The FIBA Basketball World Cup, known from 1950 until 2010 as the FIBA World Championship, is arguably the second-biggest sporting event behind the FIFA World Cup. And, based on all the stunning play during the qualifying rounds, the world can’t wait for #Spain2014.
Spain will host the first-ever FIBA World Cup a year from now and 20 teams have already punched their ticket, with only four spots open for wild-card teams. Here’s a look at the teams that will compete in Spain and where they currently rank in the world:
United States (ranked No. 1) — Team USA earned an automatic berth to the World Cup by winning the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. As usual, Team USA will be prohibitive favorites to win gold and it would be a monumental upset if they don’t. So far only Kevin Durant and Kevin Love had committed to playing in Spain 2014, but USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski — who led the U.S. to a gold medal in the 2010 World Cup in Turkey — shouldn’t have a hard time filling the roster with some heavy, heavy hitters.
Spain (No. 2) — The Spaniards are the biggest threat to the U.S., and they will have an entire nation behind them. Injuries are a concern for head coach Sergio Rodriguez. Pau Gasol, the cornerstone of the program for a decade, is dealing with tendonitis on both knees and his status for the World Cup remains uncertain. Guard Ricky Rubio is coming ACL surgery and even though he came back to play in the 2013 EuroBasket he’s still not 100%. The good news for Spain is that Rudy Fernandez looks rejuvinated, and Marc Gasol seems to embrace the leadership role on offense and defense.
Argentina (No. 3) — Manu Ginobili and Pablo Prigioni are getting up in age, so the mantle has been passed to Luis Scola. The newest member of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers remains one of the best FIBA players, and his level of play hasn’t dipped one bit. Scola is one of the last links to the golden age of Argentine basketball, a decade that saw the team win a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics, silver at the 2002 World Cup, and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Argentina has a proud tradition, so don’t expect them to lay down in 2014.
Lithuania (No. 5) — The Lituanians boast one of the biggest, if not the biggest, team in international competition. They have four NBA-type centers on the roster: Darius Lavrinovic, Robertas Javtokas, Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), and Dontas Motiejunas (Houston Rockets). The Raptors have high hopes for Valanciunas, and the 21-year-old is the present and future of Lithuania basketball. Teams that played against Lithuania have to expect a rough-and-tumble game, and you better have some size to combat their size. Linas Kleiza is the team’s best scorer, but he goes hot and cold. Point guard Mantas Kalnietis, who led Lithuania to a 2006 European U-20 Championship title, is the catalyst on offense and plays with a ton of confidence.
France (No. 8) — France heads into the World Cup on an emotional high after capturing the country’s first EuroBasket title. Given the number of NBA players on the national team and the amount of talent they possess, the French should be ranked much higher than eighth in the world. Half of the players on the squad are on NBA rosters, three of them on the San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker (Spurs), Nando De Colo (Spurs), Boris Diaw (Spurs), Nic Batum (Portland Trail Blazers), Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards), Ronny Turiaf (L.A. Clippers). They have arguably the best point guard in the world (and that includes all NBA guards) in Parker, they have a superb small forward in Batum, and they have one of the most versatile big men in basketball in Diaw. On paper, France looks like a medal contender for Spain.
Australia (No. 10) — Andrew Bogut underway a procedure to clean out loose particles in his ankle so his status for the Australian national team is up in the air. If Bogut plays for the Aussies they could field a very competitive squad for Spain. Point guard Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs) seems to always play his best against quality competition. Maccabi Tel Aviv guard/forward Joe Ingles was Australia’s second-leading scorer behind Mills during the 2012 London Olympics. Three-time Euroleague champion David Andersen will be 34 in 2014, but he’ll bring plenty of international experience with him.
Serbia (No. 12) — Former New Jersey Nets and current CSKA Moscow center Nenad Krstic is the anchor on both ends of the floor. Krstic is the leading scorer and rebounder of the team, and even though he’s slowed a bit with age he still finds ways to score in the post or the baseline. His CSKA teammate Milos Teodosic, considered one of the best point guards in Europe, missed the 2013 EuroBasket tournament because of a calf injury but should be ready to go for the World Cup.
Slovenia (No. 14) — Goran Dragic holds the key for the Slovenians, as he’s the engine that drives the whole program. The team feeds off his energy, and when he’s able to get in the paint with his dribble penetration he can cause a lot of problems. Dragic was sensational during EuroBasket 2013, leading his country to a fifth-place finish and earning all-tournament honors. Dragic’s brother, Zoran, is a 6-5 shooting guard who plays in the Spanish League. Forward Bostjan Nachbar, a 2002 first-round pick by the Houston Rockets, is Slovenia’s second-best scorer.
Angola (No. 15) — Since becoming a FIBA member in 1979, the Angolans have built a very successful program that has dominated the African region. The team has captured 11 FIBA Africa tournament gold medals, including the 2013 championship. The Angolans have come a long way since getting elbowed by Charles Barkley and the 1992 Dream Team.
Croatia (No. 16) — Once a basketball power during the 1990s led by Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, Croatia has gone relatively quiet for a long time. Since winning a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and bronze at the 1994 World Cup in Toronto, Croatia hasn’t been much of a factor . . . until now. The team finished in the top four at 2013 EuroBasket for the first time in 18 years, and the resurgence is led by forward Bojan Bogdanovic, 7-footer Ante Tomic, and 19-year-old sensation Dario Saric. The 6-10 Saric, who is projected as a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, has a terrific all-around game and makes good decisions with the ball. Roko Ukic, who had stints with the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, is a big guard (6-5) who can play either point or shooting guard, and naturalized player Dontaye Draper gives Croatia a quick, dynamic ballhandler and defender off the bench.
Puerto Rico (No. 17) — Guard play is very important at the FIBA level and Puerto Rico has two good ones in Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea. Arroyo had a long NBA career, playing for seven teams, while Barea currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Former New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman provides the team with lots of energy and passion, and scores most of his points in transition. He now plays professionally in Puerto Rico with hopes of making it back to the NBA.
New Zealand (No. 18) — With half of the roster playing for the New Zealand Breakers, the Tall Blacks have a lot of familiarity and continuity. One newcomer to the squad is 20-year-old Jordan Ngatai, who will play college ball for Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Ngatai was called up to the senior national team after Jeremiah Trueman injured his foot. He impressed head coach Nenad Vucinic enough to earn a roster spot.
Iran (No. 20) — Behind 7-2 center Hamed Haddadi, the Iranians captured the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship held in Manila. In the finals against host nation Philippines, Haddadi took advantage of a Gilas Pilipinas team without starting center Marcus Douthit and completely took over the game. As long as the Phoenix Suns big man is on the court, the Iranians can compete against other Wold Cup teams but Haddadi will need help from his guards if Iran wishes to advance past some of the European, North and South American teams.
Dominican Republic (No. 27) — The most intriguing player for the Dominicans is 17-year-old Karl Towns. The 7-1 high phenom from St. Joseph High School in New Jersey made the squad as a 16-year-old last year and he’s still developing physically. Even though he was overmatched at the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament you could see the talent and potential. Towns will play next year for former Dominican coach John Calipari at the University of Kentucky. Calipari led the Dominicans to a bronze medal in the 2011 FIBA Americas tourney.
Mexico (No. 32) — The Mexicans pulled off a minor upset at the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament when they finished first, outlasting favorites Argentina, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Gustavo Ayon, who is under contract with the Atlanta Hawks, was named the FIBA Americas tournament most valuable player, scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the final against Puerto Rico. Former UCLA standout Lorenzo Mata may not be skilled offensively, but plays hard all the time.
South Korea (No. 33) — The Koreans finished third at the FIBA Asia championships in Manila, losing in the semifinals to Gilas Pilipinas but rebounded by beating Chinese Taipei. It will be the first time since 1998 that Korea will be participating at the World Cup of Basketball. Exciting young star Kim Mingoo led the team in scoring at FIBA Asia, including 27 against Gilas Pilipinas and 21 against Chinese Taipei.
Senegal (No. 37) — After finishing third in the FIBA Africa tournament, Senegal will make its first appearance at the World Cup since 2006. Charlotte Bobcats center DeSagana Diop is the most recognizable face on the squad, but he has not committed to the team for next year. Ten-year NBA veteran Mamadou N’Diaye played on Senegal’s 2006 World Cup squad, but he’ll be 39 next year so chances of him making a comeback are slim.
Philippines (No. 45) — Gilas Pilipinas earned its first World Cup berth since 1978 when the event was held in Manila. The Philippines has a rich basketball history, going back to the days of the great Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga when he led the country to a bronze medal at the 1954 World Cup in Brazil. Former Lakers forward Marcus Douthit leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but he missed the 2013 FIBA Asia final with a leg injury. His recovery is crucial to the Gilas Pilipinas’ success. Head coach Chot Reyes calls ultra-quick guard Jayson William as the best point guard in Asia. The team also relies heavily on the 3-point shooting of Jeff Chan and Ranidel De Ocampo.
Ukraine (No. 50) — If you see a Mike Fratello lookalike roaming the sidelines for Ukraine, that’s not an impostor. That’s the real Mike Fratello. The Czar of the Telestrator led Ukraine to a sixth-place finish at 2013 EuroBasket, helping the country earn their first World Cup berth. Fratello’s squad is spearheaded by another American, Eugene “Pooh” Jeter. Pooh Jeter is a naturalized Ukrainian player who played one season with the Sacramento Kings.
Egypt (No. 60) — Egypt scored a surprising second-place finish at the 2013 FIBA Africa tournament, but that should be the highlight of its run toward the World Cup. The last time Egypt was in the FIBA World Cup, Larry Johnson’s Grandmama commercials were running on TV.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.