FIBA World Cup is USA’s For the Taking

While the FIFA World Cup generated much excitement and buzz in June, the lesser-known Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) World Cup started on August 30 in Spain. The FIBA World Cup is an international basketball competition formerly known as the FIBA World Championship. Held every four years in various countries, the event helps bridge the four-year gap between the Summer Olympics. This will be the inaugural year of the newly named FIBA World Cup. While the FIBA World Cup is not nearly as prominent as the FIFA World Cup, it is the highest profile international basketball tournament after the Olympics. The World Cup includes 24 teams that participate in group play, followed by knockout games. After winning the FIBA World Championship in Turkey in 2010, Team USA is favored to win this year’s World Cup. Even after a tough start with challenges in assembling a final roster, Team USA has started the competition strong.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University will lead the team, assisted by Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams. The pressure is on for these coaches to select a winning team, as Spain, Argentina, France, Greece and Brazil are other possible favorites.  Only a few days before play began, 16 finalists remained and the coaches needed to cut four more players to finalize the official roster of players.

Unfortunately, the pickings grew slim for the Team USA coaches, as several star players pulled out at the last minute. New Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love withdrew from the competition last week amid trade rumors regarding his NBA future. Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reigning MVP, also withdrew from consideration citing “physical and mental fatigue.” Paul George suffered a devastating compound leg fracture in an exhibition game on August 1 and is unable to play. Other sidelined All-Stars that were initially announced in this year’s player pool include Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook. Prominent USA Basketball veterans such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant will also be sitting this tournament out.

Even without these household basketball names, Krzyzewski has still been able to create a starting lineup full of NBA All-Stars. The final roster includes two 2012 Olympic gold medalists (Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans and James Harden of the Houston Rockets) and two 2010 World Championship team members (Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors).

Rounding out the roster will be DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings) and Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers). The starters are Curry and Harden as guards, Faried and Gay as forwards and Davis playing center.

Team USA has been placed in Group C, where only Turkey (No. 7) places in the top 10 of FIBA’s rankings. The Group also consists of New Zealand (No. 19), Dominican Republic (No. 26), Finland (No. 39) and Ukraine (No. 45).  In an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic team on August 20, Team USA cruised to a 105-62 victory. Team USA opened the FIBA World Cup on August 30 in Bilbao, Spain, blowing out Finland 114-55. Team USA also defeated No. 7 Turkey 98-77. Of the teams to beat, only Greece and Spain remain undefeated thus far in group play. Next up, Coach K and his team take on New Zealand on September 2.