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Spain has won its second straight European title, defeating France in the championship game of EuroBasket 2011 98-85 to claim the crown. Spain was led again by former Memphis Grizzlies wing Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 27 points, 12 of them from the line and nine from beyond the three-point line. Navarro scored more than 25 in each of Spain's three knockout games: 26 against Slovenia in the quarters, 35 against F.Y.R. Macedonia in the semis and 27 against France. Navarro was named the MVP of the tournament.
Had France won, there's no question that San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker would have rung that bell. As he had all tournament long, Parker provided the electricity for the French tournament, in the championship game scoring 26 points and five assists. But Spain did a great job trapping Parker on pick-and-roll attempts, forcing the guard to take tough shots or pass to less refined teammates.
Joakim Noah scored 11 points and had eight rebounds for France, and Nicolas Batum added 10 and four while struggling on his outside shot (2-8). For Spain, Pau Gasol and Jose Calderon each scored 17 points, and Marc Gasol added 11 on just five field goal attempts. Serge Ibaka played 21 minutes, and contributed five blocks. Ricky Rubio got just seven minutes off of the bench, and did not score (for he did not take a shot).
Both Spain and France had moved on to the 2012 London Olympics by virtue of semifinal wins. Only four bids to the London Games remain at large.
The finals of Eurobasket 2011 will pit the two teams with the most NBA talent on them. Led by a standout performance from Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, France advanced to the finals with a 79-71 win over previously-undefeated Russia. With the win, France clinched a berth in the 2012 London Olympics, joining Spain, the USA, host Great Britain, Tunisia, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
Batum scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win, and his points came at big times. Midway through the fourth quarter, he held off a Russia run by driving baseline and dunking on Andrei Kirilenko while drawing the foul. San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker led France with 22 points. Kirilenko scored 21 for Russia, who will face Macedonia in the bronze medal game.
Despite the loss, Russia will still have a chance to qualify for the London Olympics in the qualifying tournament. They'll be joined by Macedonia, Lithuania and Greece.
For a while, it looked like Macedonia might pull off another improbable upset in the semifinals of Eurobasket 2011. Then, Spain guard Juan Carlos Navarro took over. The Spanish star poured in 35 points, 19 in the third quarter, as Spain held off Macedonia to win 92-80 and clinch a berth in the 2012 Olympics.
Macedonia looked poised to potentially pull off an even bigger upset than their quarterfinal shocker over host Lithuania, but that was before Navarro took over. He hit two threes, including one running off the wrong foot, to eventually give Spain a nine-point lead at the end of the third quarter. Macedonia didn't quite go away in the fourth quarter, but Spain was never really threatened.
Bo McCalebb completed a phenomenal tournament with 25 points and five assists for Macedonia. Pau Gasol added 22 for Spain.
Spain will now face the winner of a semifinal game between France and Russia. The winner of that game will also receive a berth in the 2012 Olympics.
San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker made his case to be the MVP of Eurobasket 2011 with a spectacular performance in France's quarterfinal win over Greece on Thursday. After struggling in the first half, Parker took over in the second half to lead France to the 64-56 win.
Early on, Greece was in front. Led by Antonis Fostus, Greece jumped ahead 21-14 early in the second quarter and led by four points at halftime. Greece took a seven-point lead in the third quarter before Parker took over. The Spurs' guard showed off his jump-shooting ability and eventually put France in front by six with four minutes to go. Greece closed to within two late, but Portland Trail Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum hit a key bucket late to hold them off. Parker finished with 18 points and Batum added 15.
France will next face the winner of the second game of the day, which pits Serbia against Russia.
Macedonia pulled off a shocking upset in the EuroBasket 2011 quarterfinals on Wednesday, knocking off the host Lithuania 67-65 as American-born guard Bo McCalebb, who played college ball at the University of New Orleans and has never sniffed the NBA, scored 23 points. Macedonia advances to the semifinals of EuroBasket, just one win away from the 2012 London Olympics.
McCalebb became a Macedonian national a couple of years ago while plying his trade in Europe. (He now plays for Montepaschi Siena in Italy's Serie A.) The Bobby Jackson clone has drawn attention as one of the most explosive scorers in European play, and Wednesday was no exception. Lithuania was considered a favorite in the tournament thanks to the home-court advantage and a new generation of talent (including Raptors pick Jonas Valanciunas). But Macedonia brought a slew of fans too, and had the best player in the match.
Macedonia now faces Spain, who beat Slovenia in Wednesday's first game, with a bid to the Olympics and a spot in the championship game on the line. Lithuania will face Slovenia, with the winner earning a bid to next July's last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament.
Spain blasted Slovenia 86-64. Juan Carlos Navarro scored 26.
Russia remained unbeaten at EuroBasket 2011 thanks to a win in the final game before the knockout round. Russia beat Macedonia to win Group F and a top seed in the knockouts. The Russians totally had it in the bag all the way through. No drama needed. Right, Sergei Monia?
That was a game-winning banked fallaway three-pointer at the buzzer. With the shot, Russia draws Serbia in the next round, while Macedonia must now face daunting host nation Lithuania.
In the other game of import in Group F on Monday, Slovenia defeated Finland 67-60 to advance to the knockout round. There, they'll meet reigning European champion Spain. The real game for Slovenia now is, should they lose as expected, the consolation match against the loser of Macedonia-Lithuania. The winner of that consolation match will move on to the 2012 London Olympics qualifying tournament to be held next July.
Greece has already advanced to the knockout round and clinched the third seed in Group F. They beat an eliminated Georgian squad 73-60. Greece dances with France on Friday.
Serbia held off Turkey in a dramatic squeaker on Sunday to earn passage to the knockout round of EuroBasket 2011. Serbia jumped on Turkey, the silver medalist at last year's FIBA World Championships, early, but had to hold off a late comeback attempt to etch out a 68-67 win and guaranteed advancement to the quarterfinals. Ersan Ilyasova had a chance to win it for Turkey in the final seconds, but missed a contested jumper just before the buzzer.
Turkey is not only eliminated from the European Championship, but has no shot of playing in the 2012 London Olympics. For the team who lost only to Team USA in the 24-team World Championships last year, that's a bitter pill to swallow.
Serbia will be the fourth team to advance from Group E, joining Spain, France and Lithuania. In the round of eight, which begins Wednesday, Serbia will face the winner of Monday's match between unbeaten Russia and sizzling hot F.Y.R. Macedonia.
Spain obliterated a short French team, handing Les Bleus their first loss of the tournament 96-69. French coach Vincent Collet decided to hold Tony Parker and Joakim Noah out of action for an extra rest day, as France had already advanced to the knockouts and were guaranteed the first or second seed out of Group E. Will the decision prove costly? With the loss, France is scheduled to play Greece in the round of eight, while Spain will draw the winner of Monday's Slovenia-Finland match. Most coaches would rather have the winner of Slovenia-Finland than Greece, even with the Greeks missing a few stars.
Lithuania needed to beat Germany in Sunday's final game to keep ahead of Serbia for third place in the group, and did so 84-76. Germany was still alive, needing an 11-point win over Lithuania to leap ahead into the final knockout spot from Group E. But Dirk Nowitzki was held to 4-17 shooting, and Chris Kaman's big game (25 points, 11 rebounds) wasn't enough. It's a disappointing result for Germany, as the team has been ruled out of the 2012 Olympics.
Three games Monday will determine how the quarterfinal matchups fall. Lithuania draws the loser of Russia-Macedonia, Spain draws the winner of Finland-Slovenia and Serbia draws the winner of Russia-Macedonia. As noted above, France is destined to play Greece.
EuroBasket 2011 is nearly to the end of pool play, meaning over the next few days, teams will find out their fates as to whether they will be able to move on to the quarterfinals -- and another step closer to a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. Saturday's action, featuring three games, sealed the fate of Greece and Georgia while Finland kept its unlikely hopes alive.
Saturday's first game, between Greece and Finland, ended with an 87-73 victory in favor of the Finnish team as five players scored in double figures. Finland gained a big advantage when Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia, Georgia's best player, went down with an injury earlier in the tournament. With the victory, Finland kept its hopes alive to advance to the next round -- they'll need to defeat Slovenia on Monday -- while also knocking Georgia out of contention.
The second game on Saturday took place between Macedonia and the aforementioned Slovenia as Bo McCalebb scored 19 points to continue his impressive play to give Macedonia the 69-58 victory. Macedonia is already headed to the second round, but the momentum certainly can't hurt.
Russia overpowered Greece, 83-67, in a game that secured both team's advancement -- despite the Greek loss. Timofey Mozgov got the better of Kosta Koufos in the battle of NBA centers, however, as the Russian Mozgov scored 19 compared to Koufos' 15 points in the loss.
Russia will now play for first place in its group, against the aforementioned Macedonia, on Monday. Sunday's games include Serbia vs. Turkey, France vs. Spain and Lithuania vs. Germany.
EuroBasket 2011's Group E is, frankly, nasty. With Spain, Lithuania, France, Turkey, Serbia and Germany in place and only four spots in the knockout round available, two good teams were bound to be left out. After Friday's results in Vilnius, Lithuania, it's appearing that Turkey -- who placed second in the 2010 FIBA World Championships a year ago, losing only to an unbeatable Team USA -- could be in the cold and miss the 2012 London Olympics.
Turkey lost to Germany 73-67 on Friday, giving Dirk Nowitzki and company a boost in their difficult push to earn a spot in July's last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament. Only teams in the top six at EuroBasket will be admitted to that tournament, where three London bids are on the line. EuroBasket's two finalists move straight to London. The top four teams in Group E will move on to an eight-team single-elimination knockout round, where winning once in two games will get you into the qualifying tournament.
Serbia also lost on Friday, brutally falling to Spain 84-59. Those results left Serbia, Turkey and Germany tied at 1-3 in the second group stage, with Lithuania (who fell to group leader France) at 2-2 and Spain and France uncatchable. To move on, Turkey needs to beat Serbia on Sunday and for Lithuania to beat Germany. If Germany beats Lithuania, it will advance. Lithuania also advances with a win over Germany, or a loss coupled with a Turkey victory over Serbia. (Lithuania has a tie-breaker over Turkey via a win in the first group stage.) Serbia advances with a win over Turkey.
France and Spain will hook up, and the winner will be crowned the top seed from Group E, and will be due to face the fourth-place team from Group F, looking to be Slovenia, Greece or Georgia.
Macedonia basketball didn't exactly start EuroBasket 2011 on the right foot. In just its third EuroBasket appearance since independence, Macedonia fell to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a team that doesn't exactly strike fear into opponents. Hopes of advancing to the knockout round for the first time ever looked bleak, even though Macedonia had been blessed with a shallow group.
Since then, Macedonia has become magical, going unbeaten in the five games following the loss. That includes Thursday win to open the second group stage for Macedonia, a narrow 65-63 victory over Georgia. Nationalized American Bo McCalebb, who played college ball at the University of New Orleans, gave Macedonia the victory with a last-second lay-up after driving right through the Georgian defense. The win sent Macedonia to the knockout round, though there are two games left in the second group stage, with all-important seeding on the line.
Russia won quite a bit more comfortably, taking out overmatched Finland 79-60. Like Macedonia, Russia now has a spot in the knockouts. Andrei Kirilenko led Russia with 14 points.
Greece were also winners on Thursday, beating Slovenia 69-60. Nikos Zisis led the Greeks with 19 points. Greece has not yet claimed a spot in the knockouts, having lost to Macedonia in the first group stage and needing one more win to officially get there. Greece faces Russia in a battle of the titans on Saturday and Georgia on Monday.
Slovenia will be playing desperate against Macedonia on Sunday, as one of Georgia and Finland will get on the board as the teams battle each other that same day. The loser of that game will have been ruled out of the knockouts; should Finland beat Georgia and Slovenia lose to Macedonia, Finland would have the opportunity to vault themselves into a wholly unlikely knockouts berth.
The first games in the second group stage in EuroBasket 2011 featured some of the biggest names in the tournament, but the biggest of all -- 2011 NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki -- found himself on the short end as Germany fell to reigning champ Spain 77-68. Marc Gasol led the Spanish with 24 points, and his brother Pau had a great fourth quarter and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Nowitzki faded down the stretch as Spain attempted to cut the German star off from his team.
Germany now finds itself at the bottom of Group E, with no wins and three losses. (First-stage wins against teams eliminated from a team's record heading into this second group stage.) Spain moves to 2-1 and looks solid in advancing to the knockouts with Serbia and France left on the docket.
The French remained undefeated in the tournament with a 68-64 win over Turkey. As is to be expected by now, Tony Parker led France with 20 points while playing 37 of a possibe 40 minutes. Parker did, however, shot 0-5 on three-pointers as Turkey nearly took the win; as a team, the French shot just 4-17 from long-range. The two teams shot a combined 35 percent from the field.
In the day's final game, host Lithuania beat back Serbia 100-90. (Yes, a triple-digit FIBA game! Mon dieu!) The Lithuanians assaulted Serbia's defense to the tune of 60 percent shooting for the game -- they must have loosened the rims after France-Turkey -- as rising point guard Mantas Kalnietis and promising big man Jonas Valanciunas led the way with 19 and 18 points respectively. Valanciunas, who was picked No. 5 by the Raptors in June's NBA Draft, did his work in just 20 minutes.
France has clinched a spot in the knockouts. This group will reconvene on Friday; Group F, starring Russia, Greece and Macedonia, will get in action on Thursday.
The first stage of EuroBasket 2011 is officially over, as Monday's set wrapped up the initial group stage and cut the field in half. Twelve teams were officially eliminated on Monday, none more surprising than Croatia. The Croats had finished sixth in EuroBasket 2009, made it to the knockouts and nearly knocked off semifinalist Serbia at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and had a favorable draw coming into Lithuania. But an awful loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday and a final defeat to Greece on Monday knocked Croatia out as the Greeks, Macedonia and -- in a shocker -- Finland took Group C's spots in the knockouts.
The remaining 12 teams have been sorted into two groups, and their wins and losses against eliminated teams have been removed from the board. Each team will play three more games in the second group stage, and the teams will the top four records in each group will move to an eight-team knockout round.
France leads Group E, having gone undefeated in the first round. France needed overtime to hand Serbia its only first stage loss on Monday, with Tony Parker scoring 24 points. Parker is the No. 2 scorer in the tournament at 23 point per game, trailing just Great Britain's Luol Deng (23.8). In Group E, France is joined by Serbia, defending European champion Spain, Worlds silver medalist Turkey, host Lithuania and a Dirk Nowitzki-led German squad that France defeated by seven on Friday. Spain dropped its game against Turkey on Monday after sweeping the rest of Group A; Turkey lost to Lithuania and Poland.
Macedonia had its first stage loss to Montenegro wiped off the board as Montenegro is eliminated, leaving the Macedonians atop the board with undefeated Russia, the winners of Group D. Those two teams are trailed by Slovenia, Greece, Georgia and Finland.
The second group stage begins Wednesday.
Germany picked up its second victory in as many days after knocking off Italy 76-62 on Thursday in Group B action. With the loss, Italy falls to 0-2. Chris Kaman had 17 points and 17 rebounds for Germany, but Andrea Bargnani fought hard in the post to deny the Clipper. Unfortunately for Bargnani, that -- and Kaman's presence at the other end -- dampened the Raptors' own offense. Bargs picked up just eight points on 2-9 shooting.
Dirk Nowitzki led Germany with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Danilo Gallinari was Italy's best player with 17 points and 11 rebounds. In the other Group B games, France beat Israel soundly 85-68 with Tony Parker scoring 21 points and adding eight assists and Serbia took care of Latvia 92-77.
Great Britain remained winless in Group A after falling to Turkey 90-61. Luol Deng had 22 points and eight rebounds in the loss, and Enes Kanter had another good game for Turkey (largely in minutes that didn't matter) with 11 points and five rebounds. Also in Group A, Spain beat Portugal 87-73 and Lithuania took Poland 97-77.
In Group C, Greece beat Finland 81-61, Macedonia surprised Croatia 78-76 after being down 10 in the second half and Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Montenegro 94-86.
In Group D action, Bulgaria edged Belgium 68-65, Russia beat Georgia 65-58 and Slovenia tipped Ukraine 68-64.
Dirk Nowitzki is back on the court in a game that matters, and he's picking up right where he left off ... on a much smaller stage against much weaker competition, of course. Germany throttled Israel 91-64 on the opening day of group play at EuroBasket 2011, as Nowitzki dropped 25 points on 10-14 shooting and his buddy Chris Kaman offered 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Israel is missing Omri Casspi, and was led in scoring by Guy Pnini (20). Germany matches up with Italy in a big Group B match on Thursday.
Host Lithuania opened its tournament with an 80-69 win over Great Britain. Luol Deng played all 40 minutes for the British and finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. But Great Britain has no depth at all -- the team had two total points off the bench -- and Lithuania got strong contributions from wily veteran Rimantas Kaukenas (16 points) and especially wily veteran Sarunas Jasikevicius (13 points, four assists).
In Group C, Croatia needed clutch play in the closing minutes and 27 points from young Bogan Bogdanovic (a Nets draft pick) to beat Finland, the final team to qualify for EuroBasket. Croatia came out ahead 84-79. Petteri Koponen (Mavericks) led Finland with 14 points and six assists.
In Group D, Russia knocked off Ukraine 73-64. Andrei Kirilenko led the Russians with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Tony Parker scored 31 points and dished seven assists in leading France to a 89-78 win over Latvia in opening round action of EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania. The top two finishers at Euro '11 win bids to the 2012 Olympics in London. Les Bleus have not qualified for an Olympic tournament since Parker joined the senior team.
Joakim Noah added 10 points and seven rebound. Young Latvia played a strong game and looks like a potential second-round qualifier. Veteran Janis Blums, who plays professionally in Spain, paced Latvia with 32 points on 12-18 shooting. Davis Bertans, who was drafted by Parker's Spurs in June's NBA Draft, scored nine for Latvia.
In other opening day action, Greece held off Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group C. Nick Calathes, who played for the University of Florida and is in the Mavericks' pipeline, scored 13 points and added seven rebounds. Kosta Koufos of the Nuggets had 10 points and 10 rebounds. B&H's best player, Mirza Teletovic, shot 0-9 on three-pointers in the loss.
In Group A action, Turkey pounded Portugal 79-56 as Jazz rookie Enes Kanter surprised with 14 points and seven rebounds. Slovenia held off Bulgaria in Group D by the score 67-59 in a tight match. Erazem Lorbek gave Slovenia the lead on a three-point play with two minutes left, and the team held Bulgaria scoreless the rest of the way. Lorbek finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Goran Dragic had 13 points, six assists and six rebounds.
The 2011 EuroBasket tournament began bright and early Wednesday morning with a game featuring some of the NBA's best playing for Spain pitted against the Polish National Team, a team without a single NBA player due to Marcin Gortat's inability to acquire insurance.
Despite what the opening sentence might lead everyone to believe, however, the Spanish National Team needed Pau Gasol to score 29 points and former NBAer Juan Carlos Navarro to chip in another 23 -- including a clutch three-pointer late in the game -- as Spain defeated outmatched Poland by a final score of 83-78.
Navarro, nicknamed "La Bomba" for reasons probably relating to his shooting prowess and not the Ritchie Valens song with a similar title, pulled up for three on a fastbreak from Spain with 1:31 left to play to give his team a 77-69 advantage and the Spanish National Team was able to do just enough the rest of the way to stave off the upset.
Poland did give them a run for their money, however, as former Washington State standout and two-time Lakers' Summer League player Thomas Kelati scored 18 points and assisted on seven baskets despite battling foul trouble for the majority of the fourth quarter. The Polish team's leading scorer was Lukasz Koszarek, who scored seven of his 18 teams in the final two minutes as he desperately tried to keep Poland's hopes alive.
For Spain, Ricky Rubio was held to zero points and zero assists as the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves missed all five of his attempted five field goal attempts and turned the ball over twice in his 15 minutes of playing time. Other NBA-relevant scorers for Spain included Marc Gasol scoring 16 points, Serge Ibaka adding seven and Rudy Fernandez chipping in four.
In the rest of the morning's games, Serbia defeated Italy with an 80-68 final despite 22 points from the Toronto Raptors' Andre Bargnani; Montenegro eked out a victory over Macedonia; and Georgia beat Belgium thanks to 16 points from Zaza Pachulia.
At EuroBasket 2011, Group D certainly lacks the glamour of Group A, the star power of Group B and the mystery of Group C. We pretty much know how Group D will go, and fireworks may not be a part of the equation. But it's still basketball! And three teams here will still move on to the second group stage, where things will get mighty interesting.
FIBA Rank: No. 11
EuroBasket 2009: Seventh
FIBA Worlds 2010: Seventh
After winning Europe in 2007, Russia fell back in the Olympics (ninth), Euro '09 and the '10 Worlds. But there are two separate issues at play: no, Russia is not as good as Europe's best right now, not without Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden. But Russia is still better suited to win than most if not all of Group D. Russia arguably has the easiest draw in the tournament; consider that the second group stage will pair off the top three from Groups C and D -- Russia won't face one of the tournament's top four teams until the quarterfinals.
FIBA Rank: No. 17
EuroBasket 2009: Fourth
FIBA Worlds 2010: Eighth
Slovenia has started to come around: for a small nation, eighth place in the 24-team World Championships is no small matter. Goran Dragic is the current star at point guard, with Beno Udrih having left the team in 2008 and Jaka Lakovic approaching the end of his career. Erazem Lorbek is the team's engine, though, and he could be the difference-maker against Timofey Mozgov and Russia as well as the Greeks and Croats in the second group stage. If Slovenia make additional progress and medal in Lithuania, it'll be becase of Dragic and Lorbek.
Now here's the rest of the group. Keep in mind that one of these teams will be advancing to the second group stage.
FIBA Rank: No. 45
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
FIBA Rank: No. 44
EuroBasket 2009: 13th
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Bulgaria didn't win a single game at Euro '09. Of course, neither did Great Britain or Israel, and no one complains about their inclusion in the tournament. The difference is that Britain and Israel played quite well in qualifiers last summer, while Bulgaria was mediocre in a medicore group (Belgium and Georgia were the headliners; more on them shortly). Like Ukraine and others, Bulgaria got in because FIBA wanted to expand the tournament and simply took a number of the next-in-rank competitors.
FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Belgium beat up on the dregs of Europe's top division in qualifying last year, with Axel Hervelle (best name ever) leading the way. Belgium wouldn't dream of making it to the second group stage were they in any other group. But the Belgians have already showed they can beat up on Georgia and Bulgaria ... they just need to add Ukraine to the list.
FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Oddly enough, Georgia might have the best NBA player in the group in Zaza Pachulia (he's likely behind Dragic, though). He has a partner of note up front in Viktor Sanikidze, who plays professionally in Italy. Pay close attention and you might see Nikoloz Tskitishvili!
It's almost unfair that Group A is stacked with so much talent, giving teams like Great Britain so little room to breath, while a group like C -- headlined by an unstable Greece, rising Croatia and mysterious Montenegro -- has all sorts of opportunity. While the Greeks are a clear favorite, the other two spots in the next group stage could very well be up for grabs.
FIBA Rank: No. 4
EuroBasket 2009: Bronze
FIBA Worlds 2010: 11th
The longtime Euro power Greece fell mightily in Turkey, with suspensions following a pre-tournament brawl with Serbia hurting the team's group play performance forced the Greeks into a brutal seeding: a round of 16 match against Spain. Greece lost. But things have gotten worse since, as Greek legend Dimitris Diamantidis retired from FIBA play. Diamantidis has long been a difference-maker in international play as an exceptional defender, and while Greece has solid depth, there's no replacing him.
Sofolokis Schortsanitis is also out, and the Greeks will rely heavily on Ioannis Bourousis and young point guard Nick Calathes to guide the way. Some veterans, including captain Antonin Fotsis, remain, by and large, this is a new era of Greek basketball. Can they live up to the legend? The first group stage should be forgiving, but challenges await.
FIBA Rank: No. 19
EuroBasket 2009: Sixth
FIBA Worlds 2010: 14th
Croatia has been considered one of Europe's rising young teams, especially after finishing a decent sixth in Euro '09. But the nation took a step back at Worlds '10, struggling in group play with wins over only Iran and Tunisia (losing to Brazil, Team USA and Slovenia) to earn a bad seed and a round-of-16 loss to Serbia. Sounds a lot like Greece, no?
The Croats feature intriguing young prospects like Ante Tomic (one of the better centers in the Euro pro ranks), Nets' draftee Bogan Bogdanovic, Damir Markota and Marko Tomas. A matchup with Greece will wait until the final day of the first group stage; Montenegro on Sept. 3 is a good precursor test.
FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Ah, Montenegro, the true mystery. The nation is unranked because it didn't play in its first FIBA game until 2009. Led by the Wolves' Nikola Pekovic, New York-born Omar Cook and Vladimir Dasic, Montenegro ripped off a 6-2 record in Euro qualifying last summer, losing only to Israel and Italy (each of whom the Montenegrans also beat). Pekovic was the best center in qualifying, and despite an underwhelming rookie season in Minnesota, has a good deal of promise. Montenegro will need him to be at his best to challenge the Greeks and Croatia, each of whom have NBA-level big men.
FIBA Rank: No. 47
EuroBasket 2009: Ninth
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Macedonia's an intriguing squad that could very easily finish in the top half of the group and advance to the second stage. Starring Bo McCalebb (who you may remember from the University of New Orleans) and Pero Antic, the squad nearly got out of group in '09 and did well at qualifying last summer. Macedonia can count its lucky stars it landed in a soft group, because the nation probably isn't equipped to compete with the Spains and Turkeys just yet.
FIBA Rank: No. 47
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Bosnia and Herzegovina are in because FIBA expanded the EuroBasket field. There are some interesting players here, led by Mirza Teletovic. But the team struggled in qualifying last summer, going 3-5 against a group led by Great Britain and which included Hungary, Ukraine and Macedonia. Not a great result.
FIBA Rank: --
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
I fell in love with Finnish basketball the time that I heard of Petteri Koponen and found out he played for a Finnish club called Honka Playboys. Unfortunately, this is Finland's first EuroBasket since 1995 and second since 1977. The nation qualified by not losing to Hungary earlier this month. Hanno Mottola is 34 and still the team's star. Teemu Rannikko is there. So is my friend Petteri. Deliver us, Finns.
EuroBasket's Group B certainly isn't as awestriking as a Group A that features three true title contenders, but it has the headliners. Namely, it has the headliner of the year: Dirk Nowitzki, who will rejoin Germany after grabbing his first NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks. Tony Parker is also back in European competition, rejoining the French. But the best team in Group B might be a team with no NBA All-Stars at all.
FIBA Rank: No. 8
EuroBasket 2009: Silver
FIBA Worlds 2010: Fourth
Serbia's been excellent of late, after falling apart during the 2008 Olympic cycle. Since missing the Beijing cut (and by so small margin), Serbia has finished second at EuroBasket 2009 and fourth last summer in Turkey. And the team has done it without a single NBA star; the most experienced NBA player on the Euro '11 roster is Nenad Krstic, who has since returned to Russia. But the team has a roster full of solid European players, led by guard Milos Teodosic, who made the all-tournament team at the '10 Worlds.
Serbia's chief rival in the group is France, but the teams don't play until the final day of the first group stage, at which point the standings may already be determined. Serbia should definitely enter that game undefeated.
FIBA Rank: No. 14
EuroBasket 2009: Fifth
FIBA Worlds 2010: 13th
France was a disaster in Turkey last summer, but played without Tony Parker, Joakim Noah and Rodrigue Beaubois. Parker and Noah are back, and obviously an NBA Finals MVP in his prime and a would-be NBA All-Star center make all the world of difference. Noah's probably the best center in the tournament, though Marc Gasol of Spain could get the edge due to far more international/FIBA experience. Likewise, it'd be difficult to pick any EuroBasket point guard over Parker. At other positions, France has Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and ... well, Mickael Gelabale. But still! That's a lot of top-level talent.
But France has struggled to get over the hump, even in Euro competition, since a surprising silver in the 2000 Sydney Games. Parker's France has missed two consecutive Olympiads, and making it to London is a huge priority. Getting to the EuroBasket championship game will do the trick, and finishing on top of Group B will help the draw going forward. Keep an eye on that France-Serbia game if there's something to play for, as it will be the best early test of France's mettle.
FIBA Rank: No. 12
EuroBasket 2009: 11th
FIBA Worlds 2010: 17th
When Dirk plays, the Germans perform well. When he doesn't, Germany stinks. This is not rocket science. Nowitzki is among the best players in the world. He matters a ton in international competition, just as he does in the NBA. Given that he's fit to play -- and will be joined by Chris Kaman, the oddest sidecar buddy one could have -- Germany should do well.
France and Serbia are deep, balanced teams, though; while no one in the world can defend a clicking Dirk, those two squads can push the rest of the German squad (a rusty Kaman included) hard. Nowitzki will have to be the tournament's top scorer to give Germany a chance of meeting its goal, a top-six finish, which comes with a bid in the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament to be held next July. To get there, Germany has to advance to the second group stage over Italy.
FIBA Rank: No. 7
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Don't be fooled by Italy's high FIBA rank: that's a remnant of the team's silver in Athens '04. That team no longer exists: this is a team focused on the unique talents of Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli. Which is to say this is a team focused on shooting threes.
The Italians didn't have Gallinari a year ago in Euro qualifying, and as a result nearly failed to make the tournament. But Italy was granted an invite by FIBA as a wildcard, and now must justify that decision with a strong performance against some familiar faces in terms of NBA talent. Bargnani remains the key, but Gallinari has to play well to relieve pressure on the big man. The entire team's defense will be tested against France and Germany. We'll see if Italy can put it together and advance over one of those two teams.
FIBA Rank: No. 34
EuroBasket 2009: 13th
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Latvia is a rather young team, and will get younger: the nation won bronze at the under-18 Euro championships last summer, led by Davis Bertans and Edmunds Dukulis leading the way. Unfortunately, neither will play in Lithuania, and veteran Andris Biedrins is likewise out. Latvia will continue to build for the future, but that leaves the team short for this Euro contest.
FIBA Rank: No. 27
EuroBasket 2009: 15th
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Israel's hope of graduating past the first group stage likely died when Omri Casspi went down with injury. Maybe they were already dead due to Dirk's arrival; regardless, things don't look good. Israel does have captain Tal Burstein, fellow vet David Blu as well as Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin. But the top four in this group look significantly stronger.
There is certainly a "group of death" in the first stage of EuroBasket 2011, as Group A managed to include defending champion and World No. 2 Spain, 2010 FIBA Worlds silver medalist and World No. 6 Turkey and host nation/World No. 5 Lithuania. It's just a brutal troika of contenders that have to beat up on each other early. Pity the others in the group: Great Britain, Poland and Portugal. Only the top three finishers will advance to the second group stage, leaving the latter group in deep nerves.
We preview Group A below. Our friends at The Painted Area also have a very in-depth preview.
FIBA Rank: No. 2
EuroBasket 2009: Gold
FIBA Worlds 2010: Sixth
Spain was a wreck in Turkey last summer, finishing the group stage 3-2 and eventually getting knocked out by Serbia in the quarterfinals. But that came without Pau Gasol. As perhaps the second-best player on the continent (behind Dirk Nowitzki), he's obviously a magnificent factor. Serge Ibaka has also been added to the Spanish squad, who with Pau and Marc Gasol make up an almost unfair big man rotation. At guard, the Spaniards count on Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez, four legit NBA-level players. Again, it's almost unfair.
Spain is a favorite for the title, but group play will be a good test. Many would pick Turkey and Lithuania for medals, and Spain draws them back-to-back on September 4 and 5. If there's a consolation, it's that having already faced the group's lower three squads by then, Spain might have already qualified for the second group stage and can play the Gasols lightly.
FIBA Rank: No. 6
EuroBasket 2009: Eighth
FIBA Worlds 2010: Silver
Turkey went undefeated in the FIBA Worlds until the gold medal game against a Kevin Durant-led Team USA. Of course, Turkey played that tournament at home with a full roster and didn't have the toughest schedule. (Their group did feature Russia and Greece, but both teams were wildly disappointing. Turkey killed Slovenia in the quarters and beat Serbia by just one in the semis.) Turkey's poor showing at Euro '09 gives credence to the concern the team might not perform as well without the hyperfocus of a home tournament.
That said, Turkey's cadre of young big men are just coming of age. Omer Asik and Semih Erden are beasts in the making, and Enes Kanter is promising enough (if untested) to become the No. 3 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. At the forward spots are quixotic Hedo Turkoglu and the excellent Ersan Ilyasova, whose been quite good in international competition. (He finished top 10 in rebounding at the Worlds.) Guard play is an issue as always for Turkey, with Spain and even Lithuania threatening to bludgeon the Turks in the backcourt spots.
FIBA Rank: No. 5
EuroBasket 2009: 11th
FIBA Worlds 2010: Bronze
It seemed as if it would be, for a time, over for Lithuania back in 2009 when the team went out with just a single win. But the Baltic state stormed back in Turkey, storming through group play the 2010 Worlds unbeaten with wins over Spain and France, and following that up with a whipsaw win over Argentina. Lithuania gave Team USA as solid a test as anyone, but Kevin Durant (38 points) was too much and LIT settled for bronze over Serbia. But ignore that single loss for a second: Lithuania went unbeaten against Spain, France, Argentina and Serbia. That's mighty impressive.
The squad looks a bit different: Linas Kleiza, the team's best scorer by no small margin, is out due to injury. But legendary Sarunas "Saras" Jasikevicius (now 35 years old) is back, and the great young hope of Vilnius (and Toronto) Jonas Valanciunas is participating. The loss of Kleiza outweighs either addition individually, but together the old star and young sprout can replace the impact. Add in home-court advantage throughout the tournament? For a nation as basketball-crazed as Lithuania, that's priceless. Lithuania's a real threat to knock down Group A and the entire field.
FIBA Rank: No. 56
EuroBasket 2009: 13th
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Great Britain is literally a Johnny-come-lately on the international scene: the national team was created in 2005 to prep for the 2012 London Olympics. One guy eventually got the team there: Luol Deng. The Chicago Bulls' strong forward has played for G.B. when possible over the last several years, helping earn the British this very spot in EuroBasket a year ago, and giving FIBA enough confidence in the program to grant them a host nation bid in 2012. Without Deng, it's unlikely that host bid is granted. Britain has been that awful without him, and the other long-promised NBA star the British can claim -- Ben Gordon -- has never materialized.
The British have done quite well with Deng, and they'll have him in Lithuania. But the competition level will be markedly higher here -- the British were playing the likes of Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belgium in 2010 qualifiers. Spain, Turkey and Lithuania are from another galaxy. It'll take something like crumbling from one of Group A's powers to get Britain in the knockouts, as well as continued superlative output from Deng.
FIBA Rank: No. 38
EuroBasket 2009: Ninth
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Poland could have been better than Great Britain and put a spook into Turkey or Lithuania ... if only they could have secured Marcin Gortat, the Phoenix Suns' defensive-minded center. But he sat out with insurance problems. Complicating matter further was a last-minute injury to Maciej Lampe, the team's best scorer. Without those two, Poland's in real trouble when it comes to even winning a single game.
FIBA Rank: No. 47
EuroBasket 2009: DNP
FIBA Worlds 2010: DNP
Portugal wouldn't be in this tournament if FIBA Europe hadn't expanded it to 24 teams; the Portugese only qualified last week. Portugal and Poland will likely battle for the bottom of the group.
FIBA.com reports that the Belgium national team has cut its only NBA player, center D.J. Mbenga, who has a championship ring with the L.A. Lakers and spent last season with the New Orleans Hornets. Mbenga had surgery in mid-June, but was physically fit for warm-up season for the Belgian squad. But coach Eddy Casteels apparently wasn't impressed with Mbenga's attitude.
"Didier Mbenga is medically fit, but physically and mentally not ready," Casteels said.
National team coaches have a history of making an example of NBA big shots, whether the treatment is warranted or not. Canadian coach Leo Rautins famously dismissed Samuel Dalembert -- born in Haiti, but who had went through the process to become a Canadian citizen to play for the team -- at the 2008 Olympics' last-chance qualifying tournament because of perceived attitude problems.
With or without Mbenga, Belgium was unlikely to make the cut for the knockout round, even in EuroBasket's weakest group (featuring favored Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Georgia and Bulgaria).
Portugal and Finland have claimed the final two spots in this season's EuroBasket tournament, clinching via a three-team additional qualifying round. Hungary has been eliminated.
It still remains to be seen which groups Portugal and Finland will land in; the teams will play Aug. 24 to decide that matter. The winner will end up in the relatively light Group C with Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The loser will end up in the Group of Death, a Group A featuring Spain, Turkey, host Lithuania, Poland and Great Britain. The top three finishers in each group move on to a second group round before knockouts.
Neither Finland nor Portugal boast current NBA players. EuroBasket 2011 itself begins August 31. The top two finishers earn berths to the 2012 London Olympics, and the next four teams down the sheet win rights to next summer's last-chance qualifying tournament, which will decided the final three Olympic combatants.
Ronny Turiaf broke his hand in a EuroBasket 2011 warm-up against Great Britain on Tuesday, according to FIBA, and as such is ruled out for France's quest for a continental championship. FIBA.com reports that Ali Traore will replaced Turiaf on the French roster.
Turiaf was slated to back up Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah for Les Bleus as France attempts to make good on its considerable promise and earn a bid to the 2012 London Olympics. The top two finishers will advance to the Olympics; the next four teams will earn a berth to a last-chance qualifying tournament to be held in July 2012, from which three more Olympic contenders will be drawn.
Turiaf, who plays for the New York Knicks, is only expected to miss 3-4 weeks of action, so even if the NBA lockout is resolved soon the injury shouldn't impact his readiness. EuroBasket begins August 31 and will be held in Lithuania.
Portugal knocked off Hungary on Wednesday to strike the first blow in the final qualifying round for EuroBasket 2011. Three teams -- the two aforementioned nations and Finland -- are fighting for the final two spots in the EuroBasket field. That tournament begins on August 31 and will be held in Lithuania.
The additional qualifying round was needed because after the 2010 qualifying round, FIBA Europe decided to expand the EuroBasket field from 16 to 24. Portugal and Finland each finished 1-7 in last year's qualifying round, and Hungary finished 3-5. The competition was second-rung European teams -- no Spains, Russias, Turkeys or Serbias -- which makes those records especially frightful.
If not for EuroBasket expansion, this tournament would be a play-in for teams like Italy, Ukraine and Georgia, who were instead added to the championship field on account of performing fairly well in qualifying last summer. It's unlikely the two qualifiers from this last-chance round will win a single game at EuroBasket.
Marcin Gortat was planning to play for Poland at the upcoming 2011 EuroBasket tournament. Those plans have been derailed, however, due to the cost of insurance needed to cover Gortat and his contract during the NBA lockout.
Poland announced that Gortat wouldn't be joining Poland on the Polish National Team's official site.
"Personally, I declare full support for Polish Basketball Association and our staff in the coming years. This year we had a really great group of players and a nice coach," Gortat said according to the translation. "I deeply regret that I cannot play with them, but it would be too great of a risk. I hope everybody understands it. I'll keep my fingers crossed for them at EuroBasket. I believe they will do everything to achieve a good result."
Gortat's agent, Guy Zucker, recently spoke to SB Nation Arizona's Seth Pollack about the insurance issues that could come up if his player were to play for Poland this summer.
"It's totally up to insurance companies covering what is maybe not a direct liability but obviously a logical liability considering that we are in the lockout situation which is what's causing this entire problem to begin with," Gortat's agent Guy Zucker explained.
"A scenario would consist of the possibility of Marcin sustaining some sort of injury that's not career threatening but serious enough to keep him out of action for an extensive period of time and the Suns having the option of terminating the remaining three years of his contract. It sounds simple but it's not easy to insure something like that."
It's unfortunate that Gortat isn't able to play for his country, but considering he's owed roughly $13 million from the Phoenix Suns over the next two seasons, it makes sense that he's not risking serious injury.
Omri Casspi could miss EuroBasket 2011 after injuring his knee during training with the Israeli national team, reports Eurobasket.com (via PBT). Casspi helped Israel qualify for EuroBasket during last year's qualifiers, and had hoped to lead the team to a top-six finish, which would earn the nation a bid in next summer's last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament, where the final three teams to win London 2012 bids will be decided.
Without Casspi, that bid seems doomed. Israel sits in Group B, with rising power Serbia, always dangerous France, a Germany team with Dirk Nowitzki, Latvia and Italy. There's a good chance that without Casspi Israel will finish last in group play. The top three finishers move on to the knockouts; winning a game in the first round of knockouts gets you into the Olympic qualifying tournament; the two finalists in the tournament will move on directly to the Olympic field.
Casspi was traded by the Sacramento Kings to the Cleveland Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson just before the NBA lockout began. Casspi had a strong start to his NBA career in 2009, but wore out that season and struggled to stay in Paul Westphal's good graces in 2010-11. The Kings, looking for stability at small forward, brought in veteran John Salmons in a draft day trade sending out Beno Udrih.
The NBA lockout may cost Great Britain the services of Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon, reports The Daily Telegraph. The British are gearing up for EuroBasket 2011, which begins August 31 in Lithuania. Gordon hasn't trained with the team and didn't play in Sunday's friendly against the Netherlands. Brendan Gallagher of the Telegraph reports that Gordon isn't comfortable with the insurance plan Great Britain has obtained, and with the fear that were Gordon injured in international play the Pistons could waive him, he's likely to stay off the team.
Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng did take G.B.'s insurance. Gallagher describes Deng's view as that he feels it unlikely the Bulls would waive him on account of an injury because he's so vital to the team. Deng is due $51 million over the next three seasons. Gordon is due $48 million over the next four. But Deng is a vital starter, whereas Gordon is rather expendable, even on (or maybe especially on) a rebuilding club in Detroit.
Britain had a tall task at EuroBasket even with Gordon, as the nation finds itself grouped with Spain, Lithuania and Turkey. Britain does have an automatic bid to the London Olympics next summer on account of being the host nation.
Luol Deng will play in his first EuroBasket this summer as the Great Britain national team was able to secure insurance for the Chicago Bulls forward. Deng announced the news on his foundation's website. Deng has played in EuroBasket qualifying for Great Britain, but the nation has struggled to make a dent in continental competition, largely due to injury and insurance problems for the team's two stars, Deng and Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon.
Great Britain has been granted an automatic berth to the 2012 London Olympics as the host nation, but a good showing at EuroBasket will do wonders for the team's confidence. EuroBasket 2011 begins on August 31 in Lithuania. Great Britain did avail itself well in qualifiers last summer, going 6-2 and quickly sewing up one of five automatic bids to EuroBasket.
But the British has a difficult task ahead, as their Group A features reigning champ Spain, host nation Lithuania and FIBA World Championship runner-up Turkey (plus Poland and a last-chance qualifier to be determined). Deng's availability is a massive boost to G.B.'s chances of a few wins in group play, but moving to the knockouts will be a tough task.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis has made himself relevant to the NBA fan every few seasons since being drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft.
The big man's last appearance was with the Clippers entry in the Vegas Summer League last year, but for those hoping to see what improvements he's made since at the EuroBasket 2011 competition, that doesn't look like it'll be happening.
The 26-year-old power forward left the Greek National team on Tuesday due to personal reasons, according to the FIBA website, apparently citing an illness to his girlfriend. The team's coach was adamant that one of his team's best players didn't have permission to leave the team, however, leaving possible further sanctions awaiting Schortsanitis.
"I want to clarify that he did not wait for permission to go," coach Elias Zouros said. "He told us that he wanted to stop with the national team for personal reasons, which he did, despite the efforts of the technical staff and the team to keep him here."
Without Schortsanitis, and due to a rash of injuries hitting the majority of the Greek roster, Greece looks like it will struggle to earn a spot at the 2012 London Olympics.
[H/T: Tas Melas on Twitter]
Joakim Noah’s ankle is fine – it was a very minor injury. He’ll rest in Chicago and will definitely be ready for #EuroBasket2011.
France had sent a "representative" to watch over Noah's rehab in Chicago. It appears that his ankle troubles are nothing to be overly concerned about, and the French will still be able to use him. He had already sprained the ankle by late in the NBA season, but that didn't prevent him from playing in regular-season games or in the NBA Playoffs.
France will likely start Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Mickael Pietrus alongside Noah, so the French should be a force to be reckoned with. Noah is a dual citizen of France and the United States.
EuroBasket begins at the end of August. The top two teams will win automatic berths to the 2012 Olympics.
For more on Eurobasket, stay tuned to this storystream.
Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman will both suit up for Germany at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania later this summer, according to the national team's website (via HoopsHype). Germany is looking to claim a bid to the 2012 London Olympics, and needs a top-two finish at EuroBasket to cinch one up.
Nowitzki and Kaman teamed up for the Germans in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it didn't go too well: the team won just one game (a throttling of Angola) and finished 10th out of 12 teams. The talent level beyond Nowitzki has consistently been a problem for Germany, and it looks more like a miracle every day that Germany claimed a shocking gold at EuroBasket 2005.
Nowitzki didn't play in the 2010 World Championship, and Germany finished No. 17 out of 24 teams.
At EuroBasket, Germany is in Group B with Serbia, France and rising teams Israel, Latvia and Italy. The top three finishers in group play move on to the knockouts. EuroBasket begins August 31.
Joakim Noah had plans to play for France at the 2011 EuroBasket tournament next month, but those plans have been put on hold due to a nagging ankle injury. Yes, the same injury that the Chicago Bulls center played on during his team's run in the NBA Playoffs.
According to a statement from the team released on FIBA's website, while its doctors were performing routine physicals last week, the ankle injury showed that it was serious enough to warrant sending the medical reports to Noah's agent. The agent then requested Noah return to Chicago so that he can closer evaluate the situation.
France has sent its own trainer, Crawford Palmer, to Chicago "to coordinate the rehabilitation program of the player in accordance with his agent."
While Noah should probably be healthy by the time his nation needs him during its bid to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, its likely his agent isn't going to want the much-improved center to jeopardize any future earnings by playing this summer, making it important he's 100 percent by the time France plays its first game on August 31.
France's national basketball program has acquired insurance to cover its senior men's team for the 2011 EuroBasket tournament in Lithuania beginning in August, according to a report on FIBA.com. That means San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and Portland Trail Blazers wing Nicolas Batum will be able to suit up for Les Bleus as France attempts to earn a valuable early berth to the 2012 London Olympics.
Two tickets to London will be punched in Lithuania, with the two finalists in the 24-team field eligible for the Olympics. Great Britain, the 2012 host squad, is the only European team with a berth to the 12-team Olympic tournament. The United States has the only other spot currently guaranteed thanks to its top finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
The FIBA.com report keeps Joakim Noah's availability in question; the Chicago Bulls center will await a decision while his agent reviews a medical report from the French team. The report says that the medical was also sent to the Bulls, but under the NBA lockout, it's not clear league officials will allow Chicago to communicate with Paris regarding their thoughts on Noah competing.
Serge Ibaka has been granted Spanish nationality, clearing the way for the Oklahoma City Thunder forward to play for Spain in the upcoming EuroBasket 2011. Ibaka was born in the Republic of the Congo, but moved to Spain to pursue basketball as a teenager and played there professionally before joining the Thunder.
He joins an already formidable team who won gold at EuroBasket 2009 in Poland and features -- assuming health and insurance -- Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez. Spain is ranked second in the world behind the United States and is looking to bounce back from a very disappointing sixth-place finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey. In that tournament, surprising losses in group play to France and Lithuania led to a tough seed in the knockouts; Spain survived a test against Greece but fell to rising power Serbia. Argentina later beat out Spain for fifth place.
Ibaka is under contract with the Thunder, so it's unclear who will pay for his insurance. Due to the ongoing NBA lockout, teams cannot communicate with their players. If Ibaka were to get injured in FIBA play, his NBA contract could be subject to voiding without an agreement. As such, most NBA players participating in Olympic qualifying tournaments are expected to grab insurance if possible.
EuroBasket 2011, held in Lithuania, will begin August 31. Twenty-four teams will battle it out to be named the champions of Europe and -- for the top two finishers -- an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics. Getting into the Olympics is difficult as FIBA can place just 12 teams. Those European teams who don't make the EuroBasket finals will have to qualify via a last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament next summer, provided they are invited.
Lithuania is the host nation and with powerhouse Spain, the defending European champion, will anchor Group A, a veritable group of death which also features Turkey. Victims of Group A include Great Britain, Poland and one of the two qualifiers that earns a bid via a small qualifying tournament in early August.
Group B features a number of sometimes strong contenders in Serbia, France, Italy and Germany, as well as up-and-coming teams Latvia and Israel. Group C has Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and the other last-chance qualifier. Group D in rounded out with Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria and Belgium.
Other regional Olympic qualifying tournaments will also be held this summer. The United States will not participate in the FIBA Americas tournament on account of already having been qualified for the Olympics by winning the 2010 FIBA World Championship.