[UPDATE: Check out this link for a solid preview of the tournament and the Euroleague players expected to contribute to their countries. As a side note my Cameroon upset special looks worse and worse. On the bright side Korea is as big a mystery to others as it is to me.]
As I mentioned in a previous post I'm diving into the international basketball scene. And with the 2008 FIBA Men's Qualifying Tournament kicking off later today in Greece, now is as good a time as any. Hat tip to FIBA.com for the world rankings and numerous other contributions to my crash course in international basketball. Of the 12 teams involved only Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Puerto Rico don't play until Tuesday. More on them tomorrow. In the meantime let's check out the first four games.
Game One Preview
World Rank: 6
Player to Watch: Dimitris Diamantidis - DraftExpress describes him as an unselfish 6'5 point guard with terrific court vision. More importantly Diamantidis is highly regarded for his defensive play, which is aided by his excellent lateral quickness and long arms. The latter of which is most likely responsible for his nickname - Octopus Man. Furthermore, his euroleague.net player profile lists his numerous individual awards - 2007 Euroleague Final MVP, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Euroleague Best Defender, 2006-07 All-Euroleague First Team, amongst others. As a side note Octopus Man is one of my favorite nicknames of all time.
Recent News: Theo Papaloukas answered some questions about the Greek squad as it prepared for the qualifying tournament. You can check out the interview here. I should note that Papaloukas is a major player on the Greek basketball scene and would have been my "player to watch" if people called him Octopus Man. Alas.
World Rank: 23
Player to Watch: It was more difficult to find information on players from Lebanon as sites like this were not as informative as euroleague.net. So I went with Rony Fahed because I enjoyed his highlights. He appears to be a gunner.
Recent News: As of last week Lebanon was without one of its best players - Joseph Vogel. On top of that Fadi El Khatib is battling a hand injury.
Prediction: From what I've read the Greek squad is a nice mix of youth and experience. Factor in good health and host country status and I'd be shocked if Greece lost.
Game Two Preview
New Zealand (Roster)
World Rank: 13
Player to Watch: Nick Horvath jumped out at me because he was born in Minnesota and played at Duke. However, I'll talk more about him in a future post. Ultimately I went with Craig Bradshaw for several reasons:
1. Though he was born in New Zealand, Bradshaw played his college ball for Winthrop.
2. In his senior year at Winthrop Bradshaw helped the Eagles win their first NCAA tournament game in school history.
3. He struggled mightily at Portsmouth and the Orlando Summer League.
4. Currently Bradshaw plays for Efes Pilsen (Turkey). I'm familiar with the squad because David Blatt (remember when I argued used to coach it. You may recall that I called for the Celtics to hire Blatt last off season. That's right around the time I was pushing for Corey Brewer as well. Yikes. Also Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur came from that Efes Pilsen system. Long story short of New Zealand's current national team members 2 don't play on clubs, 1 plays in Australia, and 8 play in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Bradshaw plays on a team that is simultaneously the best team in the Turkish Basketball and a force at times in the Euroleague.
Interesting Fact: Apparently the New Zealanders are called the Tall Blacks. Turns out they're nowhere near as intimidating as the All Blacks.
Recent News: New Zealand recently defeated Lebanon in the Jack Donohue International Classic in Canada. That may say more about Lebanon and its current injury concerns than it does about the Tall Blacks. Still it does provide momentum heading into the qualifying tournament.
Cape Verde (Roster)
World Rank: 56
Player to Watch: Cape Verde currently has 5 players - Tony Barros, Pedro Cipriano, Josh Gomes, Marques Houtman, and Avey Oliver - born in the USA. And possibly more as the roster does not reveal the birthplace of several players. And while I'm intrigued by Fidel Teixeira Barbosa Mendoca, I'm going with Barros because he was born in Boston (Dorchester), MA and attended UMass Boston. It wasn't that long ago that he was lighting up the Little East Conference.
Recent News: It turns out that Barros was an excellent choice for "player to watch". Just ask Egypt.
Interesting Fact: Cape Verde shares its current world rank (56) with Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Prediction: As much as I'd like to see Barros and company prevail, I don't think they have what it takes to knock off New Zealand. As far as I can tell the Tall Blacks are further along in their development on the international scene in terms of experience and success.
Game Three Preview
World Rank: 25
Player to Watch: Tough call. 11 of the 12 players were born on the Korean peninsula (more on this later). Meanwhile, 10 of the players currently compete in the Korean basketball league. I'd read a blurb about what Sung-Min Moon would bring to the team and then he did not make it. I was drawn to Hee-Jung Joo because he's the oldest player on the team. Turns out he's the "Korean Jason Kidd" and the team captain on top of that.
Recent News: I couldn't find anything.
Interesting Fact: As you may have noticed the team represents Korea and not South Korea. This is something I've noticed when talking to exchange students from South Korea. They always say they were born in Korea. Of course I've never met someone from North Korea, for obvious reasons.
World Rank: 19
Player to Watch: Obviously Rasho Nesterovic stands out because of his NBA experience. But I'm going with Sani Becirovic. Becirovic currently plays for Panathinaikos Athens. Anytime I can work in a Dino Radja (he played there) connection, I'm game. As I like to say - You can’t stop Dino Radja. You can only hope a knee injury, the 96/97 Celtics, specifically Todd Day, and Rick Pitino destroy his will to be in America. Furthermore, Becirovic had a sporadic blogging career, similar to Brian Scalabrine's. On top of all that Becirovic was drafted by the Nuggets (46th in 2003) and despite some knee injuries, he's a player.
Recent News: Slovenia has to feel good about recent victories over New Zealand, Iran, and a Puerto Rican team that got a boost from Carlos Arroyo. That's a good way to head into the qualifying tournament.
Prediction: Slovenia earns the W. If you haven't noticed I've picked the higher ranked seed each time. Although I like to think I have other reasons.
Game Four Preview
World Rank: 20
Player to Watch: Remember when I argued for the C's to draft Ante Tomic (scroll down) so that I could call him the Croatian Sensation. Well given that he went 14 spots lower and is not on the Croatian national team tells you once again how excellent my analysis is. Meanwhile, for once I'm going to ignore my "look for a Dino Radja connection" approach. So it's not Nikola Prkacin. In the end I'm going with Stanko Barac the somewhat mysterious big man, with the nice mid range shot, the Heat drafted in 2007. As a side note I'm convinced there's no way he slips out of the first round in 2002.
Recent News: You want an example of team that isn't doing incredibly well at this point. How about Croatia? That's not the type of thing you want to read in Zagreb.
Interesting fact: The fact that I'm a huge geek comes through a lot. My fascination with everything related to the former Yugoslavia supports that.
World Rank: 50
Player to Watch: Cameroon has a handful of guys - Alfred Aboya (UCLA), Parfait Bitee (URI), Patrick Bouli (Manhattan College), Frank Ndongo (Virginia Commonwealth University, Alexis Wangmene (University of Texas) - that played US college ball recently. And I'm a Aboya fan. But I'm just glad to see Ruben Boumtje Boumtje back on the scene. Beyond having one of the all time great names and falling behind only Ewing, Mourning, and Mutombo on Georgetown's blocked shot list Boumtje Boumtje was part of the infamous trade that brought Darius Miles to Portland. And he's also a nice reminder that Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells can be grade A jerks.
Recent News: Another one of my UCLA favorites - Luc Mbah a Moute - is currently not on Cameroon's roster and apparently did not get Milwaukee's permission to play.
Prediction: The smart money is on Croatia, especially given Mbah a Moute's absence. But I'm going to ignore the rankings and previous international success and pick Cameroon in an upset. As a side note I don't think this will happen, even with Croatia's recent struggles with injuries and opponents.