Greece is coming off a fifth-place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is fourth in the FIBA World Rankings. Greece boasts a talented, experienced squad that could make a run at the gold medal. Leading the charge for Greece is veteran Vasileios Spanoulis, who made the all tournament team at the EuroBasket Championship, where he averaged 14.1 points and 4.2 assists. Other key players for Greece include centers Sofoklis Schortsianitis, who averaged 11.9 points at EuroBasket, and Ioannis Bouroussis, who averaged 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. There are questions about whether Dimitris Diamantidis will play because he has dealt with injuries recently. Diamantidis is a long-armed guard who is considered by many to be the best defensive player in Europe.
Hedo Turkoglu (Toronto Raptors) suffered a fractured orbital bone beneath his right eye in a game against the Indiana Pacers, casting doubt on his availability for the World Championship. However, Mehmet Okur (Utah Jazz), who missed EuroBasket with an injury, said he plans to play in Turkey. Also expected to play for host Turkey is 7-foot center Omer Asik, who averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds at EuroBasket, 6-10 forward Hidayet Turkoglu, who averaged 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds, and Ender Arslan, who averaged 9.8 points. Turkey has an outside chance at competing for a medal on its home turf.
Guard Carlos Arroyo led the way as Puerto Rico captured the silver medal at the Americas Championship last year. Arroyo (Chicago Bulls) averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in helping Puerto Rico qualify for the FIBA World Championship. Puerto Rico, which is 10th in the FIBA World Rankings, should also get a spark from guard Larry Ayuso, who averaged 13.4 points at the Americas Championship, and 7-3 center Peter John Ramos, who averaged 10.1 points and 7.8 rebounds for Puerto Rico, which opens the World Championship against Russia in Ankara Aug. 28.
The Chinese simply are not the same team without 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, who broke a bone in his left foot last May during the NBA playoffs. Ming is not expected to be back in time to play for China in the World Championship. To further stifle the Chinese, star Yi Jianlian suffered a knee injury recently while playing for the New Jersey Nets and is questionable for Turkey. However, China should have 7-foot center Zhizhi Wang, who averaged 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds as China took second place at the Asia Championship, as well as 6-11 power forward/center Jianlian Yi, who averaged 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds. The Wang-Yi combination gives China hope for success, but a meal may be too much to ask for without Ming.
Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
The “Elephants,” which is the nickname of the Ivory Coast squad, reached the final of the Africa Championship, where it lost to Angola, 82-72. The appearance in the final was encouraging for Ivory Coast, which is 40th in the FIBA World Rankings. Now the Elephants appear to be on the fast-track as the team goes to the FIBA World Championship for the first time since 1986. Leading the roar for the Elephants is Pape-Philippe Amagou , who averaged 11.4 points at the Africa Championship, Didier Tape, who averaged 10.4 points, and Mohamed Deba Kone, who averaged 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds. Any win in Turkey would be a monumental occasion for the Elephants.
Russia is all about veteran Andrei Kirilenko (Utah Jazz) and a lot of young, up-and-coming players as it enters the FIBA World Championship as a wild-card team. Kirilenko did not play at the EuroBasket Championship last year due to family matters, but is expected to join Russia in Turkey. Probably as a direct result of Kirilenko’s absence, Russia was not one of the top six teams at EuroBasket and had to rely on a wild-card bid for entry. Two other key Russian players, Viktor Khryapa and J.R. Holden, also did not compete in EuroBasket. The trio will give Russia a huge boost in Turkey if they all decide to participate. Six-7 forward Kelly McCarty led the way for Russia at EuroBasket, averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.