As some of you noticed, I haven't really addressed the FIBA World Championships, although there's been plenty of talk in the diaries the past couple weeks. Since they do start tonight (TV listings here, hattip to TrueHoop) and it IS basketball, I can't pretend I'm not at least a little excited. Mostly because the competition level will be at a level above everything besides the NBA, albeit with them wacky European rules.
But I really do not care who wins or how team USA fares. As long as they don't embarrass themselves like in the '04 Olympics, a non-first place result won't deserve the reactionary hand-wringing it'd likely generate. In a single elimination tournament (let's consider group play a formality) there's some luck involved either way.
Obviously it'll be nice to see Kirk Hinrich get some national exposure, and it's always fun to watch Nocioni(!) on the court. But here's some other players I'll be looking out for: (and making me wish I still had NBATV)
Andrew Bogut is the only NBA-level talent on team Australia, so it'll be interesting to see how he handles being the offensive focus of the team.
Tiago Splitter, Brazil. This guy has pulled his name out of the draft the last couple years, but is still considered one of the better international prospects. I wasn't impressed when watching him in a Euroleague game last season, this will be a good test to see exactly how close he is to being ready for the NBA.
Mickael Gelebale, France. Draft pick of the Sonics in '05, should be on their roster this fall. He'll be playing with a few NBA players (Diaw, Turiaf, Petro, Pietrus), so the talent comparisons should be easy to make.
Yi Jianlian, China. Projected future lottery pick. GSoM is all over it.
- We know LeBron, Wade, Carmelo (and Hinrich) are international participants part of that famed 2003 draft class. You don't hear much about Clippers 2nd rounder Sofoklis Schortsanitis though...probably because he's yet to even be signed by the Clippers (how long do they keep those rights for, anyway?). He was the Greek Baby Shaq! Count this guy among the many I once got sucked into draft hype for (thanks a lot Chad Ford).
Arvydas Macijauskas, Lithuania. This Euroleague sharpshooter finally got his NBA chance last year...and spent it on the Hornets' bench. He has since been bought out and will take his game back to Europe, but I wonder if he was really that bad or Byron Scott was just a being a turd.
- Now this is what international competition is really for, good natured trash talking between NBA teammates. Such as Carmelo Anthony and Linas Kleiza.
- Big-10 fans such as myself likely remember former Wisconsin Badger Kirk Penney (he plays for New Zealand). Former MSU Spartan Al Anagonye is playing for Nigeria. If only Rick Rickert was from Slovenia or something...
- The recently freed Darko will be a primary option for Serbia. One of his teammates, Mike Ilic, is expected to be on the Nets roster this season.
Jorge Garbajosa of Spain is one of several international acquisitions by new Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo this summer.
- Unfortunately Mehmet Okur and Hedo Turkoglu aren't playing for Turkey (that alone would make them pretty good, don't you think), but Milwaukee Buck (reportedly...I've never seen him nor can confirm he exists) Ersan Ilyasova will be there.
- 2006 draftee, Spanish point guard Sergio Rodriguez gives Blazers fans a reason to watch.
So apparently I'm more intrigued by random NBA fringe players (unfortunately, the Bulls new acquisition didn't make team Lithuania) than how team USA does. I hope to see some good basketball, and pray that nobody from my favorite team gets hurt. As a metaphorical methadone for one's NBA addiction, this will be fun, especially with heartwarming anecdotes like Chris Bosh and Rasho Nesterovic (NBA teammates, FIBA opponents) taking a quick picture together.
Beyond that, I share the sentiment that Torii Hunter had about March's World Baseball Classic:
"What's the use of saying we're better at baseball than this country? We all play together. I'm playing with Venezuelans and Dominicans right now. We all play together, so what's up with saying our country is better than your country? It's stupid. I don't like it."