His teammates might not understand what he’s saying, even when he speaks English. Nick Young doesn’t even use the guy’s proper name, electing to call him “Roberto” instead because according to Nick, it sounds better.
But none of this matters. Fabricio Oberto lets his play do the talking. And that type of visual, interactive comprehension goes above and beyond anything words could express. From experienced vet to unbeknownst youth, every Wizard respects the contributions of the long haired Argentinian rock-and-roll aficionado. When asked about integrating Oberto into the team’s dynamic, Caron Butler said, “Definitely, he’s family now.”
“He sets great picks … just a great teammate to have,” said Butler. “You know if you pass him the ball, the only thing you gotta do is cut because you’re getting the ball (back). I love having him out there. I love playing with him.”
Maybe Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee don’t yet comprehend how to do the “little things” on the court themselves. But when they see someone else setting unrelenting screens, hustling to keep offense boards alive, and making intelligent, pin-point passes, it should be easy to recognize the effort … and hopefully it’s contagious.
In talking to Oberto, it’s clear that he puts working hard first. Antawn Jamison already knew about and respected Oberto’s game, but the Argentinian further won over his admiration during their first encounter as teammates by telling him, “I set screens and I smell blood.” And that’s part of Oberto’s passion for basketball and why he’s still playing in the NBA at age 34.
“Fab really knows how to play. He’s got a great understanding of the game. He’s been through so many big games both internationally and also as far as playing in the NBA championships,” said Coach Flip Saunders. “He knows what it takes and he gets by because he’s got an extremely high basketball intelligence. He’s one of those rare guys who can make other guys better.”
He’s also away from his family, and in a contrasting environment from the San Antonio Spurs and their championship experience. “I wish I didn’t have to leave,” Oberto once told a San Antonio reporter. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate his opportunity with Washington, especially since it’s not Milwaukee (where Oberto was traded to from San Antonio along with Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas in exchange for Richard Jefferson), and not Detroit (where he was subsequently traded for Amir Johnson and then bought out).
For someone who loves basketball and loves being a teammate, the Wizards were a perfect fit. Ernie Grunfeld provided a promising base, available minutes and a locker room filled with good guys who want to win. Missing almost three months of activity this past summer due to heart surgery also left Oberto hungry for the court, especially since he’s used to experiencing the rhythm of the hardwood in the off-season. He’s played for the Argentine National Team eleven times since 1995.
His conditioning steadily improved during the preseason, but Oberto says he’s in no rush to push his body. “It’s a matter of keep playing and keep working,” he said. As a veteran, he knows allowing the proper time to adjust not only applies to him personally, but to a team with a several newcomers and a new coach as well. “The only way you can learn is to spend time with the guys, playing or practicing. There’s no other way, even if you watch the video.”
However, since Jamison out for 3-5 weeks, Oberto likely finds himself in a starter’s role when the season opens in Dallas on Tuesday. And because of a tough opening schedule, there’s now an even smaller margin of error to implement Saunders’ preseason coaching experiments into real game play.
With one of those coaching experiments focused on improving team defense, the greatest concern heading into the season, Oberto prescribes, “Just being consistent. You can’t be on and off on defense.” If you’re looking for anyone on the team to be an example of ‘not taking plays off’ consistency, look in Oberto’s direction first.
He’s already won over his coaches and teammates. Soon “Fab” will be winning over Wizards faithful too. From Argentina to San Antonio to Washington, D.C., Oberto is getting in where he fits in.