Our 2014 FIBA World Cup Wildcard Picks

One of the most important announcements FIBA will make this year concerns the 2014 FIBA World Cup roster of teams. There are a total of 24 slots for the said event, with 20 already filled up by the host country (Spain), the Olympic champion (USA), and the qualifiers from the different FIBA subzones. These eighteen qualified teams are the following:

FIBA Africa: Angola, Egypt, and Senegal
FIBA Americas: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Dominican Republic
FIBA Asia: Iran, Philippines, and South Korea
FIBA Europe: France, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Serbia
FIBA Oceania: Australia and New Zealand

On 1 February 2014, the Central Board of FIBA will finally announce decision regarding the four remaining slots. The teams that are to fill these slots will be taken from the pool of fifteen countries that applied for the wild card berths. These fifteen are:

FIBA Africa: Nigeria
FIBA Americas: Brazil, Canada, and Venezuela
FIBA Asia: China and Qatar
FIBA Europe: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Turkey

Who will we see in Spain this year?

Three main criteria were used by FIBA to ascertain which four teams were best-suited to receive the World Cup nods. These criteria are:

Sporting & Promotional Aspects - Basically this talks about the popularity of hoops in the country, its track record in competing and hosting, the prospective impact of participating in the World Cup, and the commitment of the country’s best hoops talent.
Economic Aspects - This revolves around how marketable basketball and the event itself is to the country. It also deals with whether the country is an important market when it comes to FIBA’s commercial partners.
Governance Aspects - This weighs just how well the country’s national federation has complied with FIBA’s regulations and statutes, and the quality of work of the national federation.

Phew. Now that we’ve gotten past all the technical mumbo-jumbo, let’s argue about which four teams seem to have the inside track in as much as getting the available wild card slots. 

These are my picks. I call them the BRIC countries.

I like Brazil’s chances mainly because it’s an emerging market (not sure if that’s the right economic term), and the potential for FIBA’s sponsors to get exposure is sizable. Aside from this, a couple of other things are working in the Selecao’s favor — their strong finish in the 2012 London Olympics and the fact that they have a host of NBA players who can attract crowds to their games. 

Two years ago, Brazil won four of its six games to finish fifth out of twelve teams in the Olympics. They beat Australia, Great Britain, China, and even Spain in the preliminaries, but lost to Russia. They finished second in their group, but were beaten by Argentina in the quarterfinals. Leandro Barbosa distinguished himself by being one of the top ten in scoring, while both Nene and Anderson Varejao finished in the top ten in rebounding. 

What made Brazil struggle in last year’s FIBA Americas tournament was the fact that they had a severely depleted roster. Without its big guns, Brazil tumbled to an all-time worst 0-4 finish. The President of Brazil’s Basketball Federation, Carlos Nuñes, however, has assured that its NBAers (aside from the aforementioned trio, Brazil can call up Tiago Splitter) and top local talents (Marcelo Huertas of FC Barcelona and Guilherme Giovannoni of Brasilia to name just two) have already signified their intent to join the team. If this is true, then Brazil is surely set to make a splash in the World Cup.

Marcelo Huertas should be a vital player for the Selecao.

Russia shares a lot of similarities with Brazil in that it is also an emerging market and that it is a traditional basketball powerhouse in its subzone. Aside from this, Russia also has a some NBA players available and has shown how it can compete with the world’s best.

Russia is ranked #6 in the FIBA World Rankings for Men, and that’s with good reason. In the 2012 London Olympics, Russia finished an impressive third. Behind current and former NBA pros Alexey Shved, Timofey Mozgov, Andrei Kirilenko, and Viktor Khryapa, the Russians of coach David Blatt went 4-1 in the preliminaries and beat Lithuania and Argentina in the knockout rounds to finish with the bronze. Shved, in particular, broke out in that tournament, and it served to raise his stock entering the NBA.

Sergey Karasev of the Cavaliers is one guy to watch.

If Russia can pool all that talent together, then it should perform much better than it did in Eurobasket 2013, where the Sbornaya won just one out of five games to finish among the 21st-24th placers. Also, Russia gives FIBA and its sponsors another big market.

Italy looks to be a prime prospect for a wild card slot because of three main reasons: its proximity to Spain, its NBA talent pool, and its finishing just outside the top seven in the 2013 Eurobasket.

Because of Italy’s proximity to Spain, the prospect of having Italian fans troop all the way to the six Spanish host cities (Bilbao, Gran Canaria, Granada, Seville, Barcelona, and Madrid) is very real. Having the Azzurri as one of the main protagonists ensures that live in-arena audiences should swell. And since Italy, at full strength, can really give even the world’s best a run for their money, the crowds will probably follow their idols all the way to the knockout rounds.

Speaking of being in full strength, Italy looks to have a promising roster should it get the nod. Maurizio Bertea, the Secretary-General of the Italian Basketball Federation, has gone on to say that NBAers Andrea Bargnani, Luigi Datome, and Marco Belinelli should be able to participate in the World Cup. Other key players like Daniel Hackett (Emporio Armani Milano) and Amedeo Della Valle (Ohio State) are also being eyed to help the Italians be more competitive in Spain.

Marco Belinelli's hot shooting should be a boon for Italy.

Yes, the Chinese didn’t exactly impress in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, but that’s mainly because they had a relatively new coach and a bad mix of inexperienced and over-the-hump players. Yi Jianlian was also not exactly at 100%, so the China we saw in Manila wasn’t the best version of the Big Red Machine. Just like Brazil and Russia, China can also give FIBA a huge market its sponsors can reach. Getting China on board means a golden opportunity to receive more potential revenue and a bigger slice of the media pie.

Aside from the obvious economic variable, China has also been the most competitive Asian country in the past decade or so. The Dragons crashed the quarterfinals in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, though they did finish dead last in the most recent edition in London. Still, despite that setback and finishing outside the top four in the FIBA Asia Championships for the first time since 2007, China remains one of the strongest basketball countries in the continent. 

Should FIBA award China a wild card slot, I am dead sure that the CBA will do everything to make up for the embarrassment in Manila. Led by Yi Jianlian, a relatively young core of Chinese basketball’s new generation will try to redeem some of its wounded pride. We’ll probably see young guns like Wang Zhelin, Li Muhao, Guo Ailun, and Ding Yanyuhang fill in for the spots that will be left behind by the likes of Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu, or even Wang Shipeng. 

A full-strength Yi Jianlian is a potentially dominant force.

UPDATE as of January 29, 2014 (Manila time):

Upon reading this article from il Fatto Quotidiano, I’ve discovered that the Italians are no longer pursuing any of the wildcard berths. This is a sad development, of course, especially since I believed they had a excellent chance of being named one of the four wildcard squads.

In light of this, it only stands to reason that we must name a new wildcard team to replace Italy, and that team is none other than…

Hellas! The highlight of 2013 for the Greeks was definitely beating Spain at the Eurobasket, but this was canceled out by their losing to Slovenia and Croatia (double OT!!!), which led to Greece missing the quarterfinals. One may argue that this was mainly because the Greeks didn’t have some of their top-tier talent (NBAers Kosta Koufos, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nick Calathes all missed Eurobasket), but with guys like Vassilis Spanoulis and Nikos Zisis, this was still a formidable team.

Ink-clad Georgios Printezis will be a force for the Greeks.

Greece should be a viable wildcard option for FIBA mainly because, unlike most other European countries, basketball seems to be more popular than football here. This is also a team that has enjoyed relative success on the world stage, even beating the Americans in 2006. Having a Greek team in the World Cup could potentially add more star power to an already star-studded event.

Another reason I think Greece has a strong chance of getting a World Cup berth is because of its NBA talents. There are currently three Greek-born/bred players in the NBA — the aforementioned Antetonkoumpo (MIL), Koufos (MEM), and Calathes (MEM). Only a handful of other European nations have at least as many as that. If those three guys play for Team Hellas in the World Cup, then Greece might just have another strong shot at a top eight finish.

Agree or disagree? Do you think any other country should be chosen by FIBA? Hit us up on the comments below!

All images are from FIBA.com.

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