in the Olympics for a fifth time, those appearances spanning three different decades. There are athletes at the Tokyo Games who were not even born – one was five years from being born – when Scola won a gold medal in Athens 17 years ago.

Yes, he has been around for a while. And there is the genesis of that daily wish.

“For the love of God, please, please, please – this is what I tell myself every morning in the mirror – please do not look old,” Scola said. “That’s all I want.”

Scola and Argentina open their Olympic schedule tomorrow against Slovenia, then face Spain and Japan later in group play.

He is the coach on the floor, the savvy veteran who has seen just about everything, the mentor to young players, the example of how to play and train. He is also still able to be Argentina’s go-to player in the big moments, here for much more than a ceremonial role.

“He might be older than me,” Nigeria coach Mike Brown said. Close, but not quite. Brown was making a joke; he is 51.

“He looks better,” Brown said. “At 41, 42, whatever he is, he’s still a phenomenal player. Watching these guys on film, he just does everything right. Not most things – he does everything right.”

Scola – then a long-haired man, as opposed to the close-cropped look he has now – was the youngest player on Argentina’s team that went to the 2002 World Championships, the former name of what now is called the Basketball World Cup.

RESPECT LEVEL

The respect level that Scola, who spent 10 seasons in the NBA, still commands from anyone involved in the game is clear. During one of Argentina’s exhibition games, after coach Sergio Hernandez got done with whatever he was saying in a time-out, Scola called the four other players who were in the game at the time onto the court, gathered them in a half-circle before him, and lectured them more for another minute on what exactly needed to be done at that time.

“Luis is a wonderful human being,” United States coach Gregg Popovich said. “Obviously, he loves basketball. He’s been playing it for so long. It’s a group of guys, you know, for the last 10 or 15 years, 20 years, whatever it is, they are very close. They love the game, they’ve been a great example of international basketball and Luis is the epitome of that. And I can only continue to be amazed at his love of the game, his love of his teammates, and how much he wants to lead and be there. He and their programme are special.”