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Before the World Championships start in August, I figured I'd start preparing everyone by giving the lowdown on each of the teams participating in this year's tournament. Why? Well, so you can see who Team USA is up against, and so I can impress you with my vast, worldly knowledge of basketball. Well, my somewhat above-average knowledge of World Basketball, at least.
Up first is my preview of Group A.
The featured nations are Angola, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Jordan, and Serbia.
Who will come in last?
FIBA World Ranking: 37th
Qualified Via: Placing 3rd at the Asian Championships
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Did Not Qualify
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify
Thunder Connection? Michael Jordan, an obvious namesake of this country, has acknowledged the Thunder's existence.
NBA Players? None.
The Shakedown: I'm not gonna lie. I know next to nothing about this basketball team. Most of what I can infer about them comes from this sole highlight video, in which most of the points are scored by a average looking SG and a balding Center who stands around and shoots jumpers against what looks like a high school team. But, judging by their history, their FIBA Ranking, and the fact that they got beaten by both China and Iran in the Asian Championships, I sincerely doubt they have much of a chance at this thing. I reckon their best bet for a win would have to come against a soft team like Germany or Australia.
Video: Highlights From 3rd Place Game Against Lebanon, Official FIBA Presentation
Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Rasheim Wright, a former University of DC player and a good scorer who often drives to the hoop. Zaid Abbas, a Nenad Krstic clone who recently played in China. Ayman Idais, probably the best pure Jordanian on the team, can stand around in the post and make layups sometimes.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: Just making the knockout stage would be a miracle for this team.
Below: The Top 5!
FIBA World Ranking: 7th
Qualified Via: As a Wild Card after a disappointing 11th Place Finish in the FIBA European Championship.
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 2nd in Group B, won Round of 16 Game against Nigeria, lost in Quarter-Finals to Team USA.
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 5th in Group B.
Thunder Connection? Tibor Pleiss is now an asset of the Thunder after getting drafted 31st. He won't see much playing time.
NBA Players? As I said, Tibor Pleiss. That's it.
The Shakedown: This team centers around one player. Dirk Nowitski. And guess what? He's not playing. Oh yeah, and didn't Chris Kaman play for them too? Well, he's not playing either. They're also missing Patrick Femerling, a former Washington player and decent Euroleague player. And without them, it's going to be a long tournament for the Deutscher Basketball Bund. Essentially, it boils down to them having a lot of centers who like to shoot on the outside, rebound, and not play defense. Their guards like to drive down low. Anyone seeing a bit of a contradiction here? Even without that nonsense, the German team still consists of mostly middling Euroleague players who don't have the teamwork advantage that other teams of their talent level do. Germany will go down hard and fast.
Video: Dirk Thrashing Some Soft European Centers, FIBA Europe 2009: Macedonia, Croatia, Greece, and Official FIBA Presentation
Non-NBA Players To Watch For: Demond Greene, a "naturalized" citizen of Germany who is known as a perimeter defender and plays for a Greek Euroleague Team. Heiko Schaffartzik, a point guard in the Tyreke Evans mold who plays domestically in Germany. Elias Harris, a newcomer onto the German team who currently plays for Gonzaga and who could make a big impact on this short-handed German team.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: Non-Existant.
FIBA World Ranking: 11th
Qualified Via: Placing 2nd in the FIBA Oceania Championship
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 4th in Group D, lost to USA in Round of 16
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 4th in Group A, lost to USA in Quarter-Finals
Thunder Connection? Mark Price, a former basketball player from Oklahoma (which the Thunder are located in) once coached the South Dragons, a team in Australia's National Basketball League.
NBA Players? Nathan Jawai, considered Australia's "Baby Shaq" and a legitimate force in the paint who sits on the bench for the Timberwolves. David Andersen, a decent big man who played in stints for the Rockets last year (now with the Raptors). Patrick Mills, a energetic guard out of Saint Mary's who got drafted by the Trail Blazers and scores in droves.
The Shakedown: What was once a proud and successful basketball country has recently fallen on hard times. Their domestic league is in the crapper and getting worse every year, and Andrew Bogut, who is by far the best Australian baller, has painfully injured his arm and is thus unable to compete for them. Not to mention the fact that this team qualified by losing to New Zealand, and that's it. That's right, the reason this team qualified was because nobody in Oceania wanted to play them but New Zealand. Now, that's not to say they wouldn't have qualified anyway, but it does tell you that they're an untested team. With Bogut, they had an outside shot at a medal, at best. Without Bogut, they have to go to the perimeter for their scoring, which could hurt them. I think the best Australian fans can hope for this year is a low seed out of their group and a miracle in the Round of 16 against a powerhouse. But I don't think they'll get that far.
Video: Highlights from their Group Stage loss to the USA in 2008, Official FIBA Presentation.
Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Brad Newley, a ferocious scorer who was once a longshot 2nd Round Draft Pick and currently stars for a Lithuanian team. Aleksandar Maric, a Serbian Dual Citizen and double-double man in the paint who was a one time Australian League MVP, once played for Nebraska, and star of Partisan Belgrade.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: Slim to None.
FIBA World Ranking: 14th
Qualified Via: Placing 1st in the FIBA Africa Championship
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 3rd in Group B, lost to France in Round of 16
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 6th (Last) in Group B
Thunder Connection? Charles Barkley, who has acknowledged the Thunder's existence, once said, "All I know about Angola is Angola's in trouble."
NBA Players? None.
The Shakedown: Just because you can't pinpoint this country on the map, don't assume they're slouches. Angola is the Golden State Warriors of the FIBA Tournament, and that's why I love to watch this team. They have no player over the height of 6'8", so they resort to playing at a breakneck pace, shooting lots of threes, and driving to the basket. They don't have any NBA superstars on their team, but their roster is comprised entirely from two of the premiere clubs in the Angola basketball league. They also absolutely breezed through the FIBA Africa Championship. The result is a beautiful looking and well-synced team that can sometimes give the big guys a run for their money. And because of this, I think they can beat Australia and advance to the Round of 16 as a 3rd place team. While Australia does have 3 good bigs in Jawai, Anderson, and Maric, Anderson and Maric often go out to the perimeter on offense, making the Australians a very soft team. The Angolans can take advantage of this can score in droves on the inevitably weak interior. Mills and Newley will provide the Angolans with stiff scoring competition, but in the end, I think Angola can pull through. Unfortunately, Angola won't get much farther than beating Jordan, Germany and Australia, as Serbia and Argentina are simply out of their league. Their main strength lies in their teamwork rather than in their actual skill.
Video: FIBA Africa: 2007 Semi-Final, 2007 Final, 2009 Final, Official FIBA Presentation
Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Olimpio Cipriano, the go-to man on the team who once played for the Pistons in the Summer League. Joaquim Gomes, one of the tallest players on the team (6'7") who does most of the rebounding and can score as well as any guard. Carlos Almedia, the wily veteran of the team who serves mainly as a pinch scorer. Miguel Lutonda and Eduardo Mingas, two rotation players who do what everybody else does: Score.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: They don't have the tools for a serious run at the better teams.
FIBA World Ranking: 5th
Qualified Via: Placing 2nd in the FIBA Europe Championship
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 4th in Group A, lost to Spain in Round of 16 (As Serbia and Montenegro)
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify
Thunder Connection? Nenad Krstic, the team's only NBA player, plays for the Thunder.
NBA Players? Nenad Krstic.
The Shakedown: Here's where we actually start talking about medal contenders. Serbia gets in via an remarkable FIBA Europe Tournament run in which they defeated Russia and Slovenia in order to advance to the final, where they proceeded to be pounded by Spain. That being said, they were definitely lucky to get to where they did. On the other side of the bracket was Spain, Greece, Turkey, and France, all teams that could have arguably beaten them. Plus, the Serbians are extremely reliant on Teodosic, and if he isn't having a good game, then they could fall flat on their face. This is definitely a team you'll want to cheer for if you like a team with a lot of questions and uncertainty surrounding them. I could see them either making a deep run or losing in the first round. One things for sure, though. They'll definitely advance out of a relatively weak Group A.
Video: FIBA Europe 2009: Semi-Final vs. Slovenia, Final vs. Spain, Official FIBA Presentation
Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Milos Teodosic, a sharpshooting and driving point guard in the Andre Miller/Derrick Rose mold who plays for the prestigious Olympiacos BC in Greece. Kosta Perovic, a former Golden State Warrior who plays like Nenad Krstic except focuses moreso on his inside game.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: It's an outside shot, but they'll have to prove they can play with Argentina before anyone gives them the benefit of the doubt.
FIBA World Ranking: 1st
Qualified Via: Placing 3rd in the FIBA Americas Championship
Performance at the 2006 Worlds: Placed 1st in Group A, Defeated New Zealand in the Round of 16, Defeated Turkey in the Quarter-Finals, Lost to Spain in the Semi-Finals, Lost to Team USA in the 3rd Place Game
Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Placed 2nd in Group A, Defeated Greece in the Quarter-Finals, Lost to Team USA in the Semi-Finals, Won the Bronze Medal Game Against Lithuania
Thunder Connection? Ruben Wolkowyski, the first Argentine to play in the NBA, played for the Seattle Supersonics (later to become the Oklahoma City Thunder) in the 2000-2001 NBA Season.
NBA Players? Fabricio Oberto, a Wizards big man who used to play for the Championship Winning Spurs. Luis Scola, an undersized big man on the Rockets who scores and rebounds well. Andres Nocioni, a sharpshooting SF who has played with the Bulls and Kings (currently 76ers). Carlos Delfino, a inside scoring guard who is tall enough to grab some tough rebounds and played for the contending Pistons a few years ago (currently Bucks).
The Shakedown: Though this team was a bit disappointing in the FIBA Americas Championship, there's no doubt that they're the favourites to win Group A. Any NBA fan could tell you this, because they have some actual NBA players on their team. But, aside from that fact, they have some good domestic talent, like the players you'll se below. The team is very deep, and you might see different players playing often as the team tries to find a good combination. However, one name you'll notice missing from the above list of NBA players though is Manu Ginobili, a staple of the Argentinian teams that made deep runs in 06 and 08. And without him, Argentina turns from a title threat into a good but not great team. Thus, while Argentina definitely has the tools to come out of their group on top, it remains to be seen whether they'll advance very far in the tournament when facing stiffer competition.
Video: FIBA Americas 2009: Group B vs. Brazil, Quarter-Finals vs. Puerto Rico, Official FIBA Presentation
Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Juan Fernandez, a true Point Guard from Temple who shoots very accurately from beyond the arc and will be a NBA Draft Prospect in the future. Leonardo Gutierrez, an outside shooting big man. Juan Gutierrez, a typical double-double type center. Roman Gonzalez, a high scoring Center.
Hopes of a Gold Medal: Whomever you talk to, Argentina will always be somewhere in their Top 5. But they'll have to defeat Spain or the United States before they can turn people into believers.
This group, at one point, could have collectively been the best group in the tournament. But the absence of stars, such as Dirk Nowitski and Chris Kaman of Germany, Andrew Bogut of Australia, and Manu Ginobili of Argentina leaves this group with lots of pretenders but no contenders. While this group may have questions about who will finish where (I wouldn't be surprised to see anyone finish in 2nd place but Jordan), I would be pretty surprised to see any of these teams competing for a medal.
Keep an eye out for previews of Groups B, C, and D as well as the Tournament Stage of the Tournament, coming soon!
Who do you think will advance out of Group A? Vote in the poll, post a comment!