Eurobasket 2009 Preview
• Team-by-team previews in our group breakdowns:
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D
The intense passion and pride of the race to become champion of Europe is back on display as Eurobasket 2009 tips off Monday in Poland, and runs until Sun., Sept. 20.
The tournament also serves as the European qualifier for the 2010 FIBA World Championships. The top 6 finishers in Poland other than Turkey (2010 host) will qualify (meaning that the top 7 will go, if Turkey is one of the top 6).
Many games can be watched for free via ESPN360. The entire tourney can be watched pay-per-view on FIBATV.com, either $5/day or $25 for the whole tournament.
Jay Aych breaks the Eurobasket countries into the following tiers:
Tier I: Spain
Tier II (in no order): Croatia, Greece, France, Lithuania, Slovenia
Tier III: Latvia, Poland, Serbia, Turkey
Tier IV: Israel, Russia
Tier V: Great Britain, Bulgaria, Germany, Macedonia
Tiers I and II have the best shots at medaling, and are the favorites for qualifying spots. Tier III's have an outside chance at medals, but legit chances for qualifying spots - there's not much separation between Tier II & III. Tier IV's should get out of the first round, but are unlikely to get qualifying spots. Tier V's should be bounced in the first round.
COUNTRY STORYLINES TO WATCH
1) Spain: Can they finally get it done? The Spaniards have won 6 silvers and 2 bronzes in Eurobasket play historically, but never gold. They somehow blew the 2007 Eurobasket final at home as big favorites. Now, they are overwhelming favorites in 2009 as they're loaded with Pau & friends - clearly on a level by themselves given key no-shows for Lithuania, Greece and Russia. There are no excuses. It'll also be interesting to see Ricky Rubio in action after he spurned the Timberwolves to sign with Barcelona.
2) Greece & Lithuania: Can they produce without veteran playmakers? Eurobasket 2009 will be missing some of the great FIBA/Euroleague players of the decade in Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis (Greece) and Sarunas Jasikevicius and Ramunas Siskauskas (Lithuania). Both countries will need their remaining depth of talent and emerging youngsters to step up in order to contend for a medal and an automatic qualifying spot for the Worlds (though it's worth noting that, if these two countries don't qualify in Poland, they will be prime contenders for wild-card entries which will be awarded to four countries around the world by FIBA in December).
3) France: Can they knock down some jumpers when needed? The French barely qualified for Eurobasket despite having one of the best collections of talent on the continent. They have underachieved in international play in recent years in part due to woeful outside shooting. If they can hit from outside, they could go from the last qualifier to the medal podium.
4) Serbia: Can they regain their mojo with a younger roster? Historically one of the world's basketball hotbeds, and the world champions as recently as 2002, the Serbian national team has fallen on hard times in recent years. They finished 11th at the 2004 Olympics, and didn't even qualify for Beijing after a dreadful 14th-place showing at Eurobasket 2007. Now there's a new generation of players emerging who looked promising during the pre-tournament stage. We'll see how it translates under the spotlight of the Eurobasket.
5) Slovenia & Croatia: Will the talent mesh? There aren't many recognizable names to NBA fans on either of these teams, but these rosters are packed with top Euroleague players. From top to bottom, these two teams are among the most talented at Eurobasket 2009 - if either team can put it all together, it wouldn't be surprising to see them playing in the gold-medal game.
6) Russia & Germany: Without main options, how will these teams generate any offense? The Russians were improbable Eurobasket champs in 2007. Their task looks impossible in 2009, as they are without their entire '07 starting five, including tourney MVP Andrei Kirilenko. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki, at age 31, has decided to sit this one out. He's been the Eurobasket's leading scorer in 2001, 2005 and 2007, and the tournament MVP in 2005, when he led the Germans to a surprise silver. Without him (and Chris Kaman), Germany will struggle to win a game. No idea how these teams will consistently score.
7) Poland: Can the hosts sneak into the last qualifying spot? They have the twin towers of Marcin Gortat and Maciej "Light The" Lampe. Can home-court advantage lift them into the Worlds? Don't count 'em out, especially if they play with some... wait for it... solidarity.
PLAYERS OF INTEREST
NBA players in the tournament:
-Spain: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez
-France: Tony Parker, Ronny Turiaf, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Ian Mahinmi
-Latvia: Andris Biedrins
-Croatia: Roko Leni Ukic
-Greece: Kosta Koufos, Giorgios Printezis
-Slovenia: Goran Dragic, Primoz Brezec
-Serbia: Nenad Krstic
-Poland: Marcin Gortat
-Turkey: Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova
-Britain: Pops Mensah-Bonsu
Some NBA prospects to watch:
-Ricky Rubio, Spain: You know the story here.
-Victor Claver, Spain: Athletic 21-year-old was Portland's first-round pick this year.
-Yiannis Borousis, Greece: 25-year-old bruiser nearly signed with Spurs earlier this summer.
-Ersan Ilyasova, Turkey: 22-year-old power forward coming back to Milwaukee this season after a strong year for Barcelona.
-Omer Asik, Turkey: Bulls own rights - 23-year-old 7-footer's Euro numbers translate well to potential NBA success; has contract issues which could keep him from NBA for a while, which may have knocked him from the lottery to the second round.
-Giorgios Printezis, Greece: A nice pickup by Toronto - good athlete who can play both forward spots.
-Nando De Colo, France: 6-5 guard was San Antonio's 2009 second-round pick.
-Nick Calathes, Greece: Florida point guard will start pro career in Greece, but could be steal for Mavs down the road.
-Milan Macvan, Serbia: Crafty 19-year-old led World team to upset win at 2009 Nike Hoop Summit.
-Joel Freeland, Britain: 22-year-old Blazers pick has shown nice growth in Spanish League.
-Maciej Lampe, Poland: Still only 24, Lampe has developed nicely in Europe after early NBA flameout.
-Erazem Lorbek, Slovenia: 6-11 Pacers draftee is coming off a terrific campaign with CSKA Moscow; he's a threat from inside and out, but recently signed 3-year deal with Barcelona.
-Timofey Mozgov, Russia: An impressive physical package of strength & athleticism at 7-1, who can be a defensive deterrent at the rim; still raw at 23.
NBA players who are out: M. Pietrus, J. Noah, AK47, Dirk, Kaman, Omri Casspi, Jose Calderon, Rasho Nesterovic, Sasha Vujacic, Beno Udrih, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Peja/Darko/other veteran Serbs, Darius Songalia, Memo Okur, Sergio Rodriguez.
Other key players who are out: Papaloukas, Diamintidis, Jasikevicius, Siskauskas, Vik Khryapa, J.R. Holden, Igor Rakocevic, Marko Tomas.
We'll have coverage for the next two weeks. Here's some background on what you need to know:
• Eurobasket2009.org: Home | Schedule
• Wikipedia: Eurobasket 2009 | Eurobasket overview, including past results
• Official site: Competition system
16 teams are split into 4 groups for round-robin play. The top 3 in each group move on.
12 remaining teams are split into 2 groups. Teams will play all other teams in their group which they did not already meet in the prelim round. The top 4 teams in each group in combined overall record move on.
8 remaining teams will compete in a single-elimination tournament from there. Additionally, there will be classification games - the 7th-place game could determine the last team which will qualify for the Worlds.
Here's how the groups are set up for the first round (all groups are shown in predicted order of finish):
GROUP A (Poznan)
GROUP B (Gdansk)
GROUP C (Warsaw)
GROUP D (Wroclaw)
MVP: Peja Stojakovic
MVP: Sarunas Jasikevicious
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
MVP: Andrei Kirilenko