That Argentina has been quite good at basketball is no secret. The nation ranks No. 3 in the world behind Team USA and Spain on the official FIBA list, won the gold in Athens, as Starbury and The Answer stunningly failed to lead the Americans to greatness, and picked up bronze in Beijing despite a harrowing injury to the team's talisman, Manu Ginobili.
What is less known is that this era of Argentine basketball seems an awful lot like a limited term of success.
It's similarly unknown that Spain was, until recently, not terribly strong internationally -- in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Angola beat Spain by 20 in group play. But Spain now has an infrastructure, a talent pipeline, as many great young players (Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka) as older ones (Pau Gasol). Argentina has ... well, just the old ones. The so-called Golden Generation has carried Argentina, and there is painfully little behind it to carry on the tradition of excellence.
The average age of the current Argentine team is nearly 31 years old. At the end of the tournament when we adjust to weigh by minutes, it will move even older as the team's only player under age 25 (point guard Facundo Campazzo) will likely play little behind veteran Pablo Prigioni. The age of the team doesn't matter so much in a short tournament with no back-to-backs, but it matters for the 2014 World Championship and the 2016 Olympics and so on. It shows a disastrously void pipeline of Argentine talent.
As such, this could be Argentina's last Olympic tournament for a while. Ginobili turns 35 this week. Prigioni is 35. Luis Scola is 32. They need to seize the moment and add to Argentina's medal count. Of course, failing to do so wouldn't have been marked a failure for the greatest collection of Argentine basketballers ever -- no performance in London can erase Athens or Beijing. Barring a stunning gold in London, the Golden Generation will be remembered for that 2004 triumph above all else.
But given what we know about these players, especially Ginobili (the most familiar to American fans due to his prominence in San Antonio), that gold and that bronze, they aren't enough. The Argentines are going to be clawing for more, and I for one can't wait to see what could be their last stand. In Group A, they'll be hoping to break off Team USA's string of dominance and attempt to keep Manu's domestic teammate, Tony Parker, from having a successful Olympic debut for France. Once we hit the knockouts, they'll be trying to keep little brother Brazil down and maybe peel off some of Spain's momentum.
This should be a rousing tournament for mighty Argentina. Appreciate the Golden Generation while we can. (Yes, even Nocioni.)
FIBA World Ranking: No. 3
Previous Olympic experience: Gold in 2004, Bronze in 2008
How they got here: Won FIBA Americas 2011 to earn automatic bid
Most important group games: vs. France (July 31), vs. Team USA (August 6)
Medal chances: High.
Future outlook: Yikes.