Cory Joseph, Domantas Sabonis
@coryjoseph/@dsabonis11 on Instagram

Pacers Players Helping Countries in World Cup Qualifying

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Over the past few weeks, the FIFA World Cup has enraptured soccer fans across the globe. But over the past week, a trio of Pacers players have been trying to help their home countries qualify for a different World Cup.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Cory Joseph, and Domantas Sabonis all recently joined their respective national teams for qualification games for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, a 32-country world championship that will take place next summer in China.

The first round of qualifying began last November and continued with a pair of games in late February. Due to the NBA season, Pacers players were unable to participate in those games, but they joined their national teams last month for the conclusion of the first round.

For European qualifying, 32 countries were divided into eight groups of four, with the top three teams in each group advancing to the second round of qualifying. Both Croatia and Lithuania advanced to the second round, thanks in large part to the contributions of Bogdanovic and Sabonis, respectively.

Croatia got off to a near-disastrous start in qualification, dropping its first three games before picking up its first win on Feb. 26. That essentially meant that the Croatians needed to win both of their last two qualifying games last week to advance to the second round.

Fortunately for Croatia, the country was able to add a number of NBA players for those final two games, including Bogdanovic.

On Thursday, the Pacers forward scored a team-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists in a 78-72 win over Italy. Bogdanovic went 5-for-12 from the field and 15-for-17 from the free throw line in the victory.

Then on Sunday, Bogdanovic had eight points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals as Croatia cruised to a 90-63 win over Romania. Fellow NBA players Dario Saric and Ivica Zubac combined for 42 points and 21 rebounds in the win.

Qualification was a little easier for Lithuania, which won all six of its games in Group C to easily advance to the second round. Sabonis joined the team for their last two wins.

Sabonis had a team-high 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and seven rebounds in a 79-61 win over Poland on Thursday. Then on Sunday, the 22-year-old tallied 12 points, eight rebounds, and three assists in a 73-50 win over Hungary.

The second round of European qualifying will feature four groups of six teams. Each country will play 10 games (a home and road game against each other country in its group), with the top three teams in each group qualifying for the World Cup.

Interestingly, Croatia and Lithuania will be in the same group in the second round and will face each other on Sept. 14. Bogdanovic and Sabonis could well suit up for that one and for a subsequent qualifier on Sept. 17. But they will have to miss the remaining eight qualification games, as those all fall during the 2018-19 NBA season.

In the Americas qualifying process, 16 teams from North, Central, and South America were divided into four groups of four teams for the first round of qualifying, with the top three teams in each group advancing to the second round.

Canada finished in first place in Group D at 5-1, securing a spot in the second round of qualifying.

Joseph joined Canada for its game against the Dominican Republic on Friday. The Pacers point guard tallied 11 points, eight assists, three rebounds, and two steals in a 97-61 victory.

Joseph followed up that performance with 11 points, six rebounds, and six assists in a 99-69 win over the Virgin Islands.

For the second round of qualifying, the remaining 12 Americas countries will be divided into two groups of six teams and play 10 round-robin group games. The top three teams in each group and the better of the two fourth-place teams will qualify for the FIBA World Cup.

The United States has elected to use a team of G League players throughout the qualification process. One of those players is Mad Ants veteran Trey McKinney Jones, who signed a 10-day contract with the Pacers last season.

McKinney Jones had four points, five rebounds, and two assists in a 78-70 loss in Mexico on Thursday. He followed that performance up with 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists in a 93-62 win over Cuba on Sunday.

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