A battle in the paint to decide the 2020 champion?
TENERIFE (Spain) - There is enough starlight on the perimeter in the FIBA Intercontinental 2020 Final to overshadow every other spot on the court, but the matchups that could determine the outcome of the title clash will likely take place much closer to the rim.
The play of Marcelinho Huertas, the Brazilian point guard of Iberostar Tenerife, invokes the image of a savvy orchestra maestro, while Milos Teodosic resembles a crafty magician who never runs out of new tricks. Even if the Serbian superstar of Segafredo Virtus, ends up missing out on the Final since he is nursing an injury that forced him to sit out the Semi-Final, his magnetic orbit will still be hard to escape.
That's the thing about big guys. I told my teammates the other day that big guys like to play against other, really good big guys - Julian Gamble
But focusing too much on those amazing players will distract from a fantastic battle in the paint that will satisfy even the most demanding of basketball purists.
In the black-and-white corner, we have Julian Gamble and Vince Hunter, born in North Carolina and Michigan, respectively. The two Americans polished their skills and learned their craft in the NCAA, but have been plying their trade in Europe for several years now.
They combined for 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Semi-Final against San Lorenzo and, as usual, anchored the Bologna defense.
"In the Final, you have two high-level European teams playing 'our game'," Gamble told the competition's official website.
"The Argentinian and the G League style of play we saw in the Semi-Finals is very different. [In the Final] you can definitely expect an extremely physical game.
The coach has a lot of systems for me and we have one of the best point guards in Marcelinho - Giorgi Shermadini
"It's going to challenge us to be at our best and it will be up to me and Vince [Hunter] to do our job and help our team with rebounding, defense and finishing at the rim, to hopefully get us a victory."
"That's the thing about big guys. I told my teammates the other day that big guys like to play against other, really good big guys.
This season in Europe, Tenerife's Giorgi Shermadini is definitely one of those really good big guys. The Georgian center is in the MVP conversation in both the Spanish Liga Endesa and the Basketball Champions League.
"It's because the coach has a lot of systems for us [centers], and we have one of the best point guards in Marcelinho [Huertas]," Shermadini said modestly.
"All the guys are trying to put the ball inside and the coach asks that when I am on the floor they look at me as the first option. I feel very confident to know that my coach and my teammates trust me like that."
Gamble, who coincidentally faced both Bologna and Tenerife last season as an opponent, has been paying attention to the Spanish team's play since the arrival of Shermadini in the summer.
"I follow Tenerife because of Lahaou [Konate], with whom we played together last season at Nanterre and we're still very close, so I am very familiar with them and their style of play," Gamble said.
"I know Shermadini is a very experienced guy, he has been all over and he has played at high level. You could see how he took advantage of the G League guys [in the Semi-Final against the Vipers] not having a lot of bodies, a lot of presence inside.
This is the most talented group I have ever played with in my career - Julian Gamble
"We are going to have to match that, playing against this guy I will have to be as physical as possible and bring my A game."
You might be surprised to hear that Shermadini more than welcomes that.
"[The Semi-Final] was crazy, I have never played a game like that in my life," the Georgian big man said with a laugh.
"On some possessions their point guard was defending me and I didn't know what to do, how to put the ball on the floor.
"The Bologna big guys are amazing, each of them. They play very well, both them and as a team, and it will be a good fight.
Julian Gamble looks forward to having his hands full on Sunday
"It will be tough but we are prepared the game. I will try my best because I really want to win this game, and if we play good defense we have a good chance."
Shermadini will get help in this matchup from battle-hardened Greek international Giorgos Bogris, who sat out the Semi-Final, and from Fran Guerra, who had an excellent showing against the Vipers with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, prompting his coach Txus Vidorreta to say 'maybe in the Final he will be our second Shermadini'.
Gamble is aware that even if Tenerife employed advanced clone technology and multiple copies of Shermadini took to the court on Sunday, Bologna fans will still expect their team to win the game. The big man has faith in his coach and teammates that they are up to the task.
"When I played against Bologna last year I got the chance to see the intensity and the passion the fans bring for the game," Gamble said.
"Having been familiar with coach Djordjevic from his time in [Bayern] Munich when I was in Germany. I knew what kind of coach he is, the sort of teams he likes to build, the style of play a little bit.
"Bologna has built an amazing roster, with so much talent and experience from top to bottom, with guys that have played all over the world and have won many, many championships.
"This is the most talented group I have ever played with in my career."