2008 Olympic Basketball Tournament Preview
Posted May 2 2008 11:13AM
SECAUCUS, NJ, April 28, 2008 -- The 2008 Olympic Draw took place Saturday in Beijing. Nine out of the 12 qualified teams were split into two groups that will compete in preliminary round play from Aug. 10-18. The three remaining slots in the competition will be determined in a 12-team tournament held in Greece from July 14-20.
Composing Group A and Group B are as follows:
The 12 teams still fighting for an Olympic berth include: Brazil, Canada, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Korea, Lebanon, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Slovenia.
The following is a breakdown of each team, including comments from Simone Sandri of NBA TV's Basketball International:
The Skinny: Argentina comes off a second-place, 6-1 finish at the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament following a disappointing run at the World Championships in which they failed to medal. Argentina expects its NBA weapons, including Ginobili, Nocioni and Delfino to compete. But this is not the same squad that took Gold in the 2004 Olympic Games and silver in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Veterans Juan "Pepe" Sanchez and Walter Hermann (Pistons) have retired from the national team.
Sandri Says: Sanchez in Athens was one of their most important players, and heís always been a glue guy in the locker room, so it's a different team now. They are still extremely strong because of the core players they have, Manu Ginoboli and Luis Scola, thriving under the international game. If thereís a team that can give problems to the U.S., itís definitely Argentina.
The Skinny: Long gone are the days of Andrew Gaze and Shane Heal. Bogut is the only standout on the club, though the Aussies do have solid role players. The 6-6 swingman Mackinnon is a good athlete, Bruton was selected by the Grizzlies in the second round of 1997 NBA Draft and Newley was taken by the Rockets in last year's draft. Smith is a defensive stopper, Bruce an outside scorer and Jawai is reportedly an NBA prospect. Australia has never medaled in the Olympics. They finished 2-3 in preliminary round play at the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and were eliminated by the United States in the Eighth-Finals round.
Sandri Says: Wade Helliwell has been playing for Lottomatica in Italy and they also have a draft prospect. This is not one of the teams that is a favorite to advance.
The Skinny: Iran earned their spot in the Olympic Games by winning the 2007 Asian Championship. The squad finished 2-1 in preliminary round play and then advanced past everyone in the elimination phase, defeating Lebanon 74-69 in the title game behind 31 points from the big man Hadadi. The club's best-known player is the 7-5 Rouzbahani, who garned attention by declaring for the NBA Draft in 2004.
Sandri Says: They are the most unknown team in the tournament at this point. Their players generally don't play abroad at the professional level.
The Skinny: Lithuania is a hard-nosed ball club with plenty of shooters. They could make noise in Beijing - they have NBA experience as well as established talent in the European leagues. Fans will remember Jasikevicius from his days with the Pacers and Warriors, and Macijauskas who spent a year with the Hornets. Kleiza has been coming into his own with the Denver Nuggets this season and Songaila is a dependable low post scorer. Siskauskas is the club's best pure wing, and Javtokas and the Lavrinovic twins aren't afraid to mix it up inside. Lithuania earned the Bronze Medal in each of their first three Olympic appearances (1992, 1996, 2000). They finished fourth in Athens in 2007, and seventh at the 2006 FIBA WBC. The squad earned their Olympic berth with a third-place finish at Eurobasket 2007.
Sandri Says: I think Macijauskas is going to be one of the key guys. Two years ago, he basically lost the whole year (with the Hornets), then came back (to Europe) and got injured, and this season, heís playing well. Heís one of the guys who has a lot of prove. With the national team his play has been very up and down. I think heís arguably one of the best pure shooters in the world. Siskauskas is one of my favorite players in international ball. If Ilgauskas plays, they can even create problems for the U.S. in a one-game situation.
The Skinny: Russia is hoping to ride the wave of momentum they established at Eurobasket last year, defeating reigning world champs and host Spain in the title game off a Holden jumper with 2.1 seconds left. The American Holden became a citizen of Russia after many years playing professionally for CSKA Moscow. He'll be in Beijing along with Kirilenko, the Eurobasket MVP and catalyst of the Russian National Team. The club's medal hopes are tied almost directly to Kirilenko's ability to lead his squad on both ends of the floor. Another player to watch is Ponkrashov, a 6-7 point guard and up-and-coming prospect. NBA fans are familiar with Khryapa, who played with the Bulls this past season, and Monya, a former member of the Kings and Blazers.
Sandri Says: They have one of the best coaches (in David Blatt). Heís a great tactician. Obviously, they have great leadership with Kirilenko, they have a couple of nice young players - Ponkrashov is a draft prospect - and I think the most interesting thing will be to see J.R. Holden playing in the Olympics for Russia. They are a good defensive team, I donít think they match up well against the U.S., but they certainly going to go far.
The Skinny: Angola earned their Olympic berth by taking first place at the 2007 African Championships. Big man Gomes took MVP honors - the 6-8 pivot played in the U.S. at Valparaiso University from 2000-04. Angola finished 0-5 at the 2004 Olympic Games but went 3-2 in preliminary round play at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, beating Panama, New Zealand and Japan in their first three contests. They then delivered scares to Spain and Germany before being knocked out of the tournament by France, 68-62, in the Eighth Finals. Angola is not a favorite to medal in Beijing but they could alter the course of the tournament with an upset.
Sandri Says: Angola is by far the team with the most tradition in Africa. They have good core players who are mostly unknown. The teams in Africa keep getting better and better, but Angola always wins the African Cup at the end of the day.
The Skinny: Yao is not just the most important player in the history of the Chinese National Team, he's also a symbol of the world's most populous nation. With China hosting the Olympics, the country certainly wants to take advantage of the fact that the spotlight will be on it for two weeks in August. That said, it's hard to imagine Yao not playing in the Olympics despite seeing his NBA season come to an end in February because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
"All people in China, have been waiting for that a long time," Yao told NBAE. "I still remember that night in China, live on TV, when the guy said 'Beijing gets the right for Olympic Games 2008. Everybody was so happy.' (They) sing songs, dancing on the street. We can just not miss this. That's like my duty for my country."
Yao spent a week in China recently to recieve treatment using traditional Chinese medicine. Yi, who missed the final eight games of the regular season with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, is also expected to be in uniform in Beijing. China's front line figures to boast both size and scoring in the 7-5 Yao, 6-11 Yi and 7-1 Zhizhi, a former NBA veteran. The team should be in better shape than it was two years ago, when it went 2-4 at the FIBA World Championship and Yao had little offensive help. Look for Zhizhi to help shoulder the load after a productive campaign in the CBA. The club lacks depth on the wing and in the backcourt but does have some notable talent in Liu, amember of the Sacramento Kings' preseason team in 2004, Sun, a second round draft pick of the Lakers, and Chen, a rising young guard.
Sandri Says: They have some nice guards. What they need is guards who can shoot, because if you have guards who can shoot, they have three legitimate 7-footers to play off of. I really feel like they are going to advance to the next round and if they are lucky enough with the draw, get to the top four.
The Skinny: Spain is coming off a second-place finish at Eurobasket 2007 and a Gold Medal at the FIBA World Championship. No squad is in better position to challenge the United States than the Spanish National Team, given its abundance of talent and cohesiveness as a unit. At this point there's more players than roster spots, and players with national team experience are not guaranteed to be making the trip to Beijing. The core of the squad, however, is likely to be composed by Pau Gasol, Navarro, Calderon and Fernandez. The status of Garbajosa, a key piece of the '06 WBC Gold Medal team, is very much in doubt after undergoing an operation in December on his fibula and ankle. Rodriguez will be battling for a roster spot with Rubio, who has been an impact player professionally in Europe over the last two years despite having yet to turn 18. Marc Gasol, who replaced an injured Vazquez in Japan, has developed considerably in the last year and is another bright young prospect. Jimenez and Reyes are dependable role players. Calderon blossomed with the Raptors this season, Fernandez is considered one of the top guards in Europe and Navarro is the X-Factor in any matchup vs. Team USA.
Sandri Says: Spain is the team Iím most looking forward to see. They finally won (in 2006) Ė Spain has always been a talented team that could never win Ė but when the lights were on them, they actually lose in a crazy way at home (in the Euro Championship). But this year, I think they are even stronger than they were in Japan, because Marc Gasol is playing well and finally the world will be able to see Ricky Rubio, the greatest teenager Iíve ever seen.
The Skinny: It's now or never for Team USA to show they are the world's elite national team. It was eight years ago in Australia, at the 2000 Sydney Games, that the senior men's squad last won the gold in an intercontinental competition. The 2006 World Championship was supposed to be the stage that it proved their global supremacy. Instead, a semifinals loss to Greece ended that hope, and the U.S emerged with a Bronze. Team USA regrouped last summer at the FIBA Americas Championship, adding key players such as Kidd and Bryant, who helped turn the offense into a well-oiled engine. The United States averaged 116.7 points in the tournament and won all 10 of their games. Anthony led the team in scoring (21.2 ppg) while James shot 76 percent from the field and 62.2 percent from three as the roster's second-leading scorer.
Sandri Says: This year, thereís no more excuses, because now you have the best players possible, and youíre extremely motivated. The reality is in a one-game situation, anything can happen, but this year, I think they have so many weapons. And what everybody is saying is that itís not even Kobe Ė the best player in the world Ė making the difference, but Jason Kidd running things that is what changes the complexity of the team.