Spain is the defending FIBA World Champion after taking the gold medal in Japan in 2006, and will go to Turkey ranked No. 3 in the FIBA World Rankings. Spain reached the gold-medal game of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only to lose to the United States, 118-107. Spain is loaded with talent, and boasts the one team that can at least come close to the United States in that department. When Spain won the 2006 FIBA World Championship, center Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers) led the charge. Four years later, it’s Gasol again. Gasol averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the EuroBasket Championship. Other key players for Spain include guard Rudy Fernandez, who averaged points at EuroBasket and Juan-Carlos Navarro (Memphis Grizzlies), who averaged 13.2 points. Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio also could play big roles for Spain as it tries to repeat as FIBA World Champions. Spain opens against France in Izmir when the World Championship begins Aug. 28.
All the news seems to be bad for France. First, Nicolas Batum (Portland Trail Blazers) had surgery to repair torn labrum in his right shoulder and is questionable for Turkey. Batum was one of France’s best players when it took fifth place at EuroBasket last year. In addition, Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls) recently suffered a foot injury, making his status uncertain for Turkey. To make matters worse, Tony Parker, who averaged 17.8 points and 4.4 assists at EuroBasket, has expressed a desire to rest this summer. So France, which is 15th in the FIBA World Rankings, potentially could have a rough time in Turkey.
Lithuania received one of the four wild-card entries into the FIBA World Championship after it made a quick exit in the qualifying round at EuroBasket. They have a new coach in Kestutis Kemzura, who coached Latvia at EuroBasket before applying for the Lithuania job. Kemzura assembled a staff of assistant coaches, and the group will coach the squad in Turkey. Kemzura has some talent to work with. Lithuania, which is sixth in the FIBA World Rankings, is led by 6-9 center Marijonas Petravicius, who averaged 12.8 points at EuroBasket, and 6-7 forward Simas Jasaitis, who averaged 12.5 points.
New Zealand will go as far as Kirk Penney will take them. The 6-5 guard averaged 23.5 points, seven assists and 6.5 rebounds in two games against Australia in the Oceania Championship last year. Penny is a big reason why New Zealand is 13th in the FIBA World Rankings. Penney will be looking for help from Mika Vukona, who averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds in the Oceania Championship, and Lindsay Tait, who averaged 12 points and four assists. New Zealand also could get a boost from veteran scorer Phill Jones, who in considering coming out of international retirement.
Canada, 19th in the FIBA World Rankings, reached a semifinal of the Americas Championship, where it lost to Brazil, 73-65. But it was one of four teams in the tournament to qualify for Turkey. Canada could be represented in Turkey by two Chicago Bulls, Joel Anthony and Jamal Magloire. Anthony is committed, and he is trying to talk Magloire into competing. Other key players for Canada include Carl English, who averaged 12.5 points and 2.4 assists at the Americas Championship, and guard Andy Rautins, who averaged 9.5 points and three assists.
Lebanon made it to the bronze medal game of the Asia Championship, only to lose to Jordan, 80-66, to get edged out of an automatic berth into the FIBA World Championship. But Lebanon, 24th in the World Rankings, earned a wild-card berth. Leading the way for Lebanon is Jackson Brett Vroman, who averaged 17.1 points and 8.4 rebounds in the Asia Championship. Other key players for Lebanon include Matthew Wayne Freije, who averaged 15.7 points, and Fadi El Khatib, who averaged 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Lebanon opens against Canada in Izmir when the World Championship opens Aug. 28.