Aminu, Nurkić Return To Portland After A Weekend Of FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

by Casey Holdahl
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Over the last week, both Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkić competed for their respective national teams in regional qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which is scheduled to be held a little under a year from now in China. For Aminu, it was a chance to help continue Nigeria's run as the team to beat in Africa. As for Nurkić, it was a reintroduction to playing for a Bosnia and Herzegovina team in the fledgling stage of building a program capable of competing among the elite in Europe. Here's how it went for both players...

• While Nigeria probably could have managed to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup without Al-Farouq Aminu's services in the latest round of qualifiers -- they entered last weekend's games with a 6-0 record in group play -- the combination of playing three games in three days in Nigeria's capital of Lagos likely tipped the scales in favor of the 6-9 forward joining up with the national team last week.

And with both Aminus -- Al-Farouq's brother, Alade, also plays for Nigeria -- joining the likes of Ike Diogu, Ben Uzoh and Ikenna Iroebgu, Nigeria won all three of their contests last weekend, and thus, have already qualified for the 2019 FIBA World Cup even with another round of qualifiers yet to be played in February.

The weekend started with what would be the only close game of Nigeria's three-game run, an 84-73 victory versus Cote d'Ivoire Friday night at the National Stadium in Lagos. Al-Farouq started, as he did in all three contests, and finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 24 minutes. Aminu also turned the ball over five times, which isn't exactly surprising considering Friday's game was his first with the Nigerian team since the 2016 Summer Olympics.

After a relative close call versus Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria got back to their dominant ways by beating Central African Republic 114-69 Saturday night in Lagos. After shaking of the rust versus Cote d'Ivoire, Al-Farouq turned in a yeoman performance versus Central African Republic, going 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-4 from three for 12 points to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and three steals while committing no turnovers in just over 20 minutes. The win improved Nigeria's record in the qualifiers to 7-0, which punched Nigeria's ticket to China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup before their game versus Senegal on Sunday.

But even with a spot in the World Cup assured, Nigeria still had something to play for versus Senegal, as Tunisia, the team Nigeria defeated in 2016 to claim their first AfroBasket title, also sits undefeated in the other African qualifier group. In order to keep pace in the race for the best draw, Nigeria went out and easily dispatched Senegal 89-61 Sunday night. Though he probably didn't need to play 23 minutes to preserve Nigeria's undefeated record, Al-Farouq did so anyway and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 shooting from three, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.

While Al-Farouq won't participate in the final round of African qualifiers in February -- those games take place during the NBA season and Nigeria is already qualified anyway -- one assumes he will join the team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.

• Unfortunately for Jusuf Nurkić, his two-game stint with Bosnia and Herzegovina did not go as well as Aminu's return to international competition. While Nurkić's play was a bright spot, his effort alone was not enough to save his homeland from going winless in games versus Finland and Czech Republic over the last week.

Thursday's game versus Finland in Group K action was Nurkić to playing for Bosnia and Herzegovina, known internationally (and for the rest of this blog post) as "BIH," after taking off a few cycles for varying reasons. Nurkić, much like Aminu, struggled a bit getting accustomed to the peculiarities of international play, though he still turned in the best performance by far on BIH's side, going 5-of-9 from the field for 20 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in just under 21 minutes. But unlike Aminu, Nurkić's teammates weren't able to make the necessary plays to avoid a 84-81 loss to Finland, a team that went 13-of-33 from three in the victory.

After falling behind to FInland by 24 point in their previous contest, BIH gave the Czechs all they could handle Sunday night in Sarajevo. Nurkić put up a double-double of 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 15 rebounds to go with three blocks, three steals and two assists in just under 30 minutes, though it wasn't enough to save BIH from an 85-80 loss. Once again, three-point defense as an issue for BIH, with the Czech Republic, a team that qualified for the 2019 FIBA World Cup with the win, shooting 7-of-14 from behind the line.

BIH now sits in last place in Group K with a 2-6 record with four qualifiers to play over the next year. The good news is that 12 of the 24 teams in the Europe qualify for the World Cup, but after going winless with Nurkić on the team, it hard to imagine they'll be able to qualify without him, as they'll have to do with the next round of qualifiers scheduled for November and February.

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