Aminu, Nurkić Head Overseas For FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

by Casey Holdahl
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With training camp scheduled to start on September 25, players are preparing for the upcoming season in all sorts of ways, from working out among teammates to participating in runs featuring some of the best players in the league. There's also another option: participating in international competitions, which is a path that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkić will take as they get ready for Portland's 2018-19 regular season.

With qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 (formerly known as the FIBA World Championships) scheduled for later this month, Aminu will once again join up with the Nigerian National Team competing in the FIBA African qualifiers, while Jusuf Nurkić has already started training with Bosnia and Herzegovina for the FIBA Europe qualifiers. 

Aminu will be suiting up for Nigeria for the first time since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, which they qualified for after winning their first FIBA AfroBasket title in 2015. But even in Aminu's absence, Nigeria is a perfect 6-0 in group play and are one of the favorites to finish in the Top 3 in the upcoming qualifiers, which assures a trip to the World Championship in China next year.

Considering Nigeria has won their previous six games by an average of 36.3 points even without Aminu, one assumes they could manage to advance without his assistance, but with this round of qualifiers being held at the National Stadium in Nigeria, Aminu told KweséESPN that "I realized there was a need for me to play."

Nigeria will play Cote d’Ivoire on September 14, Central African Republic on September 15 and Senegal on September 16. The final three-game qualifying stage will be held in February.

The situation is markedly different for Jusuf Nurkić and his fellow Bosnian and Herzegovinans. BIH, which is the way FIBA refers to Nurkić's homeland, currently sit in last place in Group K with a 2-4 record. But it’s not an especially strong group — only one team in the group, France, is among the elite of European basketball — and there are still three qualifier windows to go, so one would assuming having Nurkić available will certainly improve their chances.

"I am aware that we are behind our main rivals to start the second round," Nurkić told Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz. "But these two games could be the start of something good for us. A couple of wins, and we are back in contention for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019."

It also helps that 12 teams, the top three from four groups, advance from Europe to the FIBA Basketball World Cup. So even though they're in last place, getting into the top three in a group comprised of France, the Czech Republic, Russia, Finland, and Bulgaria would seem to be a real possibility, especially if Nurkić plays well in their next three games.

Bosnia and Herzegovina will play Finland in Espoo on September 13 and the Czech Republic in Sarajevo on September 16.