What we learned from the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup

We'll have 'Redeem Team II' at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after Ricky Rubio inspired Spain to their first world title in 13 years in China

By Vassilis Skountis and Rory Jiwani ·

After just over two weeks of thrilling action, Spain emerged as winners of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup with victory over Argentina in the final in Beijing.

Their success came after two-time reigning champions USA were stunned in the quarter-finals by France with Gregg Popovich's squad eventually taking seventh, their worst finish in World Cup history.

Seven countries booked their places at Tokyo 2020 including Iran who will make their first Games appearance for 12 years.

Here's our list of eight takeaways from the competition.

Ricky Rubio - the new leader on the block

Thirteen years after their triumph in Saitama, Japan, Spain returned to the Far East to win the World Cup title again.

La Roja have now been crowned world champions twice to go with their three European titles and three Olympic silver medals from 1984, 2008 and 2012.

Despite missing important players such as Pau Gasol, head coach Sergio Scariolo marshalled his men superbly with Ricky Rubio completing his rise from young talent to worldbeater.

At Beijing 2008, Rubio made his debut for Spain at a major tournament with then-coach Alejandro ‘Aito’ Garcia Reneses giving the Joventut Badalona guard a start in the final against the United States’ awesome 'Redeem Team' two months before his 18th birthday.

Spain's Ricky Rubio (#6) and Marc Gasol look on as USA's Kobe Bryant speaks to an official in the Beijing 2008 Olympic final

Eleven years later, in the same Wukesong Arena where he collected his first Olympic silver medal, Rubio was named World Cup Final MVP and tournament MVP as he led Spain to glory.

Now an eight-year NBA veteran, the 29-year-old is about to start life at the Phoenix Suns after previous stints at the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz.

Last September, he told Olympic Channel of his desire to lead the Jazz to success.

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That wish did not come true as the Jazz were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Houston Rockets and let several players, including Rubio, move on in the offseason.

He will hope to make an immediate impact in Phoenix after his exploits in China.

And 2020, he will bid for a first Olympic gold with help from Pau Gasol, the only other Spaniard to win the World Cup MVP.

Time for 'Redeem Team II'

Spain were also the victors in 2006, the previous time the United States were beaten in a major global tournament.

After their bronze medal in Japan, the Americans came back with a vengeance and dominated world basketball for the next decade.

Now they have to do it again after their worst result in any global competition.

When asked if they had "redemption" in mind, Kemba Walker replied, "You could say that."

Seventh place was not what was expected with the USA seeking a unique hat-trick of World Cup titles.

Donovan Mitchell was their standout player, and he said he had a "great time" despite results going against them.

On USA's failure to reach the semi-finals, coach Gregg Popovich said, "I don’t feel ashamed at all. Besides, it’s not written on stone somewhere that Team USA will win the gold medal in every competition."

One thing they did achieve is qualification for Tokyo 2020 where Popovich will have bigger star names at his disposal.

Golden State Warriors' three-time All Star forward and Rio 2016 gold medallist Draymond Green has already declared himself available for next year's Games with team-mate Steph Curry, James Harden and possibly LeBron James set to join him.

Write off Team USA at your peril in Japan.

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The return of Argentina

Argentina have always had the ability to surprise, and the 2019 World Cup was no exception.

Without a single active NBA player in their roster, El Alma Argentina confounded the odds once again with evergreen centre Luis Scola taking them to the brink of an improbable gold medal.

Scola is the one survivor from the team which beat the United States on the way to gold at Athens 2004.

Their story is told in the Olympic Channel film 'The Golden Generation'.

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Their run to the final in China was their best showing in a global tournament since their bronze at Beijing 2008.

Those NBA teams might well come calling in the near future with Facundo Campazzo's creativity and shooting from range taking the eye.

Campazzo's guard partner Νicolas Laprovittola insists there is more to come saying, "Now we must take some steps forward, so that we make the podium again in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Scola was unable to reproduce his semi-final heroics against France as Spain gave him little room in the final.

And despite turning 40 next April, his desire remains as strong as ever ahead of Tokyo:

"I’ve never said I’m going to quit. We played in the final, I drank a glass of red wine and I’m looking ahead." - Luis Scola

The Boomers' long wait goes on

Australia became the first team to qualify for Tokyo 2020 via the World Cup, but a major tournament medal continues to elude them.

They say fourth place is the worst, and the Boomers occupied that berth again having done so at three Olympic Games (1988, 1996 and 2016).

It may have been their best finish at a World Cup, but missing out on a medal was a bitter pill to swallow.

After their third-place playoff defeat to France, head coach Andrej Lemanis said, "There’s so many people involved in basketball in Australia who were hoping for a medal and you want to win for them, but unfortunately, we weren't able to get that done."

There is potential for improvement in Tokyo with three active NBA players - All Star Ben Simmons, Thon Maker, and Dante Exum - likely to join the four they had in China including Patty Mills whose 32 points against Spain wasn't enough to take his side to the final.

Fournier and France want more

Having stunned the United States in the quarter-finals, France went down to Argentina before beating Australia to take bronze.

But Evan Fournier, whose performances saw him named to the World Cup All Star Five, was far from satisfied:

"We came here to win the gold medal, not to finish third and be happy only because we beat the Americans." - Evan Fournier

France and Spain secured the two European spots for Tokyo 2020 at the World Cup, and the Orlando Magic guard cannot wait for next year's Games.

He said, "I have not played in the Olympic Games yet, and I would love to live the experience and the emotion involved.

"I was just eight years old back then, but I remember Vince Carter posterising Frederic Weis with his ‘Dunk of Death’.”

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Fournier, who averaged 19.8 points per game in the tournament, also commented on Team USA’s presence.

"It bothers me. To be honest, when you look at LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and all these guys… they came here already and won, so it’s fine.

"But for friends of mine like Tobias (Harris), I thought it was a great opportunity for him to see something different and compete. I think they don’t realise how beneficial this is for their career."

Work to do for Japan

As Tokyo 2020 hosts, Japan were already guaranteed a spot in the 12-team Olympic tournament.

But they will need to step up markedly on their efforts at the World Cup if they are to be competitive next year.

Despite the presence of new Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura, the team from the Land of the Rising Sun failed to register a win in their five games in China and were classified 31st out of the 32 teams.

Their Argentinian head coach Julio Lamas pointed out areas in which the team needs to progress:

"We are not happy with what happened here. In order to make it better in the Olympic tournament we have to improve our game in many aspects, including defensive reactions, execution from behind the three-point arc, and ball movement."

Memphis Grizzlies' Yuta Watanabe averaged 15.6 points per game in the tournament ahead of Nick Fazekas on 14.4 and Hachimura's 13.3.

And Hachimura gave a glimpse of what he can do in their heavy defeat to the USA, beating Jaylen Brown for dunk of the match.

Nigeria the pride of Africa

The D' Tigers of Nigeria are through to their third consecutive Olympic Games tournament having been Africa's first representatives in 2012.

A narrow defeat to Russia in their opening game all but ended their hopes of making the second round, but they won their two classification matches to take 17th in the final standings

Now they can look to improve on their 10th place at London 2012 and 11th at Rio 2016.

Nigeria have three active NBA players in their roster with Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie leading by example averaging 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game as well as making 42.1% of his three-point attempts.

San Antonio Spurs forward Chimezie Metu added 9.0 points per game, with Orlando Magic forward Al-Farouq Aminu averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Haddadi the Iranian inspiration

Iran returns to the Olympic Games after an absence of 12 years.

Having lost all three of their first-round group games, they won both their classification contests to pip hosts China on points difference to the Asia qualification spot for Tokyo 2020.

Iran were 11th at Beijing 2008 after finishing 14th on their only other previous appearance at London in 1948.

They had four players who averaged double-digits in scoring, led by 34-year-old Hamed Haddadi.

Assuming the anchor role in the paint, the 2.18m former Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns centre - who played in the NBA from 2008 to 2013 - averaged a double-double per game with 14.6 points and 10.8 rebounds to go with his 4.4 assists and 1.2 blocks.

And Haddadi's performances earned him a return to Chinese Basketball Association side Sichuan Blue Whales.