The World Basketball Championship, which has been rechristened as Basketball World Cup in 2014 is merely 10 days away and the World Cup cities in Spain are already bearing a festive and colorful appearances. The event may not generate the same frenzy as did the Brazil’s football World Cup but there are millions of avid basketball followers, who are keenly awaiting the FIBA World Cup with unbridled enthusiasm. In the US, people are hooked to NBA round the year and they would expect Team USA to triumph easily in Spain. However, despite the tag of favorites, the Americans will not find it easy. They have to contend with the vastly improved host nation, whom they defeated in the gold medal match at 2012 London Olympics. Then there will be teams from Argentina, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey and Brazil, which could pose formidable challenge to the Americans. In all, with wide media coverage and full-capacity attendance at the venues of Spain’s picturesque cities, the FIBA World Cup is expected to provide all-round entertainment to the basketball lovers around the world. The 15-day event is split into the Group and Knock-out phases. While the Group phase will be held in the cities of Bilbao, Gran Canaria, Granada and Sevilla during August 30-September 6, 2014, the scene will shift to Spain’s two major cities, Madrid and Barcelona after September 6 until the final game on September 14.
In the international friendlies prior to the World Cup, some teams have shown the kind of potential that should come as a threat to the US and Spanish teams. One example is the highly talented Lithuanian side, which can give sleepless nights to both USA and Spain. Coached by Jonas Kazlauskas, Lithuania have won all their 10 warm-up games including two victories over Finland. They have also won against Australia, Ukraine, New-Zealand, Slovenia and Greece. Spain have also won all their warm-up matches against Canada, Angola, Turkey and the latest on August 17 against Senegal. USA has outplayed Brazil 95-78 in their only preparatory game. They play another warm-up against the Dominican Republic in New York on August 20. Warm-up games provide important feedback to players and national coaches, though such games cannot predict anything with finality.
While no one denies US supremacy in basketball, the team is undergoing some serious problems. There are a few famous stars, who have either refused to participate in the World Cup; or they have injury issues. Frontline US star Paul George has been seriously injured and he is out of contention. Similarly, another star Kevin Durant has announced a last-minute withdrawal to stun the American fans. Durant’s decision was a shocker since it came while he was still practicing with the team in the World Cup training camp in Las Vegas. When quipped on his sudden turnaround, Durant said he needed a break from basketball. In a rather curt reply to a media question, Durant said he preferred a break to chasing another gold medal for America. Incidentally, Durant was in the gold medal winning US team for the 2010 world championship and again in the 2012 London Olympics. US won the world championship for the first time after 1994 with Durant playing a stellar role for which he was named the MVP. US coach Mike Krzyzewski and senior player Anthony Davis feel that USA are still strong and Durant’s absence will not be felt. Davis dominated in the warm-up game against Brazil in Chicago and he has been one of America’s leading players for a while now. Other than Anthony Davis, US team will also have James Harden and Derrick Rose, who has recently returned from knee surgery.
With crisis in their team roster, Americans may have a real threat from Team Spain in the FIBA World Cup. Spain is gifted with enormous experience in international games and their national team is second behind USA, in FIBA rankings. The Spanish lineup is impressive with players like Jose Calderon, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubo. All these stars play in the NBA and they know the strengths and weaknesses of their American counterparts. Spain’s one solid advantage is the height of their players with both Gasol brothers standing above 7 feet each. Spain is also adept in power forward and center rotation and the most important thing is that the Spain binds well as team. The Americans, on the other hand, rely more on individual brilliance. Also as the World Cup is being staged on their home soil, Spain will have the crowds rooting for them to give an additional boost.
The best way for basketball lovers would be to discount any team because a lot can happen during the Group Phase. Every participating nation will try to do their best through their key players. Some of the main players who will be keenly watched are; Carlos Morais of Angola; Pablo Prigioni of Argentina; Matthew Dellavedova of Australia; Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia; Nicolas Batum of France; Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece; Francisco Garcia of the Dominican Republic; Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania; Gorgui Dieng of Senegal; Ricky Rubio of Spain; Enes Kanter of Turkey and Derrick Rose of the USA.