Likely To Advance
With likely MVP candidate, Tony Parker, leading the way for the French squad, Les Blues are the runaway favorites to take group A. While France may be missing a trio of NBA bigs, Joakim Noah, Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin, they have by far the most talented roster in this group, and are a virtual lock to earn a bid to the World Cup.
After getting knocked off by Spain in the quarterfinals of the Olympics, Parker and company will be coming with a vengeance to prove that this generation of Frenchmen is among Europe’s elite. Nicolas Batum, who has come into his own over the last few years, and Boris Diaw, give France loads of versatility at multiple positions.
For France to be a true contender for the gold medal, Spurs guard Nando De Colo will need to have a breakout summer to prove that he is among the top European guards in the game today. After playing sparingly last year for the Spurs, taking a back seat to Parker as the team missed an NBA title by one offensive rebound, De Colo will get a chance to remind the Spurs staff of his abilities with meaningful minutes. As the X-Factor for a loaded team, this is the time for De Colo to show what he can do.
Team France shouldn’t have any problems breezing its way through the group play. However, its sights are set much higher than a solid start. Anything less than a semi-finals appearance will be considered a failure for the French side, as this group is supposed to represent the “golden age” of French hoops, and with a can’t-miss superstar like Tony Parker, expectations are high.
While folks in Israel will be celebrating the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, the Israeli national team will be donning its white and blue uniforms, hoping to bring some pride to a country that has had only one quarterfinals appearance in Eurobasket since 1995. While Israeli league MVP, Gal Mekel, will be in Dallas trying to work his way into the rotation in his rookie season, Coach Arik Shivek will not be short on talent at the Eurobasket.
Houston Rockets forward Omri Casspi will be coming hungry to prove himself after seldom playing for Cleveland last season. (He made our list of the Top 10 Worst Free Agent Signings.) As an aggressive forward, Casspi has significantly improved his face-up game to go along with a solid outside shot. Being fortunate enough to land in arguably the weakest group, the Israeli squad should be able to pull together to earn a bid to the second stage.
Casspi won’t be the only player eager to prove himself on the Israeli squad. After Maccabi Tel-Aviv exercised the buyout option on Lior Eliyahu, the lanky, athletic forward has an opportunity to play himself into a big opportunity with a strong performance in the Eurobasket. The Minnesota Timberwolves hold Eliyahu’s draft rights, and they could consider bringing Eliyahu to camp (or moving him to another team with interest) if he has a good showing. Plus, there will be several Euroleague teams that will be desperate for a proven performer heading into October.
While Casspi and Eliyahu may be the team’s leaders, the X-Factors, as with many teams, will come at point guard and center. Maccabi Tel-Aviv point guard, Yogev Ohayon, who many in Israel consider to be a legit NBA prospect, will look to regain some momentum after struggling down the stretch last season. Perhaps even more critical will be the health of center, Alex Tyus, an American from St. Louis who converted to Judaism and became an Israeli citizen last summer, as he is the best rebounder and shot-blocker on the squad. Tyus, who will be playing for Maccabi Tel-Aviv this season, was an absolute monster against our club, Maccabi Rishon Lezion, two years ago in the semifinals, knocking us out of an opportunity to play for a championship with his superb defensive play.
The players may be missing out on dipping apples in honey with their families, but they certainly will be looking to bring some proud smiles home as they ring in the Jewish New Year.
Led by longtime NBA coach, Mike Fratello, the Ukrainian squad should be able to scratch and claw its way into the second stage of the tournament. With Eugene “Pooh” Jeter, a former NBA player who is one of the best Americans hooping overseas, recently getting citizenship and
joining the national team, Ukraine will have a big-time difference maker running the show.
Jeter will be flanked by a big front line that will include Viacheslav Kravstov, who was recently traded to the Phoenix Suns in the Caron Butler deal. Kravstov is a big body, and a great shot blocker, and he will need to step up his game to give Ukraine a chance to make a splash in this tournament.
While Fratello may be able to drag this rag-tag group into the second stage, it will take a miracle to get them any further. However, for this team, making it out of the first stage will be a great accomplishment.
Headin’ Home Early
Belgium was counting on naturalized citizen, Matt Lojeski, to bolster its squad with the hopes of advancing to the second round. Unfortunately, Lojeski will miss the Eurobasket with an injury, leaving the Belgians shorthanded in their campaign.
Spearheaded by Spanish league forward, Axel Hervelle, the Belgian group can still make some noise if a few bounces go their way. Point guard, Sam Van Rossom, who also plays in Spain with Valencia, will need to have a spectacular tournament for this group to advance. The Belgians may not be the most talented team, but they play hard and they play together, and this team should remain competitive despite missing a key performer.
If Belgium feels shorthanded, then Germany probably feels like they don’t have a hand at all. Not only are Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman sitting this one out, NBA rookies, Dennis Schroeder and Elias Harris, have opted to forgo the national team to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. Adding insult to injury, national team veteran, Jan Jagla, also will be taking a break this summer.
This should give ample opportunity for Tibor Pleiss, an up-and-coming big man, to prove himself as an elite performer. The Thunder hold the rights to Pleiss, a 2010 second round pick, and this could be his chance to play himself back onto the NBA radar.
After struggling to compete as the host of the 2012 Olympics, Great Britain will be returning only one starter to a team that only managed one win last summer. Daniel Clark will be expected to lead a squad that will be missing the likes of Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops Mensa-Bonsu, without much help on the way.
Despite bringing in a great coach, Joe Prunty, and adding Guy Goodes, a former superstar point guard and one of the best assistant coaches in the world, it will be very hard to get wins with a team so devoid of talent. With the Euroleague making a clear attempt to try to popularize basketball in the UK by bringing the Final Four to London, Great Britain has a chance to develop into a nice program down the line. Unfortunately, that seems pretty far off in the distance at the moment.
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