A host of World competitions in several sports disciplines at the senior level have taken place including the Cricket World Cup FINA World Championship and Net Ball World Cup. The Rugby World Cup is due to commence next month but the FIBA Basketball World Cup is next on the bill.
This year’s edition of the tournament once known as the FIBA World Championship tips off on August 31 and ends on September 15 with a record number of teams due to compete. 32 nations from all corners of the globe will converge in China for the tournament with the United States of America checking in as back to back Champions.
Also a record number of African nations will feature in the World Cup; for the first time ever, five teams from the continent qualified to the tournament. Reigning African champions Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola came out on top in the qualifiers and have a big opportunity to have Africa represented beyond the earlier rounds.
No team from Africa has made it to the quarterfinals and with more slots than ever, this is the right time to shatter that mould. In the Women’s division, Nigeria did that a year ago in Spain before falling to eventual champions USA in the quarterfinal matchup.
Ghana didn’t make it to the World Cup after failing to compete in the qualifiers yet again but Awudu Abass-born to a Ghanaian father in Italy-has the chance to take Ghana to China should he make the final roster for Italy. The big announcement is slated for Thursday, August 29. In the immediate aftermath of the draw for the World Cup, Group H was billed as the “Group of Death” considering its wealth of top nations.
In Canada, Australia and Lithuania, three of the world’s biggest “next big contenders” were captured alongside Senegal whose powerful and uptempo style of play made them a tough opposition to play. The major reason behind Group H’s vaunted status ahead of the games was down to the large number of NBA talent on the respective rosters.
Unlike most sports disciplines where the world governing body outshines and outmuscles every association, the NBA rules basketball. Hate it or like it, it is the world’s most powerful institution in the sport and the presence of players from the league makes or breaks a competition’s luster.
Canada has so many NBA players to fill out the FIBA approved 12 man roster for the World Cup and several players won’t event make it. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Jamaal Murray and Tristan Thompson lead the list. Lithuania has Domantas Sabonis of Indiana Pacers and Jonas Valanciunas of Memphis Grizzlies while Senegal has Luol Dieng of Minnesota Timberwolves and Tacko Fall of Boston Celtics. Australia is in the same boat as Canada as the Asian country has a strong contingent in the NBA led by Philadelphia Sixers Ben Simmons, Detroit Pistons Thon Maker and Patty Mills of San Antonio Spurs.
However, with the exception of Lithuania who has its NBA players Valanciunas and Sabonis on the roster for China, the other countries big names have declined to play at the World Cup. Following a series of withdrawals, the only big names for Canada are Khem Birch of Orlando Magic and Cory Joseph of Indiana Pacers. Australia has missed out on Simmons, Dante Exum and Jonah Bolden while Senegal has no Dieng and Fall on its roster. What is left of Group H is a long list of very good players who are not household names the average basketball fan will identify.
Prior to the mass withdrawals, the upcoming World Cup had seven competitive Groups but one standout Group (H) and was a major selling point. However, the absences of guys like Simmons, Wiggins and Murray have watered down the clout of the Group to the level of the remaining groups that have two very strong contenders to qualify to the next stage of the competition.
China and Venezuela are likely to progress from Group A while Russia and Argentina, Spain and Puerto Rico, Italy and Serbia, USA and Turkey, Brazil and Greece and France and Germany are likely to progress from Groups B,C,D, E,F and G respectively.
Mass withdrawal of players playing in the world’s biggest basketball league has taken a toll on the World Cup but its biggest casualty is the one time heralded Group of Death that failed to rise above the others.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter