No language barrier: At FIBA World Cup, speaking basketball leaves nothing lost in translation

  • Article by: BRIAN MAHONEY , Associated Press
  • Updated: September 3, 2014 - 2:20 AM

BILBAO, Spain — The guy who tells Ukraine what plays to run speaks English. So does the guy who tells the Dominican Republic what their opponents will do.

Yet, not much is getting lost in translation at this international tournament — everyone at the Basketball World Cup speaks hoops.

"We know basketball terms," Ukraine point guard Pooh Jeter said.

And if that fails, there are other tried-and-true methods.

"I'm Italian. I use hand signals," Ukraine coach Mike Fratello said.

The Ukraine squad is symbolic of why nearly everyone in the sport is fluent in basketball.

Jeter is a California kid who briefly played in the NBA. Fratello is a New Jersey native hired by Ukrainian federation president Alexander "Sasha" Volkov, who played for him with the Atlanta Hawks.

Fratello got the language concern out of the way at his first meeting with players after taking over Ukraine's national team in 2011. If you didn't get what I just said, he told them, don't nod your head like you did.

"You can't be afraid to say, 'I don't understand,'" Fratello said.

Now it's left up to the two assistant coaches on the bench who speak both languages to make certain players can't mess up because of a mix-up.

"Their assignment is, if you don't think our guys understand what I'm saying, it's your job to tell them what I just said, and if we walk out and they don't do it and they don't understand, it's your fault," Fratello said.

Whether encouraging a teammate or trash talking an opponent, no one seems to have a problem — not even players who don't speak the language of the country on their jersey.

This should be advantage: U.S.

Besides superior talent, the Americans are one of the few teams that only have to worry about what to say, not how to say it, since everyone on their roster was raised in the United States.

Teams are allowed one naturalized player, many times ending up an American-born, raised or educated one who has gone overseas to play professionally. That's the case with Jeter, who formerly played for BC Kyiv in Ukraine and was later asked to join the national team.

Though not mandatory, a working knowledge of English is helpful at the tournament, where the public address announcer and entertainment acts speak it, as does the official conducting the postgame news conference for a coach and player from each team.

For a team such as Finland, whose players are taught English starting in the third grade, it's an easy adjustment.

But some creativity is needed when not everyone can understand it, such as the case with the Dominican Republic.

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