11 years on, veteran "diamond" Scola still shines Wukesong Arena

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By sportswriters Yao Youming, Xue Yanwen

BEIJING, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- Luis Scola is no stranger to Beijing's Wukesong Arena. Back in the 2008 Olympic Games, it was here that he led Argentina to the bronze medal. More than a decade later, he was selected to the All-Star Five at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The oldest player in this edition's World Cup, the 39-year-old helped Argentina to earn a silver medal. Averaging 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his fifth World Cup, Scola has accomplished one of the most inspiring stories of the tournament.

Spain's intense defense in the final has effectively contained the Argentine key player's attacks. Scola remained scoreless in the first half and ended up with just eight points. But he spared no effort trying to make up for the score deficit and contributed eight assists.

The big man's perseverance has spurred the dark horse team all the way to the second place of the podium.

"Scola is our leader. He is a time-stolen man. He got up at six o'clock in the morning and made himself better and better and better in these days," said Argentine coach Sergio Hernandez.

In fact, Scola has achieved all the goals he set for the tournament. He put a tick at the end of each objective in a Twitter post of his, "First goal: pass the group; Second goal: enter the quarters; Third goal: qualify for the Olympic Games; Fourth goal: enter the semis; Fifth goal: win a medal."

Fast forward 11 years, as Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming's teammate in NBA's Houston Rockets, Scola had won the hearts of Chinese basketball fans and his Chinese nickname "diamond" before he stood on the court of the Beijing Olympics. In his prime, Scola impressed the spectators at Wukesong not only with his long hair but also his smart play.

However, the veteran basketballer came back for his second international tournament in China without his signature long hair.

"[The hair is] A little white. I like the long hair, but when it gets white, it feels weird," he explained with a smile at a press conference on Sept. 6 after Argentina secured quarterfinal berth with an 87-67 rout of Venezuela.

His long hair gone, the veteran's determination and mentality remains strong.

Age seemingly has never been a problem to Scola. The Argentine player didn't enter the NBA until he was 27. After a decade's NBA journey, Scola entered the Chinese Basketball Association League (CBA) in 2017 and frequented Wukesong Arena.

The "diamond" first played in Shanxi and later transferred to Yao's former CBA team Shanghai Sharks. Despite the unsatisfying performance of his teams, Scola is still one of the most popular non-Chinese players in CBA.

As the only member of Argentina's title-winning squad in the 2004 Athens Olympics, age-defying Scola still stood on the court defending the glory of the country's "golden generation." He had to continuously fly between China and Argentina, the two farthest places on the planet, to play the CBA games and the preliminaries of the 2019 World Cup.

An experienced hand in international games, Scola seemed cautious about the Chinese tournament. Although he enjoys popularity among Chinese media, the Argentine star remained silent in front of Chinese journalists -- he showed his politeness and friendliness by patting Chinese journalist's shoulders or giving high-fives. He didn't speak to them until his team made it into the last eight round.

"I understand everyone talks about my age. But my brain is not functioning that way," said the Argentine forward, who helped his team with 15 points and six rebounds in that game.

"In China, they love Luis. For us, Luis Scola is our leader," said Argentine guard Nicolas Laprovittola, "It's my pleasure to play with him."

He averaged 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in the event in China to lead the team into the final.

In the semifinal, Scola displayed his offensive versatility and finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds in the victory over France, one step away from their second World Cup trophy.

Although he couldn't break the competition record to become the oldest MVP of the event, Scola can continue to stun the world in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, just like what his Chinese nickname suggests -- a solid, shiny, time-honored jewel. Enditem

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