A Look at The 2010 FIBA Worlds Wild-Card Candidates
18 teams qualified for 2010 FIBA Worlds with their play on the floor this summer. Four other national teams will try to impress the FIBA executives with more than just their on-court exploits.
On December 13th, FIBA executives will decide which four nations deserve wild-card berths for 2010. Teams are certainly judged on the quality of their on-court play over the last few years. Also, the teams are judged on the caliber of team they project to bring next summer. But FIBA will also take into account some off-court factors in their decision making process.
Basically, FIBA wants countries where the Worlds and basketball are highly marketable. How many eyeballs a country can get to watch in person or on TV is important to the FIBA brass. FIBA's also concerned with the level of organization of each country's basketball federation. (A summary of FIBA's procedure for choosing wild cards)
All four wild-card berths can't come from the same zone, three berths from one zone is the limit. The way I see it, Europe will get three berths (as they should) and the last spot will be awarded to either the Dominican Republic, Lebanon or Nigeria.
Right now, I have to believe Lithuania and Russia are veritable locks for Turkey, while the third berth from Europe will either be Britain or Germany (Poland can't be totally discounted, but their chances are remote).
Let's take a look at some of the national teams angling for a 2010 Worlds wild card:
FIBA Europe candidates:
Lithuania: Would be stunned if they don't get an invite to Turkey, even with their lackluster play this summer. This national team is perennially one of the best and basketball is close to a religion in this country of three & a half million. Fans are rabid and travel as well as any fanbase in int'l basketball. I am sure FIBA wouldn't mind having the 2011 Eurobasket host country in Turkey to build up more enthusiasm. You don't leave a team out that could likely contend for a medal if S. Jasikeicius and R. Kaukenas/A. Macijauksas decide they want to play next summer. And Sarunas recently stated he would be available if Lithuania did get a wild card. Have everything working in their favor for a wild-card nod.
Russia: Played above expectations this summer by advancing to the quarterfinal round without their two best players, Kirilenko and Vik Khryapa. Finished in 7th place, one spot away from the last qualifying spot. Obviously, huge population doesn't hurt Russia's case. Were passed over for a 2006 wild card, so don't see FIBA snubbing them a second time in a row. The 2007 Eurobasket title is a major bargaining chip in their favor. With a fully intact lineup, Russia can compete for a medal.
Germany: After Lithuania and Russia, Germany has the best resume of the remaining wild-card candidates. Silver medal at the 2005 Eurobasket is a huge gold star on their report card. A 5th place finish at the 2007 Eurobasket also helps their status. A solid showing at the 2006 Worlds where they finished 8th out of 24 teams. Kind of underachieved at the '08 Olympics where they lost to China, and failed to advanced to the playoff portion. Though I would say they overachieved this summer by advancing to the second round with a team devoid of any serious scoring threats. Were competitive in every game this summer. If the German federation can convince the FIBA board that Dirk wants to play next summer, this could seal the deal for a berth. Would be hard to deny a team a bid that had Dirk and possibly Chris Kaman on it. Wouldn't put it past Mark Cuban to secretly lobby the FIBA board NOT to extend an invite to Germany (I'm only half-kidding).
Britain: This summer was their first Eurobasket appearance since 1981 and they have never play at the Worlds or Olympics. I could see where FIBA would want the 2012 Olympic host country to get a taste of a major competition. A Worlds appearance could help build support and interest in Britain that could carry over into 2012. Clearly don't have the accomplishments on the court to justify a Worlds berth. Went 0-3 at Eurobasket '09, but understand they were in the toughest first round group with Spain, Slovenia & Serbia (all three made the semis), and Britain held its own in the three games. Could put a competitive team on the court if Luol Deng and Ben Gordon decide to play. Think they have a very legit shot of grabbing a berth. I think FIBA sees a potentially viable market in Britain (particularly London) that's worth building. FIBA might be willing to do anything to foster growth of basketball in Britain.
Poland: Longshot for a wild card, but do need some consideration as a candidate by the FIBA board. Recent resume does not match up to Germany's. Poland hasn't really accomplished much in recent history, but the Poles do have a promising future with a core of Marcin Gortat, Maciej Lampe and David Logan. Poland had a solid showing this summer and advanced to the second round at Eurobasket.
Dominican Republic: Their resume on the int'l scene is pretty slim. Have only been to one World Championship tourney and that was in 1978. Finished in fifth place at this summer's FIBA Americas tourney after a tough four-point loss to Canada. Francisco Garcia didn't play vs. Canada because of an injured finger, so that needs to be taken into consideration. All of Dom. Republic's four losses came against the top four finishers of FIBA Americas and all the games were close. Have to give Dom. Rep. some leeway considering this was the first summer Horford, Garcia & Villanueva played together. Having three solid NBAers (possibly four, with Trevor Ariza) on the roster for next summer could make them more marketable than, say, Lebanon or Nigeria. Another plus for Dominican Rep is that their squad projects to be a more competitive team next summer than Lebanon's or Nigeria's roster.
Lebanon: Lost in the bronze-medal game to Mideast neighbor, Jordan, at this summer's Asian championship. Have been consistently strong at the Asian championships throughout the decade--earned a silver medal in '01, '05 & '07. Proximity to Turkey and the popularity of basketball are two favorable advantages for Lebanon. Seem to have strong grass-roots support for a Worlds berth in the country. Did not fare too well at 2008 Olympic Qualifying tourney, where they were blown out in both their games. At the 2006 Worlds, Lebanon did pull off an upset of France, but they did get pounded by another wild-card hopeful, Nigeria, 95-72 in group play. Finished in 18th place in '06. Their bid might actually be hurt by the presence of Iran and Jordan. FIBA might feel that the Middle East is already well-represented and three teams is enough from the Asian zone, which is weaker than the Americas zone (which currently has five teams in).
Nigeria: Another longshot for a wild-card slot. Probably the second most-talented team out of Africa, behind Angola, but have underachieved the last few years. Finished in 5th place at the last two African championships. Do have a decisive win over Lebanon at the 2006 Worlds to show for themselves. Not really sure what type of market Nigeria is for the sport of basketball. So the off-court tangibles might be lacking to persuade FIBA for a bid.