Feature | Basketball

Things you need to know about the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019

Seven Olympic spots up for grabs as USA bid for hat-trick of titles in the biggest FIBA World Cup yet.

By Ashlee Tulloch ·

A record 32 nations will battle it out for the title of basketball world champions when the 2019 FIBA World Cup gets underway on 31st August.

Competing in eight cities across China, the teams will also be hoping to claim one of seven Olympic qualification berths for Tokyo 2020.

Now guided by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the United States are bidding for a third consecutive crown having beaten Serbia in the final in Madrid five years ago.

USA head coach Gregg Popovich (R) speaks with his predecessor Mike Krzyzewski

With the best two European teams making it through to Tokyo 2020, the Serbs will face stiff competition from Spain, France and Lithuania in a genuine competition within a competition.

The big absentees are European champions Slovenia who failed to qualify for the World Cup meaning Luka Doncic will not be in China or at Tokyo.

The fight for the sole Asian qualification spot will be fierce too between hosts China and the Phillipines.

Japan are in the Tokyo 2020 competition as hosts, but they will be keen to put up a good showing in China with much expected of Rui Hachimura who was picked ninth overall by the Washington Wizards in the NBA Draft.

The 32 teams in China

GROUP A - BEIJING: China, Côte d'Ivoire, Poland, Venezuela

GROUP B - WUHAN: Argentina, Korea, Nigeria, Russia

GROUP C - GUANGZHOU: Spain, Iran, Puerto Rico, Tunisia

GROUP D - FOSHAN: Angola, Italy, Philippines, Serbia

GROUP E - SHANGHAI : Czech Republic, Japan, Turkey, USA

GROUP F - NANJING: Brazil, Greece, Montenegro, New Zealand

GROUP G - SHENZHEN: Dominican Republic, France, Netherlands, Jordan

GROUP H - DONGGUAN: Australia, Canada, Lithuania, Australia


Eight cities, in five provinces, will host matches in the biggest FIBA World Cup yet.

No fewer than 92 games will be played over the 16 days.

The eight groups are based in eight separate cities with the hosts in Beijing's Wukesong Arena which was built to host basketball at the 2008 Olympic Games.

China will face Côte d'Ivoire, Poland and Venezuela.

The top two teams in each group go through together to the second round consisting four pools of four teams.

The results between sides who met in the first round are carried forward with each team playing twice in round two.

Group I is in Foshan with Group J in Wuhan, Group K in Shenzhen and Group L in Nanjing.

The remaining 16 teams go through to classification matches which have real importance as far as Tokyo 2020 is concerned.

Seven nations - the top team in Africa, Asia and Oceania plus the top two in Europe and the Americas - will qualify for next year's Games with the next 16 (so down to 23rd place) going through to one of four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments next year.

The top two in each group in the second round progress to the quarter-finals with two in Dongguan and two in Shanghai.

All the action from the semi-finals onwards is in Beijing with the final taking place on 15th September.

The teams and players to watch


The United States are the obvious favourites as they bid for a hat-trick of world titles.

Despite the absence of LeBron James, Steph Curry and the injured Kevin Durant, coach Popovich has plenty of stars at his disposal with his 12-man squad to be decided from an NBA-packed 13-player roster who flew out to Australia for warm-up games.

Gregg Popovich speaks with Toronto Raptors' guard Kawhi Leonard

The players will train together for four days in early August before taking on Spain in Anaheim, California with Popovich naming his 12-man roster for China on 17th August.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters on 11th June, Popovich said, "We spent a lot of time to try and bring the most talented people we possibly could because that's what it's going to take to compete in this World Cup."

On the limited training opportunities for his squad, he admitted, "Four days is not enough to do much of anything in life. What’s available and what’s necessary are two different things and we need to look at the process to be a team that plays like a team when we get to China.

"We are fully aware that we don't have a lot of time." - USA head coach Gregg Popovich

That said, it will be a shock if USA do not win this event on the way to defending their Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Popovich has unfinished business with the Games, having been an assistant at Athens 2004 when the USA were stunned by Argentina in the semi-finals.

That story is retold in the Olympic Channel film, The Golden Generation, directed by Oscar winner Juan Jose Campanella.

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Beaten finalists five years ago, Serbia will be seeking another medal at the FIBA World Cup after taking Olympic silver at Rio 2016.

And head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic has possibly his strongest ever squad since taking charge in 2014.

He has been boosted by the return to the squad of Denver Nuggets' All-Star centre Nikola Jokic who was named in this year's All-NBA First Team.

Jokic is in a preliminary 34-man squad which also includes Sacramento Kings duo Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica.

The Serbs struggled in European qualifying without their NBA stars with former LA Clippers guard Milos Teodosic and German-based forward Vladimir Lucic helping secure their place in China with a last-game win over Israel in February.

Before that they did incredibly well to take second place at Eurobasket 2017, when again missing their biggest names, going down to Slovenia in the final.

Boban Marjanovic has been a key figure in recent years, but had to settle for a bit-part role in the Philadelphia 76ers' campaign this season.

The 2.21-metre centre may have to fulfill a similar role with the national team now Jokic is back in the fold, and he says Serbia will fear no-one in China.

"Playing against top teams is a very good thing, and we aren't afraid of any team. We respect all the teams, but we also know our talent and we're ambitious." - Boban Marjanovic speaking to FIBA


Since their heyday in the second half of the last decade, Greece have struggled to reach the heights in basketball.

The Greeks were the last team to beat the United States at a World Cup, stunning a line-up featuring Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade 101-95 in the semi-finals in 2006.

They were beaten in the final by Spain and claimed bronze at Eurobasket 2009 before a slump which saw them fail to qualify for the last two Olympic Games.

But now they have this year's NBA MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo after the skilful forward led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best regular season record in the league.

The 24-year-old beat Paul George and last year's winner James Harden to the title, and there was barely a dry eye in the house when 'the Greek Freak' accepted his award.

Antetokounmpo's older brother Thanasis is also a candidate to make the 12-man roster after the Bucks signed him to play summer league.

Sacramento Kings centre Kosta Koufos and Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyler Dorsey are likely to join them with most of the roster drawn from the big two in the Greek league - Olympiakos and Panathinaikos.


The Gilas could be missing a number of star names in China.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson, who played for the Philippines at last year's Asian Games, looks set to miss out with just one naturalised player permitted per squad.

That spot has already gone to Andray Blatche with the Philippines basketball association (SBP) unable to have Clarkson classified as a 'local' on the basis that he was not issued with a Filipino passport until after the age of 16.

The same FIBA rules mean Arizona State guard Remy Martin will not be eligible to play in China despite his recent expression of interest.

Also missing will be Kai Sotto who will take part in the upcoming FIBA U19 World Cup.

The 17-year-old centre has been training in Atlanta recently with a view to joining a European team later this year.

But he and his fellow 'Twin Tower', forward AJ Edu, will compete in Greece where the team have been placed in a diificult group with the hosts, Argentina and Russia.


One young star who will be in China is Japan forward Rui Hachimura.

The college standout for Gonzaga Bulldogs has already made his presence felt for the national team, scoring 24 points in a narrow 79-78 win over Australia in Chiba last June.

Hachimura's stock continued to rise back at Gonzaga, winning the 2019 Western Conference Championship Player of the Year award.

In April, he announced that he would finish college early to declare for the NBA Draft where he was picked ninth overall by the Washington Wizards.

The 21-year-old led Japan to victory in their first friendly ahead of the World Cup, scoring 35 points in a 99-89 decision over New Zealand in Chiba.

Rui Hachimura during the friendly win over New Zealand in Chiba on 12th August 2019

And he could give a taster of what to expect in his rookie NBA season in the big league when he and the USA meet in Shanghai on the final day of Group E matches on 5th September.

Japan are far from a one-man team with naturalised Colorado-born forward Nick Fazekas regularly leading the way in scoring.

But their opener against Turkey will probably determine whether they go through to the second round.


Despite the absence of Pau Gasol after surgery on a stress fracture in his left foot, Spain will be strong medal contenders in China.

Fresh from winning the NBA Finals with the Toronto Raptors, and making the Gasols the first brothers in NBA history to win championship rings, Marc will lead the team despite admitting he is "closer to the end" of his international career than the beginning.

Marc Gasol of the Toronto Raptors holds the NBA Championship trophy

Both Gasols were part of the squad which claimed the World Cup in 2006 in Japan, beating Greece 70-47 in the final, before winning silver at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Spain are currently ranked number two in the world and will be hoping for another podium finish.

Gasol Jr, now 34, told FIBA that he obviously hopes to be on that top spot again to relive that magical experience in Saitama.

"Just thinking about it makes me smile and reminds me of so many good things. It was 13 years ago but it's still fresh in my mind." - Marc Gasol talking to FIBA

Along with Gasol Jr, Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio will be expected to put up big numbers having returned to play in the early qualifiers.

Barcelona stalwart Juan Carlos Navarro retired last year but his former clubmate Pierre Oriola was part of the squad which took bronze at Eurobasket 2017.

Marc Gasol's Raptors team-mate Serge Ibaka, who last represented Spain at the 2014 World Cup, could be included with the Congo-born forward set to be the side's one naturalised player.

Toronto Raptors' Serge Ibaka (L) and Marc Gasol during Game Five of the NBA Finals


The 'Boomers' only made the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup, and their hopes have been dealt a hefty blow by the withdrawal of NBA All Star Ben Simmons.

Picked first overall in the 2016 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, 11 years after fellow Melbourne-born Boomer Andrew Bogut was selected first, Simmons had to sit out the whole of the 2016-17 season with a foot injury.

But he made up for lost time by taking the 76ers to the Eastern Conference semi-finals and being named 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year.

Simmons, who turns 23 in July, built on that this season as he earned his first All-Star selection with Philadelphia again going out in the Eastern semis, this time to eventual NBA champions Toronto.

After that exit, he announced he would be pulling on the Australia jersey in the offseason, but later went back on that pledge after signing a contract extension with the 76ers.

There are now eight NBA players in Australia's World Cup preliminary squad including Patty Mills who was outstanding at Rio 2016 where Australia just lost out to Spain for the bronze medal.

Mills and fellow three-time Olympians Bogut and Joe Ingles are also in there with Cleveland Cavaliers' Matthew Dellavedova, an NBA champion alongside LeBron James in 2016, taking on greater responsibility in Simmons' absence.


31st August to 5th September - First round

6th to 9th September - Second round

10th to 11th September - Quarter-finals

13th September - Semi-finals

15th September - Final and third place game