Eurobasket ’13 Preview

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EuroBasket_2013_logoThe 2013 FIBA Eurobasket is upon us, beginning today in Slovenia. Which NBA stars will dominate the tournament? Which Europeans will burst onto the NBA scene? Who will earn the right to challenge Team USA in next summer’s inaugural World Cup? We have all that for you, and more.

The most prestigious continental basketball competition in the world, this year’s competition will feature 24 teams competing for 6 berths to the inaugural 2014 Basketball World Cup in Spain next summer. (It is inaugural only because it used to be called the World Championship.)

There are 27 active NBA players participating, plus a bunch more whose draft rights are held by NBA teams.

The 24 teams will be split into four groups of six, playing each team in their group in a round robin. The top three teams in each group will advance to the second round, where the 12 remaining teams will be split into two groups of six, who will again play each other in a round robin. After the second stage, the top 4 teams in each group will move on to the quarterfinals, where a one-and-done tournament will take place to determine the champions, as well as the 3rd, 5th and 7th place teams.

Latst scores and recaps from official Eurobasket site

Since Spain has automatically qualified for the World Cup as the host, the 7th place winner at Eurobasket ’13 (with the assumption that Spain finishes in the top 6), will get the last remaining automatic berth for the World Cup.

While many NBA stars such as Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Joakim Noah and Andrei Kirilenko have decided to sit this summer out, this tournament is loaded with both NBA players and high level European players. Most European countries take a great deal of pride in the performance of their national teams, whose players have typically grown up playing together on junior national teams as well, and each team will be leaving everything on the floor for their friends, family and countrymen. Playing at this level with a national team is considered an incredibly prestigious honor in European basketball circles, and this surely will be demonstrated by the level of intensity that will be seen in this year’s games.


Spain Celebrating their 2011 Eurobasket Gold Medal

Spain decided to send a team to defend its Gold Medal, despite already having an automatic berth for the World Cup. While Team USA doesn’t put much emphasis on the FIBA Americas Championship, abstaining from sending a team because they have an automatic berth, the Spaniards take pride in their dominance of the international basketball scene, and they have opted to send a very strong team for the sole purpose of continuing the tradition they have worked so hard to build over the last decade.

With a strong 24-team pool, and only 6 spots remaining, earning a berth to the World Cup will be no walk in the park. Who will gain the momentum that will be required to earn a trip to Spain next summer? Continue reading to look at a breakdown of who is likely to advance out of each of the four groups in this year’s Eurobasket.

Group A analysis and picks

Group B analysis and picks

Group C analysis and picks

Group D analysis and picks

Eurobasket ’13 Group A Preview

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Group AEuroBasket_2013_logo

Likely To Advance

Flag_of_France.svg1. France

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.

France will seek to avenge last years loss to Spain

France will seek to avenge last years loss to Spain

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.

Flag_of_Israel.svg2. Israel

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.220px-Omri_gasspi_israel-finland

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.

Flag_of_Ukraine.svg3. Ukraine

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

Pooh and I chilling at Joe and Jordan Crawfords IHX Camp in Detroit

Pooh and I chilling at Joe and Jordan Crawford’s IHX Camp in Detroit

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

Flag_of_Belgium.svg4. Belgium

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.

Flag_of_Germany.svg5. Germany

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.

Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg6. United Kingdom

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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Eurobasket ’13 Group B Preview

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EuroBasket_2013_logoGroup B

Likely to advance

Flag_of_Lithuania.svg1. Lithuania

One of the most fully loaded squads in his year’s Eurobasket, the Lithuanian squad is poised to be one of the juggernauts of this year’s competition. Veteran point guard Sarunas Jasikevicus will be sitting this one out, but the Grateful Dead’s favorite European basketball team will be a force to be reckoned with.

Starting with Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, the Lithuanians will be loaded with horses in the paint. Valanciunas had a solid rookie season, but seems poised to use this summer as the springboard to becoming one of the NBA’s most dominant big men. Playing alongside experienced big men like Robertas Javtokas and the Lavrinovic brothers, Darjus  and Kristof, this will be a team that owns the middle of the floor. Add in Rockets forward Donatas Montiejunas, a young big who has made big strides in the past two years, and it seems obvious that this team will have a stacked front line.220px-Jonas_Valanciunas_by_Augustas_Didzgalvis

That is without mentioning forward Linas Kleiza, the vanilla guerilla, whose high energy style of play and competitive nature would put any team in the mix to advance. Toss in former Dukie Martynas Pocius, and European stars, Renaldas Seibutis and Mantas Kalnietis, and you have a squad that is a legit contender to take home the gold.

It will be very tough for Lithuania to knock off Spain, Greece and France, but this is a rugged team with a mix of experienced stars and up-and-coming big guys that can take a big step. The Lithuanians have a ton of passion for basketball, and it should be a surprise to no one if they fly home from Slovenia with a medal.

Macedonia flag2. FYR Macedonia

The darlings of the 2011 Eurobasket, Macedonia returns the core that came out of nowhere to compete two seasons ago. Led by American Bo McCalebb, who is arguably the best American playing in Europe right now, Macedonia can compete with anybody.200px-Bo_McCalebb_Eurobasket

Capable of taking over a game by himself down the stretch, McCalebb will be aided by new Hawks signee, Pero Antic. A superb rebounder and defender with a dependable outside shot, Antic plays with the type of spirit that allows him to make a huge impact on a team. Guard Vlado Ilievski, brings a lot of high level experience, and his production will likely be the deciding factor of whether Macedonia makes noise again this summer, or fades back into the shadows.

However, with Bo McCalebb running the show, the Macedonians will surely be a tough out, and are almost a lock to advance to the next round.

Flag_of_Montenegro.svg3. Montenegro

Coming into the tournament without Nikola Pekovic, who just recently signed a new contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, would have been a major blow if not for the development of Magic center Nikola Vucevic. After a proving himself to be one of the NBA’s top rebounders this past season, the fate of the Montenegrin squad rests on his massive shoulders.

Joining Vucevic will be former Boston College and current Maccabi Tel-Aviv point guard Tyrese Rice. Rice has made big strides over the past two seasons, rising to the ranks of the Euroleague elite, and can be the piece that propels this squad to advance  this summer, and possible push  this team to be a monster in the World Cup next summer if Pekovic rejoins  the squad next  year.Nikola Vucevic

A big question mark for this team will be  the production of Bucks second round pick Bojan Dublijevic. A super talented young center, Dublijevic will need to produce to bring the type of depth that is usually required to succeed in these types of competitions.

While it is certainly far from a lock for Montenegro to advance, the combo of Vucevic and Rice makes them strong at basketballs two most important positions, and will ensure they are a tough matchup every night in Slovenia.

Headin’ home early

Flag_of_Serbia.svg4. Serbia

Thought to be a possible contender in this tournament, the Serbs were crushed when they found out former Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic will be missing this summer’s games with an injury. Teodosic is the straw that stirs this drink, and without him it will be very hard for Serbia to succeed in this tournament.

While Dusan Ivkovic, one of Europe’s top coaches, will be manning the sideline, and Nenad Krstic will still be bringing his awesome low post moves, it will be tough for Serbia to compete with many of its top veterans sitting out this summer. Fenerbahce forward and 2012 second round pick Nemanja Bjelica will provide a lot of versatility to this squad, and should have plenty of opportunity to show he has taken his game up to the next level as he enters the prime of his career.Krstic-Serbia

For Serbia to advance, Golden State Warriors first round draft pick Nemandja Nedovic will need to have a breakout summer. He is a super talent, but right now he is inexperienced at this level, and will need to step up and be a leader at the tender age of 22, for this squad to make it to the next round.

It’s sad to look at the Serbian squad, knowing that if you combined all the former Yugoslavian nations into one team, they would undoubtedly be a contender for a medal in every international tournament. While basketball is rightfully far from concern when issues like state independence, civil war and other political decisions are made, one can only wonder what could have been from a basketball standpoint had Yugoslavia remained one united basketball federation.

Flag_of_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina.svg5. Bosnia & Herzegovina

Spending the majority of the 2012-2013 seasons riding the bench for the Brooklyn Nets, Mirza Teletovic will get an opportunity to remind Europe just how dominant of a scorer he can be as a featured player. While there are rumors that Fenerbahce is trying to woo Teletovic out of his contract with the Nets, those are absolutely baseless since Teletovic has a strong desire to show he can hang in the NBA, and the Nets have very little to gain from giving up on him without getting back something valuable via trade.Teletovic-Bosnia

His Bosnian squad however, was stuck in a difficult group, and should have a lot of trouble advancing. Teletovic may be a great scorer, but it remains to be seen if a supporting cast of Zack Wright, Nihad Djedovic and Edin Bavcic will be enough to keep this team playing longer than one week. Either way, this should be an entertaining team to watch, if only to see if Teletovic can bring something to a Nets team that is likely to contend this season.

Flag_of_Latvia.svg6. Latvia

With Andris Biedrins sitting out of the tournament for personal reasons (busy spending his money?), and Davis Bertans shelved due to injury, it will be tough for Latvia to compete, let alone win a game, in this caliber of competition. Davis brother Dairis Bertans will need to play a big role along with sharp shooter Janis Blum for Latvia to look respectable in this year’s competition.



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Eurobasket ’13 Group C Preview

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EuroBasket_2013_logoGroup C

Likely To Advance

spain flag1. Spain

Known as the most powerful basketball country outside of the United States, the winners of the past two Eurobaskets will once again be the favorites to win gold in Slovenia this summer. What is really crazy is that Spain is the favorite to win the tournament, but their list of players absent this year, which includes Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, future Chicago Bull and Spanish league MVP Nikola Mirotic, Juan Carlos Navarro, Victor Sada and Felipe Reyes, would probably comprise of the strongest group in this tournament.

Despite all the big names missing from their roster, the Spanish team will be loaded with top level talent. Led by Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Spain will be on a mission to win their third consecutive Eurobasket, with nothing to gain but pride, since they automatically qualify for the World Cup as the host of next year’s games.

MARC GasolWhile Gasol will be anchoring the middle, the real strength of Spain is their guard play, with NBA starts Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon running the show, along with Real Madrid’s super duo of Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez. Toss in a third Real Madrid star in Rudy Fernandez, and you have a team that can play at any pace.

One of the real keys to watch here is Trail Blazers forward Victor Claver, who will need to take a big step next year to bring some much needed depth to a Blazers team that had almost no bench production last season. With many of Spain’s stars sitting out this summer, this is a perfect opportunity for Claver to establish himself as a major contributor for the Spanish squad moving forward.

While there certainly will be some competition from the likes of France, Greece and Lithuania, the Spaniards ought to be feeling pretty confident that they will be in the mix to bring home the gold once again.

Flag_of_Croatia.svg2. Croatia

Armed with loads of young talent, it appears Croatia may be on the way to recapturing some of the glory they have lost in the past decade. Veterans Zoran Planinic and Marko Popovic will be sitting it out this summer, handing the keys to a worthy new generation that is ready to bring back some pride  to a country that produced legends Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc.

Croatia’s success will largely depend on Nets draft pick Bojan Bogdanovic, who currently plays for Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey. Bogdanovic is a gifted scorer who is capable of leading this competition in scoring, and has slowly emerged as one of the best crunch time players in Europe. He has potential to be a star, and with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson continuing to pile on miles on the odometer, Bogdanovic can help the rich get richer if he continues his development.Bogdanovic-Croatia

Another key contributor will be Real Madrid guard Dontaye Draper, a great scorer who will feel comfortable in a more central role than he plays during the season on a stacked Madrid club. Pairing with former Raptor Roko Ukic in the backcourt, the Croatians will benefit from strong guard play, a must in this type of competition.

Ante Tomic, who had a fantastic year with Regal Barcelona this past year, will provide a consistent presence in the paint on both ends. After having a breakout year this past year, Tomic has shown that his 7’2” frame is a force to be reckoned with and he can make the Jazz strongly consider bringing him over in the near future with a strong performance here.

It will be interesting to see the contributions of Dario Saric, a top prospect who withdrew his name at the last moment from the 2013 draft. Saric is a multi-talented forward, with a great competitive spirit, that can play himself into being a top draft pick in the highly touted 2014 NBA draft.

Being paired in a group with Spain was a rough draw for Croatia, but this team has a lot of potential and has a strong chance to get one of the 6 spots available for next year’s World Cup.

Flag_of_Slovenia.svg3. Slovenia

As the host nation of the event, you can never underestimate the power of home court advantage. The Slovenians will have a tough time advancing  with Georgia and Poland breathing  down their necks, but with a solid core, they should be able to pull together and break through to the next round.

The Slovenians will rely heavily on Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who will be playing alongside his brother Zoran, to lead their offense if they want to move on. Dragic will have some help in the backcourt with Avellino point guard Jaka Lakovic bringing his veteran experience into the mix.Goran Dragic

Former New Jersey Nets forward Bostjan Nachbar will be filling the lanes in transition for Dragic, bringing his scoring mentality back to his home country. After proving he can hang in the NBA, Nachbar has shown to be one of Europe’s most explosive scorers, and he certainly will be an integral piece for the Slovenians.

With Olympiacos center Mirza Begic and former Toronto Raptors big man Uros Slokar manning the paint for the Slovenians, they will have a well-rounded roster that should be very competitive. With the home crowd on their side, look for the Slovenians to build up some momentum and bust out of the first round.

Headin’ Home Early

Flag_of_Georgia.svg4. Georgia

With the NBA duo of Tornike Shenghelia and Zaza Pachulia absent this year, Georgia will be on the outside looking in when it comes to advancing past the first stage. Despite missing two of their biggest stars, this should be a very competitive squad that has a very realistic chance to make it to the second round.

Tskitishvili is one of the biggest draft busts of all time

Tzkitishvili is one of the biggest draft busts of all time

Led by Manuchar Markioshvili, fresh off a Turkish TBL championship with Galatasaray, the experienced wing will need to be among the best players in the group for Georgia to compete. Alongside one of the NBA’s biggest draft busts of all time, Nikoloz Tzkitishvili, Georgia has a lot of length in their perimeter players and can cause matchup problems with most teams.

The player who can take Georgia to the next level is Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s guard Ricky Hickman. The guard from UNC-Asheville worked his way up from small leagues and second divisions, on his way to becoming one of the Euroleague’s up and coming players. With his ability to push the ball, penetrate at the rim, and make clutch shots, his play down the stretch will likely be the difference between a few wins and losses for the Georgian squad.

Flag_of_Poland.svg5. Poland

Simply put, this years Polish Eurobasket campaign rests solely in the extremely long arms of Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat. Quietly emerging as one of the world’s best centers over the past few years, Gortat is capable of single-handedly leading a team past the preliminary round.gortat-poland

Unfortunately, Gortat doesn’t have much help outside of former Knicks and Suns big man Maciej Lampe. The duo has long been the main producers for the Polish squad, and they will need to play out of their minds for Poland to advance in such a tough group.

Flag_of_the_Czech_Republic.svg6. Czech Republic

The coming out party for Tomas Satoransky is here. The 2012 second round pick of the Washington Wizards is an oversized point guard with excellent court vision, who is ready to make a statement that he is now one of Europe’s elite guards. In a group that is strong from top to bottom, Satoransky will be tested every night, and will be given every opportunity to prove that in the very near future he will either be in the NBA or a Euroleague star.

The real question mark for this squad is current Wizards forward Jan Vesely. Frankly, Vesely’s play last season was embarrassing, as he lost his confidence early in the year and had his head stuck in the ground for the duration of the season. However, Vesely has a ton of athleticism and potential, and in a more integral role he has an opportunity to gain back all the momentum he lost during this difficult season.



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Eurobasket ’13 Group D Preview

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Group D

Likely To Advance

Greece flag1. Greece

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.Spanoulis

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.

Flag_of_Turkey.svg2. Turkey

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. Hedo-Turkoglu

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.

Flag_of_Italy.svg3. Italy

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.150px-Marco_Belinelli

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

Russia flag4. Russia

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.Alexey Shved

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.

Flag_of_Sweden.svg5. Sweden

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.Jerebko-Sweden

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.

Flag_of_Finland.svg6. Finland

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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