When Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni embraced after Argentina's loss to Team USA in the basketball quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it spelled the end of an era. The success on the international stage that peaked with a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics gave way to a new crop of players, tasked with continuing the legacy of the most prolific generation in the history of South American basketball.
Luis Scola, 39, was part of that golden generation and remains as much on the current national team that takes the floor in China at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. A key figure, Scola embraced the incoming crop of players one by one. And in that passing of the torch, Facundo Campazzo, a point guard for Real Madrid in Spain's Liga ACB, stepped up.
Work, dedication, humility and conviction are the four pillars that depict the Argentine national team, one that reached its zenith in the era when Manu had flowing locks and regularly dunked and now survives with Ginobili bald and retired. Argentina, simply put, is a team that lacks the marquee names.
Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of Argentina's Olympic gold in Athens. That magical title was their most notable achievement. There were others: silver at the 2002 FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis, and two wins over the Dream Team, albeit a diminished one. But their most relevant accomplishment was laying the foundation of concepts that have enabled the team to find its finest version with the available talent. Stars may shine with their respective teams, but then may disappoint on their national teams. In basketball, Argentina has managed to do the opposite: Their players deliver their best performances in that sky-blue and white jersey. That's the legacy of that wonderful team and a product of what then-national team coach Ruben Magnano and his staff imprinted on their players.
"We are done talking about the golden generation. We admire them, we love them, they are our role models," said Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez. "We are here because we saw them and followed their footsteps, but they have become part of our history. We don't want to be compared with anyone."
There is nothing to suggest that Argentina will achieve that seemingly surreal success at the 2019 World Cup in China. The golden generation had more than two elite players at every position. That is not the case with the current team.
Ginobili, Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto and Carlos Delfino are gone. Only Scola remains, at the sunset of his formidable career, and the lone survivor of that bygone era. At the dawn of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Argentina embarks as a group stocked with players who possess solid perimeter play but also as a group with a suspect defense.
The leader of the albiceleste is Campazzo, followed by Nicolas Laprovittola, Gabriel Deck, Patricio Garino, Nicolas Brussino and Luca Vildoza -- most talented players from the Spanish Liga ACB, and some perhaps good enough to play in the NBA. Laprovittola had an 18-game spell with the San Antonio Spurs in 2016. Garino played college ball at George Washington and all of five games with the Orlando Magic in 2017 before being waived. Brussino saw more action, appearing in 54 games with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016-17 and four games with the Atlanta Hawks in 2017.
They all form the core of a relatively small Argentine squad that relishes the opportunity beyond the 3-point arc.The cohesiveness might be strong, but that needs to be complemented with a high level of play. Currently the squad is barely above the average entering an elite tournament. To be competitive against the best, Argentina will have to intensify their defensive game, look after the ball on every possession and be aggressive in the rebounding department.
Paired in an accessible Group B -- alongside Russia, South Korea and Nigeria -- Argentina is favored to move on to the second round, and with some luck, into the quarterfinals. Beyond that, there was another time.