Originally posted on Next Impulse Sports  |  Last updated 7/3/14
Hey, America, you’re probably still a little bummed out over that whole losing-to-Belgium-in-the-World Cup thing. Wanna know what will make you feel better? (Well, aside from a good old fashioned 4th of July celebration) Focusing on a sport we dominate in. Specifically: basketball. That’s right, the world’s second-most popular sport has its own World Cup later this summer, and Team USA is primed to ****. ****. Up…again…hopefully. And, yeah, I know, I’m probably about two months early on this, but who cares. Think of it as a coping mechanism. First, let’s get you up to speed on this so-called “World Cup”. For many years (translation: forever), the FIBA World Championship has played second fiddle to the FIFA World Cup. It took place in the same years, but later in the summer, and with approximately 10,000,000,000% less fanfare. Ironically, for many years, the USA Men’s Basketball Team played second — or third, or fourth…or fifth…or sixth — fiddle to the world in said World Championships (and one Olympics). After Dream Team II romped through the 1994 tourney, the United States suffered through a team of lockout misfits (1998), an “oh ****, this is really happening” 6th place finish (2002), and an embarrassing semifinal loss to Greece in 2006 that left everyone thinking aloud “seriously, nobody knows how to defend a pick and roll???” (Note: if you ever want a self-induced aneurysm, watch that Greece game. I dare you.) The loss to Greece — coupled with losses to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina in the 2004 Olympics — changed international basketball history. Everyone involved with USA Basketball got serious, and it’s been gold medal glory ever since. The “Redeem Team” plowed through FIBA Americas in 2007, then destroyed everyone but Spain in the 2008 Olympics. (If you have two hours, watch that USA-Spain game from 2008. You won’t regret it. Especially the fourth quarter, when a prime Kobe Bryant went into God Mode.) The 2010 World Championship was more of the same, as Kevin Durant came into his own, and led a team full of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Kevin Love and a pre-career derailment Lamar Odom. They beat the **** out of everyone (except for one game — more on that later). Spain had half of the Gasol brothers, and flamed out before the medal round. Turkey, the host country, went on a tear, thanks to home court advantage. But, even in front of a home crowd for the final, they stood no chance against the United States’ barrage. As for this year’s Cup, it will be the last non-Olympic worldwide tourney for the next five years, as FIBA has decided to switch to a different four-year schedule, starting in 2019. The setup is similar to the FIFA World Cup, and begins with pool play (each of the four pools has six teams). Team USA is in Group C, aka “Definitely NOT the Group of Death”. If there was a Group of Death, it’d be Group A, which has Spain, Brazil and France. Although, Tony Parker isn’t playing, so it’s not quite as deadly as once thought. So, who are we playing? And who might we play in the knockout stages? Glad you asked! We’ll start with pool play: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Coach: Orlando Antigua (sadly, John Calipari — yes, that John Calipari — and his stone washed jeans are no longer the head coach) NBA players of note: Al Horford, Francisco Garcia What’s their deal: First of all, Dominican Republic holds the honor of being the only team I ever saw in person play against the official United States Men’s Team. I hope you’re sitting down: the game was a blowout. I like Al Horford — except he’s not playing — and their team doesn’t suck as much as it used to thanks to Calipari turning the program around. They just barely missed out on making the Olympics in 2012, losing to Nigeria in qualifying. But the joke was on Nigeria because this happened. Most recent meeting: 113-59 (exhibition game) TURKEY Coach: Ergin Ataman NBA players of note: Omer Asik, Enes Kanter, Ersan Ilyasova, Semih Erdan, What’s their deal: Turkey was the story of the 2010 tournament. They were the host country, and played to their home crowd well. They made it all the way to the final game in Istanbul, where they ran into the Kevin Durant buzz saw. Although, they probably deserved it after suspect officiating in a semifinal nail biter against Serbia allowed them to advance. Most recent meeting: 81-64 (2010 World Championship — Final) FINLAND Coach: Henrik Dettmann NBA players of note: None. However, they do have a guy named Teemu, and that reminds me of a recently retired hockey player. What’s their deal: I had no idea Finland even had a team, mainly because this is their first time in the World Cup (they were selected as a wild card over Russia and Canada). Their best Olympic finish was ninth place in 1952, and their best EuroBasket finish was sixth place in 1967. Thus, I don’t have much to say about them other than it never stops being funny when you look at a foreign team’s roster with guys named Teemu, Tuukaa, Hanno, Mikko, and then you run across a Gerald Lee, Jr. Most recent meeting: 77-51 (1964 Olympics — Prelims) NEW ZEALAND Coach: Nenad Vucinic NBA players of note: None. Although, shout out to Thomas Abercrombie (who I only know of because he played, like, one season at Washington State University). What’s their deal: Here’s a fun fact: their team nickname is “Tall Blacks”. And I’m not kidding. Could you imagine if Team USA was nicknamed “Tall Blacks”? Al Sharpton’s head might actually explode. Most recent meeting: 102-56 (2000 Olympics — Prelims) UKRAINE Coach: Mike Fratello (THE CZAR!!!) NBA players of note: Slava Kravtsov (the lone NBA player on the roster, and even then, you’d probably have to be a diehard Phoenix Suns fan to know the name) What’s their deal: Another team I know nothing about other than that Fratello became head coach in 2011, and took them from a 17th place at 2011 EuroBasket to 6th place last summer. This is their first trip to the FIBA World Cup. They won’t present much of a challenge in this tournament, but they’re a good story. Most recent meeting: Never played (unless there’s some exhibition I don’t know about) Like I said, not a whole lot of scary competition in pool play. But what about the teams that could/will give Team USA a scare in the knockout rounds? Here’s a quick rundown, in order of FIBA rankings. BELGIUM Coach: Eddy Casteels NBA players of note: None What’s their deal: Just kidding! Belgium isn’t in this World Cup, because **** Belgium, right? In all seriousness, it’s because they are really, really terrible. In fact, if Team USA ever played them, the final score would probably be 497-12. Actually, let’s make this happen. It’d help wash the stink off that soccer game. Here are two fun facts about the Belgian national team: their best Olympic finish was 11th place (1948) and they finished 23rd (out of 24 teams) at the 2011 EuroBasket tournament. Hey, at least we don’t suck at soccer as much as they suck at basketball. Anyway, back to the real teams… SPAIN Coach: Juan Antonio Orenga NBA players of note: Almost everybody — Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Juan-Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez (just kidding, that whiny Spaniard ditched the NBA) What’s their deal: Spain is, by far, the toughest competition for Team USA. They also have a decade of bitterness towards us, as we’ve ousted them in three consecutive Olympics. First, the quarterfinals in Athens, which Spain entered having gone undefeated in pool play. Then, two hold-onto-your-butts Olympic gold medal games that weren’t decided until the final minute. For as much trouble as Spain has given Team USA over the years, they still haven’t beaten them. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Their potential giant lineup of both Gasols, Ibaka, Fernandez and Rubio could do some damage even in the NBA (good thing we have an NBA-caliber lineup to match!). The U.S. has also shown it has problems with Spain’s size. As long as one Gasol doesn’t sit out an entire half because of foul trouble — which happened in London — it could be a rough go. Making matters worse is this tournament is being played in Spain. The final is in Madrid. If the World Cup comes down to these two teams, the fans at that game will make Oklahoma City look like the crowd at a high school game. We saw what a home crowd did for Turkey in 2010. Now, imagine a much better team, seeking revenge for the last two Olympics. I was going to create a Worry Factor Scale for this piece, but I think only Spain would actually register on it. Unfortunately, they’d register about a 9.8. Whatever happens, at least we’re not as openly racist as them! Most recent meeting: 107-100 (2012 Olympics — Final) ARGENTINA Coach: Julio Lamas (no relation to Lorenzo…that we know of) NBA players of note: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Delfino What’s their deal: This is a legacy selection, because Argentina has been on a noticeable decline over the last six years (but are still ranked 3rd in FIBA because of the rating system). They achieved their greatest success ten years ago at the Athens Olympics, but age has taken its toll on the team. They finished fourth in London, and fifth in Turkey. They did win the 2012 South American Championship, for what it’s worth. They’re not bad, they just aren’t nearly as good as they used to be. Also, Ginobili has now been ruled out, so, um, good luck. Most recent meeting: 109-83 (2012 Olympics – Semifinal) LITHUANIA Coach: Jonas Kazlauskas NBA players of note: Jonas Valanciunas, Linus Kleiza, Donatas Motiejunas What’s their deal: Lithuania is another one of those big European teams that knows exactly how to get under the Americans’ skin. They slow the game down and force you to play at their tempo. This reminds me: something that will drive you crazy about FIBA are the fouls to prevent U.S. fast breaks. Nobody can keep up with the Americans, so teams physically stop them from running. Also, there’s no such thing as clear path fouls, and you can almost literally tackle players. It gets old quick. In addition to an upset in the Athens Olympics (Team USA did win the bronze medal game rematch), Lithuania also caught Team USA napping in London during pool play, after the Americans had destroyed Nigeria. The five-point margin in 2012 probably won’t happen again, but they’ve shown over the last eight years to be a tough out. Most recent meeting: 99-94 (2012 Olympics — Prelims) GREECE Coach: Fotios Katsikaris NBA players of note: Kostas Koufos, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nick Calathes What’s their deal: If you thought the Greek Freak’s name was impossible to pronounce/spell, get a load of some of the other guys: Loukas Mavrokefalidis, Kostas Papanikolaou, Giannis Papapetrou. That’s a lotta letters. I briefly mentioned the 2006 game earlier, but it’s worth going into more detail. Greece holds the honor of being the last team to beat Team USA, in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship. I remember it well. The tournament was played in Japan, and the game aired at midnight in the U.S. I went to a friend’s house, and we proceeded to watch a bunch of guys named Sofoklis — I swear half of them were named Sofoklis — rip Team USA apart with pick and roll after pick and roll. While the three Olympic losses in 2004 were bad, they made sense due to a poorly constructed roster. This was just a total embarrassment. 2006 was supposed to be the answer to woeful performances in 2002 and 2004 (really, 2000 through 2004 — people forget how close they were to not playing for gold in Sydney). It was the first team in the Colangelo/Krzyzewski era. Then, that semifinal game showed how far the program had truly fallen. They were in complete disarray, and it showed. So, congratulations, Greece! You’re partially responsible for getting USA Basketball whipped into shape. The world does not thank you! Most recent meeting: 92-69 (2008 Olympics – Prelims) FRANCE Coach: Vincent Collet NBA players of note: Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, Alexis Ajinca, Nando De Colo, Evan Fournier, Kevin Seraphin What’s their deal: The good news for France is that they won the 2013 EuroBasket tournament, which is a big accomplishment for them. The bad news: Tony Parker played a big role, and he’s sitting out this summer. Note to anyone playing France: cover your nuts. You never know when Nic Batum might sail in for a cheap shot. Just ask Juan-Carlos Navarro. Most recent meeting: 98-71 (2012 Olympics — Prelims) BRAZIL Coach: Ruben Magnano NBA players of note: Nene, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa What’s their deal: They gave Team USA a scare in pool play in 2010, a 70-68 stinker that saw Brazil miss a potential game-tying shot, followed by two missed free throws, and another miss at the rim at the buzzer. Also, Nene is annoying to play against when he gives a ****. Combine him with a much-improved Tiago Splitter, and they could cause problems down low. Most recent meeting:  70-68 (2010 World Championship — Prelims) Okay, you may be asking “So, what happens when we win? Because we’re winning, right? RIGHT???” In addition to shiny gold medals, a win in the World Cup grants an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, which means Team USA wouldn’t have to play an extra qualifying tournament in 2015 — FIBA Americas. Should Team USA not win gold in Spain, then they’d have to participate in that off-year tournament, which, believe me, nobody wants to do. They had to do it in 2007 to qualify for Beijing. The good news is FIBA Americas is just that: only North and South America participate. Also, both the winner and the runner-up qualify for the Olympics (it makes for a very unexciting final game, sometimes). And, if you don’t make the Olympics in that tournament, there’s yet another qualifying tournament between all the teams that blew it earlier. In other words, it’s basically impossible for Team USA to not make the 2016 Olympics. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Take care of business in Spain, and we can all take next summer off. Article found on: Next Impulse Sports
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