We were going to say that Knicks Knation has expanded to Knicks InterKnational, but the European contingent on this team already has taken care of finding a nickname.
Meet ‘The Euro-Connection.’
Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Kristaps Porzingis, Sasha Vujacic, along with Maurice Ndour of Senegal, have given the Knicks as talented and versatile a group of international players as you’ll find in the NBA.
On a night when the Knicks were facing the Dallas Mavericks, who were without one of the great European players of all-time in Dirk Nowitzki, several members of the Euro-Connection spoke with MSGNetworks.com about the emergence of basketball as a worldwide game and what they can bring to the Knicks.
“I think it’s crucial now to have Europeans on an NBA team because there are so many ways to play the game, you have to be able to play them all,’’ said Vujacic. “Twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case.
“We are lucky enough to play in a city that, as Europeans, we love because it’s an international city, for a franchise that we want to help get back to the top, and we think we can contribute to that. We feel a responsibility to do that.’’
The Euro-Connection already has proven the impact it can have on a game.
Hernangomez, Kuzminskas, Porzingis, Vujacic and Brandon Jennings, the first NBA player to go from high school to playing professionally in Europe to the NBA.
Some six minutes later, the Knicks had broken open the game with a 20-8 run. At one point, Hernangomez, Kuzminskas, and Porzingis were briefly speaking in Spanish to enhance the communication.
“I saw a different mentality playing with that unit,’’ Carmelo Anthony said after replacing Porzingis in the fourth quarter and playing alongside Hernangomez and Kuzminskas.
“They want to get up and down and broke the game open.’’
The Euro-Connection went to dinner after the game, something they’ve done on many occasions. It has helped them adjust to the NBA and create better chemistry.
“The other night Courtney Lee came to dinner with us, to help us understand the triangle offense better,” Hernangomez said. “We said [to Lee] ‘You are part of the Euro-Connection now, you’re in Europe. This is what it feels like to be in Europe.’’’
The Knicks’ Euro-Connection, plus, Ndour, helped the Knicks rally for a 93-77 win over Dallas last night in The Garden. The Knicks turned in their best defensive effort of the season, holding the Mavs to 38.6-percent shooting.
Porzingis and Anthony scored 24 points each and Justin Holiday had 16 on 6-of-7 shooting. Porzingis added 11 rebounds.
Trailing 23-13 late in the first quarter, Hernangomez tipped in a shot by Ndour. That sparked an 8-0 run highlighted by Ndour’s offensive rebound slam dunk of a missed Porzingas three, that brought the Knicks to within 23-21.
“All of us are learning to play the NBA game,’’ Hernangomez said. “We have talked about whenever we come in, to make sure we bring energy, dive for loose balls.’’
Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 forward, who was the fourth pick in last year’s draft, is on the cusp of stardom.
He is the third Latvian to play in the NBA and his advisors, along with Hornacek, who spoke with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle in the offseason, tried to get Porzingis some time to workout with Nowitzki.
It didn’t happen because of scheduling conflicts, but Carlisle said he expects it will. Carlisle has been an eye witness to the European influx to the NBA.
“I was an assistant coach when Drazen Petrovic came to the NBA in the Early ’90s,’’ Carlisle said. “I was with him for two-and-a-half years. I was in Portland when Arvydas Sabonis came over. So I’ve been around some of these really tremendous international guys, guys that broke ground even before Dirk did. And I’m sure that history will note the importance of the Petrovic’s and the Sabonis’ and of course the Nowitzki’s.
“Dirk now is playing in the Internet Era and the Twitter Era and that kind of stuff. So everybody’s much more aware. Back then it wasn’t quite that way.”
The contribution of those first international players was an inspiration for the Euro-Connection.
“You see the success he’s had in the NBA and many of us looked up to him,’’ said Vujacic. “There are great skill players in Europe, but Dirk showed us how hard you have to work in the NBA.’’
Vujacic, who was born in Yugoslavia, is a former first-round draft choice of the Lakers. In his nine-year NBA career, he’s averaged 36.9 percent on three-pointers.
Kuzminskas is a 6-foot-9, 27-year-old forward from Lithuania who is playing in his first NBA season. He has shown real potential, averaging five points and two boards in six games.
“We all played together in Europe so for us to be here on the same NBA team, it feels very comfortable,’’ said Kuzminskas. “We don’t look at it as the American team and the European team. We are one team trying to help each other win.’’
At the Veterans Day Parade last Friday, Jo Anne Rotello stood out from a sea of blue, green and camouflage, by wearing her orange-and-blue Knicks jersey (Anthony).
“My cousin was stationed in Germany, and every time he called home, he asked about the Knicks,’’ said Rotello. “He was so excited that they got [Joakim] Noah and [Derrick] Rose. It was one of the first things he asked about.’’