Whether some of the young players on the Nets’ revamped roster realize it or not, they have a genuine international basketball superstar in their midst. At the age of 36, power forward Luis Scola is at the tail end of a pro career that already has spanned 21 years and three continents, but he’s still good enough to contend for a starting position and to be a locker-room asset.
It amuses Scola to think that, when he signed his first pro contract in Argentina in 1995 at the age of 15, Nets first-round pick Caris LeVert was one year old and second-round pick Isaiah Whitehead was born that same year. You wonder how many of the young Nets know that Scola helped lead Argentina to Olympic gold in 2004 and was a huge star in Spain from 1997-2007 before starting his NBA career in Houston.
“I’m sure young guys don’t know, and that’s OK,” Scola said Wednesday. “I’m not going to be telling them anyway. It’s funny. You look at guys who are 20, 21 years old, and you say, ‘I know exactly what this guy is thinking.’ He’s thinking, ‘What in the world is this old guy from Argentina telling me right now? I don’t even understand his accent.’ ”
Actually, Scola’s accent not only is perfectly understandable, but he talks in long paragraphs because he’s eager to share his experiences. His leadership ability is precisely why general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson recruited him in free agency.
“He’s huge,” Atkinson said of Scola’s presence. “I don’t think you can overstate it, everything he brings to the table, how he’s shown our young guys how to work, how to be professional, how to play the game, intelligence, composure. I know it’s early, but he’s been everything, as advertised.
“I was fortunate enough to be with him in Houston on a pretty good team. I knew he was a guy we wanted. Pretty worldly guy, right? At this level, you definitely lean on guys like that as a coach.”
Scola started 76 games for a playoff team in Toronto last season, and he averaged 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing 21.5 minutes per game. That’s well below his career numbers but very efficient. He’s competing with Trevor Booker and Anthony Bennett to start at power forward.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Scola said. “When you’re young, you pay more attention to those things. Just getting the opportunity to be on the court helping and to make an impact off the court are the things I’m looking for. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got a good feeling. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
That’s music to the ears of Atkinson, who said Scola told him he’s also strong enough to back up center Brook Lopez if needed. “I’ve seen how strong he is in the weight room, and I hear from the players how strong he is on the court,” Atkinson said. “So I think you’ll see him at five. Luis doesn’t really care if he starts, and that’s pretty cool.”