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Gearing Up for the 2011 Eurobasket: Group A Preview

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Yo guys! With August brings more basketball, and since various Thunder-related players will be participating in the Eurobasket, I have decided to fully cover the 2011 Eurobasket competition. There are other notable compeitions going on in other regions, but none of them will feature Thunder-related players or be covered on TV.

In the next 5 days, you can expect a preview of every group and a prediction-related post.

Group Overview:

It's a bit of a shame that I'm doing Group A first, because this group is easily the strongest group in all of Eurobasket. Some would say, in fact, that the top three teams in this group are the strongest teams in the entire tournament. Spain has been known as the strongest team in Europe for years, Turkey is coming off of a strong 2nd place finish in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and home country Lithuania is coming off a strong 3rd place finish in that same tournament, while breaking in young star Jonas Valanciunas. Meanwhile, Great Britain is strong due to a couple of ties to NBA players Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. But, the group bottoms out rather quickly, as Poland is missing star center Marcin Gortat due to an insurance issue, and Portugal is a complete non-factor. Since the top 3 of each group advance, it will be much more interesting to see what this group does in the later stages of the tournament.


#6. Portugal

FIBA World Ranking: Tied for 47th

Qualified Via: Additional Qualifying Round**

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Thunder Connection? None.

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: If you're looking for a longshot, Portgual is your team. They were the very last team to qualify into the tournament, and they played very poorly in their initial qualifying group, winning only one of eight games against the likes of Belgium, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Poland. The Portuguese team doesn't often go deep on their depth chart, and they prefer to go with old veterans rather than young prospects. In fact, no starter was born later than 1979, and only one bench player (Claudio Fonseca) was born later than 1980. Portugal also features three players in their starting lineup from Portugal's top basketball club, Porto. This gives the team the added advantage of not committing rookie mistakes and player familiarity, but it doesn't bode well if a player happens to go down. All in all, this team should mostly be fodder for more talented clubs. They might band together for one or two solid games, but they'll find themselves lost against the athleticism of Great Britain and Spain. Plus, their situation is compromised by being in by far the strongest group in the Eurobasket.

Video: Eurobasket 2007: Versus Croatia, Spain

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Joao Santos and Miguel Miranda, Portugal's main post scorers and go-to guys. They both play for Porto. Filipe Da Silva, an assist master that feeds the men in the post. He plays for France's ALM Evreux Basket. Carlos Andrade, a naturalized citizen originally from Cape Verde (a former Portuguese colony in the Atlantic). He currently also plays for Porto, and serves as the team's best defender and three point shooter. Elvis Evora, a slow footed but powerful center with a nice shooting touch. He plays for Benfica.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Slim to none.

Below: The Top 5 of Group A!


#5. Poland

FIBA World Ranking: Tied for 55th

Qualified Via: FIBA Europe Decision*

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: Eliminated in Group of 12 (5th out of 6, Group F)

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Thunder Connection? None.

NBA Players? None.

The Shakedown: The biggest news for Poland is the fact that Marcin Gortat will not be present, due to an insurance issue. Since he is not technically under contact with the Suns right now (due to the NBA lockout), the Polish Basketball Federation must supply some hefty insurance, which they apparently cannot do. He wants to play for the team, but the lockout has struck again. Additionally, Poland is without power forward Macej Lampe, a NBA washout was was voted MVP of Russia's league last season. This leaves the team without their two top scorers and with a really weak front line. They still do have the 7'2" Adam Lapeta at center though, so they will still likely use him as a pick machine and space clearer, like they do with Gortat. However, they will have to rely on their guards for the majority of their scoring, which will lead to long offensive droughts that they just can't bear. Thus, I see them being eliminated relatively early on.

Video: Eurobasket 2009: Versus Turkey, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Lukasz Koszarek, a fast PG who plays like he came from the And 1 Mixtape tour. Expect stunning passes, and a couple of reckless attempts at the basket. He currently plays for Asseco Prokom Gdynia. Thomas Kelati, an American born long range bomber out of Washington State who currently plays for BC Khimky Moscow.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: Their hopes and dreams walked out the door with Gortat and Lampe. Making it past the prelims would be a huge victory.


#4. Great Britain

FIBA World Ranking: 56th

Qualified Via: Placing 1st in Group B of the 2010 Qualifying Rounds

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: Eliminated in Group of 16 (4th out of 4, Group C)

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: Did Not Qualify

Thunder Connection? None.

NBA Players? Luol Deng, Forward, Chicago Bulls. Ben Gordon, Guard, Detroit Pistons.

The Shakedown: While Great Britain is mostly a basketball desert, the team has benefited heavily from Britains Colonial ties in Africa. They will be relying heavily on three ethnically African players for this tournament, all of whom are excellent scorers. Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu can bring the mid-range, the long-range, and the short range, respectively. Unfortunately, Great Britain is lacking in other areas, notably depth and strength in key positions. They don't really have a clear cut point guard, with their starter, Nate Reinking, functioning mainly as a scorer. None of the projected starters have really good court vision, so the team will probably be really up and down offensively and lacking in assist numbers. Additionally, the team doesn't really have a reliable center, with their best player, Eric Boateng, currently playing for the Austin Toros after an unremarkable career at Arizona State. They'll struggle to compete against teams that are good in the post, and will likely be one of the highest scoring teams in the tournament. I wouldn't be surprised to see them upset a traditional basketball powerhouse in group A or find themselves deep in the tournament due to unbalanced groups, but they are too thin and unbalanced to be a legitimate contender.

Video: Eurobasket 2009: Versus Slovenia, Spain. General 07-09 Highlights.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Nate Reinking, a score-first point guard out of Kent State who is probably the best ethnically British player on the team. Daniel Clark, a decent forward out of Club Estudiantes in Spain, Expect to see him get time behind the African trio.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They're a stretch of a dark horse.


#3. Turkey

FIBA World Ranking: 6th

Qualified Via: Participating in the 2010 FIBA World Championship

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Did Not Qualify

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: 8th (Eliminated in Quarter-Finals against Greece, Lost 7th Place Game to Russia)

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: Silver Medal (Lost to USA in Final, 81-64)

Thunder Connection? None.

NBA Players? Enes Kanter, C, Utah Jazz. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, Orlando Magic. Ersan Ilyasova, PF, Milwaukee Bucks. Omer Asik, Center, Chicago Bulls. Semih Erden, C, Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Shakedown: Turkey hasn't historically been a hotbed of basketball, but recently the nation has sykrocketed itself into becoming a legitimate world contender through the fostering of three excellent centers: Semih Erden, Omer Asik, and the just drafted Enes Kanter. Their prevalence of big men will help them benefit from the newly rectangular lane (previously, it was trapezoidal, making it difficult to get close to the basket), as their centers will be able to assert their dominance offensively. This, combined with the prevalence of scoring guards and fast floor generals that you typically find on European teams and the presence of NBA-level talent makes Turkey a real force to be reckoned with. They are a team with few flaws, but there are some to be found. They have a lot of good talent, but they don't have a star like a Pau Gasol to really carry the torch for the team when the need arises. Granted, most European teams don't, Enes Kanter could be that man in a couple of years, and Hedo Turkolglu used to be that man. However, here and now, it will be a concern when the team is in a pinch. They also aren't very athletic, and will be blown by and eaten up by players who can drive to the lane well. Thus, they'll be a bit disappointing early on, but their play should pick up as the tournament goes on.

Video: 2010 FIBA World Championship Final, Semi-Final vs. Serbia, Eighth-Final vs. France. Eurobasket 2009 Quarter-Final vs. Greece.

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Kerem Tunceri, a score-first PG and clutch shot maker out of the prestigious Anadolu Efes SK (formerly Efes Pilsen). Omer Onan, a good defender and shooter at the shooting guard spot from Fenerbahce Ulker.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They're a legitimate contender, but they have a long road out of Group A and could falter down the stretch.


#2. Lithuania

FIBA World Ranking: 5th

Qualified Via: Host Nation Status

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: 4th (Lost in Semi-Finals against Spain, finished in 4th due to loss to Argentina in the Bronze Medal game)

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: Eliminated in Group of 12 (6th of 6, Group F)

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: 4th (Lost in Semi-Finals against USA, Lost to Serbia in the Bronze Medal game)

Thunder Connection? None.

NBA Players? Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors. Darius Songaila, Philadephia 76ers.

The Shakedown: As the host nation, Lithuania holds a lot of hope for this tournament. Though the team doesn't harbor any real stars, they accomplish solid wins through excellent and deep team play. They often overachieve when compared to their talent, and have ended up in the Semi-Finals of the Olympics and World Championship. Unfortunately, they will be dealing with some growing pains. Linas Kleiza, a member of the 2010 FIBA World Championship All-Tournament Team, will not play with the national team, meaning Lithuania will lose their main scorer. They have also lost Jonas Maciulis to a kneww injury, who came up big for them in important games during the 2010 World Championship. Lithuania has some replacement options, notably young superstar Jonas Valanciunas and veteran guards Martynas Pocius and Mantas Kalnietis. But none of them are as seasoned or talented as Kleiza, which could mean Lithuania will falter a bit early on. However, with their home country pride on the line, I have no doubt they will get deep in the tournament.

Video: World Championship 2010: Group Stage: New Zealand, Serbia, Spain, France, Canada, Eighth-Final vs. China, Quarter-Final vs. Argentina, Semi-Final vs. USA

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Martynas Pocius, your standard European shooting guard who plays for Real Madrid. Mantas Kalnietis, a decent distributing and scoring PG who plays for BC Zalgris. Simas Jasaitis, who will be leaned on more heavily with the departure of Maciulis and Kleiza. He is more aggressive in driving to the basket than Kleiza is, but he's a less reliable shooter. He plays for Turke Telekom BK. The Lavrinovic twins, two excellent scoring forwards who are returning to the team after missing the 2010 World Championship. Darjus plays for CSKA Moscow, and Ksystov plays for Montepaschi Siena.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They have a strong chance of getting far, but they usually get out-talented in the later rounds.


#1. Spain

FIBA World Ranking: 2nd

Qualified Via: Participation in 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Performance at the 2008 Olympics: Silver Medal (Lost to USA in Final)

Performance at the 2009 Eurobasket: Defeated Serbia in the Championship round.

Performance at the 2010 Worlds: 6th (Lost to Serbia in Quarter-Finals, Lost 5th Place Game to Argentina)

Thunder Connection? Serge Ibaka, the Thunder's current starting power forward, plays for the team.

NBA Players? Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies. Rudy Fernandez, Dallas Mavericks. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder. Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors.

The Shakedown: After a massively disappointing finish in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, Spain is back and ready to ball. They haven't exactly suffered in the post area, but the newly added Serge Ibaka only adds to their arsenal, and makes them by far the strongest and athletic post team in the tournament. But don't think that makes their back-court any weaker. They utilize a bit of a two point guard lineup, with both Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro handling the ball and driving it when necessary. Rudy Fernandez functions as the dynamic point forward, with Sergio Llull backing him up in that role. Oh, and did I mention the venerable Felipe Reyes at center, the capable Victor Claver, or PG wunderkind Ricky Rubio? If all of this weren't enough, some of their main challengers outside of their group, Greece and Serbia, have both recently suffered injuries to key players, only strengthening Spain's chances of winning the tournament. They do face a strong initial group though, so how they play early on will set the tone for the rest of the tournament.

Video: Friendly vs. USA, 2010 FIBA World Championship: Quarter-Final vs. Serbia, Group Stage: Lithuania, France, 2009 Eurobasket Final vs. Serbia

Non-NBA Players to Watch For: Victor Claver, a good rhythm shooter and rebounder who plays for Valencia. Sergio Llull, a good all-around swingman who plays for Real Madrid. Felipe Reyes, a defensive stalwart of a center who also plays for Real Madrid.

Hopes of a Gold Medal: They are the heavy odds-on favourite to win the gold.

*This team originally would have not qualified for the Eurobasket, but the tournament was expanded to 24 teams, allowing their qualification based on their standing in the initial qualifying round.

**This team originally would have not qualified for the Eurobasket, but the tournament was expanded to 24 teams, allowing their qualification based on their finish in the additional qualifying round held this August.

Who do you think will come out of Group A? Vote in the poll, post a comment!