United States of America
The United States has named a 27-man national team roster that should be good through 2012, and it is rather daunting. All the top members of the 2008 team, which won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics are back, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has been a steadying force since taking over in 2005, also is slated to be back for the United States, which is No. 2 in the FIBA World Rankings. However, the team’s roster for the FIBA World Championship is not set, as injury situations and contract negotiations have to be ironed out. In any case, the United States figures to be in the hunt for the gold medal. The United States has not won a FIBA World Championship since 1994, when “Dream Team II,” led by MVP Shaquille O’Neal, captured the gold medal. The United States opens the World Championship against Croatia in Istanbul Aug. 28.
The team qualified for the FIBA World Championship by reaching the semifinals of EuroBasket Championship. Slovenia played without Matjaz Smodis at EuroBasket because of a back injury, but the team captain is expected to be ready to play in Turkey. Slovenia, which is 20th in the FIBA World Rankings, also expects a boost from 6-11 center Erazem Lorbek, who averaged 16.4 points and 7.4 rebounds at EuroBasket, 6-9 forward Bostjan Nachbar, who averaged 12.2 points and 4.7 rebounds and guard Goran Dragic, who averaged 9.2 points.
The team boasts a new head coach in Ruben Magnano. Even though the team is 14th in the FIBA World Rankings and hasn’t won a medal at a FIBA World Championship since 1978, when it captured a bronze medal, Magnano indicated that capturing a medal, while not likely, is not totally out of the realm of possibility. If Brazil wants to be in the hunt for a medal, it will have to get big production from guard Leandro Mateus Barbosa (Phoenix Suns), who averaged 21.1 points when Brazil made the Americas Championship final, where it lost to Puerto Rico, 61-60. Another key player for Brazil is 6-10 center Anderson Franca Varejao, who averaged 13.3 points and 8.4 rebounds at the Americas Championship.
Josip Vrankovic recently replaced retired Jasmin Repesa as the team’s head coach, and led the team to the quarterfinals of the EuroBasket Championship, where it lost to Slovenia. Guard Roko-Leni Ukic leads the way for Croatia, which is 15th in the FIBA World Rankings. Ukic averaged 13.6 points and 3.8 assists at EuroBasket. Guard Marko Popovic, who averaged 10.2 points, is another key player for Croatia, which is not expected to make a huge splash in Turkey, especially when it opens against the United States.
The Iranians throttled China, 70-52, to capture their second consecutive FIBA Asia Championship last year after taking 11th at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Now Iran is looking to take its recent success a step further in Turkey. Iran is led by 7-2 center Hamed Ehadadi (Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA), who averaged 15.8 points and 13.1 rebounds in the Asia Championship. Hamed Afagh averaged 14 points and Mahdi Kamrani averaged 11 points in the Asia Championship for Iran, which is only 21st in the FIBA World Rankings, but looking to prove its better than that when it hits the court in Turkey.
The North Africans are making their first appearance at a FIBA World Championship after qualifying by beating Cameroon, 83-68, in the bronze medal game of the Africa Championship. Tunisia has never reached its current heights before now and is happy just to be going to Turkey. Leading the charge for coach Adel Tlatli’s squad is Amine Rzig, who averaged 16.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in the Africa Championship, Marouan Kechrid, who averaged 9.8 points and Atef Maoua, who averaged 9.2 points for Tunisia, which is 42nd in the FIBA World Rankings.