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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Luis Scola may be an undersized forward at 6-feet-9 and 245 pounds, but no player has been bigger for the Houston Rockets this year.
The native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has earned every penny of the five-year, US$47 million contract he signed this past July by averaging 20.9 points and a team-leading 9.3 rebounds per game in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
“Scola has always been able to score and he has rebounded very well and just played at a high level,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman recently told reporters. “This year he has been shooting it very well and getting more opportunities to post up. This year, we have [been] trying to go to him a little bit more because we need somebody to score inside. He is our best guy right now.”
Scola has made a smooth transition to the NBA, where he’s averaged 13.6 points and eight rebounds during his three-plus seasons in the world’s best league. Before taking his game to the United States, Scola, 30, was known for nearly a decade as one of the top players in South America.
But his stellar play has gotten him noticed in the United States.
“Last year he could have done the same things, it is just sometimes other people don’t realize it,” Toronto Raptors guard José Calderón recently told reporters. “He had a lot of games where he had at least 20 points and 10 assists last season. He played unbelievable and I think he was underrated. People didn’t talk about him and he was great. He signed a new contract this summer and he deserved it. He is a great worker. He works hard every day and plays hard every day. He can do a lot of things. I don't know why sometimes people don’t pay attention to him.”
A year ago, players and coaches around the league began noticing the veteran with floppy black hair when he posted 32 double-doubles, a 20-point, 20-rebound game, 26, 20-point efforts, three 30-point performances, and a career-high 44-point performance.
Scola remained hot away from the NBA. At the FIBA World Championships in Turkey in September, he averaged more than 27 points to lead Argentina to fifth-place finish.
The forward has parlayed his outstanding form into consideration for an All-Star berth and is among the contenders for being named the league’s Most Improved Player. Houston is coming off a 99-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 28 that improved its record to 5-11. Houston is in last place in the five-team Southwest Division, nine games behind the first-place San Antonio Spurs, and seven behind Dallas and New Orleans, which are tied for second.
Scola attributed his success on the court to being able to unwind away from the hardwood, when he trades a basketball for a video game controller.
He loves playing video games so much he had a custom PlayStation 3 made for him by Sony. He also tells fans what’s he’s up to by tweeting, mostly in Spanish.
“Happy Thanksgiving for all, have fun!” he recently tweeted.
Scola, however, never has strayed from his Argentine roots. Playing for Argentina’s national team has always been a priority for Scola, as he led the squad to Olympic gold in 2004 and bronze four years later in China.
“Sometimes when I played as a child, I dreamed about being on the national team and winning a world championship. But even for me, the idea sounded crazy, not realistic at all,” Scola recently told reporters. “To think Argentina could win something like that made no sense at all. It was dreaming, just that. Now, 20 years later, we have won the Olympic Games and played in a World Championships final and semifinal. Everything has changed in such a magnificent way. It was so unexpected that when I think about it, sometimes it’s hard for me – even though I lived through it – to believe that all of this has really happened.”
The way Scola is playing, he had better get used to the unexpected.