Likely To Advance
Greece is another squad showing up without some of their best players but still remain a contender for the gold. Even without pick-and-roll master Dimitris Diamantitis, Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes, Nuggets center Kosta Koufos and Maccabi Tel Aviv center “Sofo” Schortsanitis, the Greeks are poised to compete for their first medal since 2009.
Italian coach Andrea Trinchieri, who recently moved from Cantu to Unics Kazan in Russia, will have no shortage of weapons throughout this campaign. Back-to-back Euroleague champion Vassilis Spanoulis will be leading the Greek squad with his aggressive scoring nature and immensely high basketball IQ. Spanoulis will be backed up by fellow Olympiacos guard Kostas Sloukas, who has been one of the Euroleague’s rising stars since he was brought over from Aris Thessaloniki.
On the wing will be a pair of former Knicks draft picks in Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolau, both of whom bring a lot of toughness and clutch shooting to the floor at the 3 and 4 positions. Add in the tough defense of American forward Michail Bramos and the scoring ability of veteran Nikos Zisis and this team has a large variety of options.
Antonis Fotsis will once again represent the Greek squad as he prepares for his return to the Greek league with Panathiakos this season. One of the top Greek players of this generation, he was a valuable member of the 2006 team that embarrassed Team USA in the World Championships.
While the Greek team won’t be as beefy in the middle as they are accustomed, center Yannis Bourousis, who had a brief stint with the Mavs, will provide a big presence in the middle, for what will certainly be one of the top defenses in the tournament.
While the Greek team may not be bringing their fully loaded roster to Slovenia, the Greeks are known for being one of the most physical and aggressive groups, and they should be more than able to bully their way toward a medal.
There will be big expectations for the Turks this summer to regain the glory of their 2010 silver medal at the World Championships. Led by soon to be ex-Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, the Turkish squad has quite a few weapons that should make them very dangerous, assuming Turkoglu’s uncertain contract situation does not become a distraction.
Omer Asik is coming off a breakout year for the Rockets, and he should be one of the most important players in the tournament. With Dwight Howard coming into town, Asik will possibly be playing with ulterior motives, trying to audition to other teams considering trading for him to be their starting center. Asik is unhappy with the possibility of becoming Dwight’s backup, and he will need to block out his personal situation for the betterment of the team for Turkey to succeed. He will be backed up and sometimes play alongside former NBA big man Semih Erden, who also is trying to prove he deserves another crack at the league. Together they should be one of the more formidable center combinations in this competition.
Last, but certainly not least, is Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova has made big progress since returning to the Bucks from Europe, and has the opportunity to take command of the leadership role of the Turkish team moving forward. With the Bucks making wholesale changes this summer, a significant tick in his production could be the difference between the Bucks being relevant, or playing for ping-pong balls once the New Year arrives.
With a talented roster, Turkey should have no problem advancing to the second round of this tournament, but with a lot of uncertainty surrounding some of their main players professional situations, it may be difficult for them to maintain the focus required to earn a World Cup berth, yet alone a medal.
Not having won a medal since winning a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, Italy will need to overcome a lot of obstacles to prevent a 10-year medal drought. With NBA starts Andrea Bargnani, Danillo Gallinari and Angelo Gigli missing this year, the Italians will need to find production and leadership elsewhere to be competitive.
A transformed Marco Belinelli will be the leader, after having a breakout performance with the Bulls this past postseason before moving to the Spurs this summer. Belinelli is an outstanding shooter who has significantly elevated his overall game with his newfound confidence, and he could very likely use this tournament to start his campaign to be Popovich’s starting shooting guard on opening night.
Joining Belinelli will be Detroit Pistons signee Luigi Datome, a stretch forward who played out of his mind on his way to the Italian Series A MVP this past season. In the frontcourt, Datome will be joined by Alessandro Gentile, a 20 year old wing prospect who will be a likely draft pick in 2014.
In the backcourt will be a pair of Americans in former Indiana Pacers guard Travis Diener, who just recently got his Italian passport, and former USC and current Siena guard Daniel Hackett. The duo should form a very strong backcourt, capable of leading Italy to the next stage.
Without Gallo or Bargnani, several players will need to take big steps forward for Italy to qualify for the World Cup. Fortunately, Italian fans have reason to be optimistic with so many players that are right on the cusp of taking the next step in their career. It may not be likely for this to be the year that the Italians turn it around, but it appears things are going in the right direction for their program.
Headin’ Home Early
With the absence of American coach David Blatt, Andrei Kirilenko, Sergey Mozgov and Victor Khryapa, the Russians’ run of success is very much in danger. In the friendly matches, they did not seem to play with the chemistry shown during their successful run that saw them win the 2007 Eurobasket, and take medals home in 2011 and in the 2012 Olympics.
Timberwolves guard Alexy Shved will be relied on to get buckets as the leader of the Russian squad. He quickly has emerged from a young weapon to a leader for this squad, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the change in his role.
The X-Factor for the Russians will be Cavs draft pick Sergey Karasev, a super scoring young wing who has limitless potential. If he can immediately provide top level performances in this tournament, Russia has a solid chance at advancing. However, as it stands now they appear to be on the outside looking in.
After a 10-year absence from the Eurobasket, Sweden makes their return with 2 NBA players in tow. With Detroit Pistons vet Jonas Jerebko ringing his jack of all trades game, Sweden should be interesting to watch despite not standing much of a chance at advancing in this tournament.
Even more interesting to watch will be Bobcats second year forward Jeffery Taylor, who showed great improvement at the summer league this season. Bringing the toughness he gained at Vanderbilt, Taylor has improved his all-around game and could use this experience as a way to take the next step in his NBA career.
Finland is the kind of team any basketball purist loves to root for. They dive for loose balls, play with passion, and overall bring all the intangibles that any true basketball fan has to appreciate. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the talent to compete at this level, and winning even one game will be a big accomplishment for them.
Former Mavericks draft pick Petteri Kaponen will need to be fantastic for Finland to remain competitive. Kaponen has made big strides the past several years, and playing on this stage could greatly bolster his chances of one day bringing his talents over to the NBA.
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