The second group round at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is now underway.
Saturday (7 September) saw the second day of the second round.
Here, we pick out five talking points as the tournament progresses.
Gregg Popovich: The Importance of Being Proud
Gregg Popovich has taken over from Mike Krzyzewski and makes his competitive debut as Head Coach of the United States National Team in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
In 2004, “Coach Pop” was assisting his mentor Larry Brown in the Athens Olympic Games, in a tournament he considers pivotal in Team USA history. Back then, the American team finished third behind Argentina and Italy, and heard the deafening sound of the alarm bell.
“It was then that [USA Basketball executives] Jerry Colangelo and Sean Ford changed the whole programme,” the emblematic San Antonio Spurs coach said today.
“They put together a pride of playing for your country and selected players who fitted this kind of competition, because the game is a little bit different [compared to the NBA]. Everybody that plays has to have passion, to want to be here and play. So the United States have done that really well for a long time. It hasn’t been easy; lots of close games all these years, because there are so many great players and coaches all over the world. Nothing is a given.”
Sealed by Marc Gasol
Five years ago, on home soil, the Spaniards saw their dream of beating the United States and return to the FIBA Basketball World Cup summit turn into a nightmare.
In the Madrid semifinal, the hosts were caught in the web of a spider called Rudy Gobert and lost to France, 65-52. Today the 2006 World Champions are 4-0 in the tournament and optimistic they can go all the way.
On Friday 6 September, in what you could call a rematch of the 1983 European Championship final, the Furia Roja knocked Italy out, 67-60. The game was arguably sealed by Marc Gasol’s only basket in 27 minutes of play, giving Spain a 62-56 edge with 1:07 left.
The newly-crowned NBA Champion Toronto Raptors centre was 1-for-6 from the floor, but as Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said, “did a terrific job on defense, communicating with all his teammates, setting screens and showing the greatness and flexibility of a leader when he’s not at his best offensively.”
With the Blessings of Hall of Famer Divać
Serbia (4-0) will face Spain (4-0) in a huge game between two potential gold medal contenders on Sunday 8 September in Wuhan, boosted by the blessings of Vlade Divać.
When the previous FIBA Basketball World Cup finalists cross swords with the 2006 World Champions, the Sacramento Kings General Manager will still be celebrating his induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The retired Serbian centre was part of the Class of 2019, and experienced all the emotion and pride this special honour involves. Meanwhile, in China, his fellow countrymen and legacy heirs are pursuing their quest in an attempt to follow in his footsteps.
In 2002, in Indianapolis, Divać was not just the captain of the Yugoslavian team that was crowned World Champion, coached by Svetislav Pešić. He also delivered great performances in crucial games, while at the same time being a motivator for his teammates through a sensational speech he gave in the locker room after a loss to Puerto Rico. Yugoslavia went on to beat hosts United States in the next game.
Tomáš Satoranský: "Fight Like Lions"
The beautiful Cinderella story continued today, with FIBA Basketball World Cup rookies Czech Republic beating Brazil in Shenzen, 93-71, to hold their fate in their own hands.
“If someone had said, ten days ago, that we would be playing against Greece to make the quarterfinals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, nobody would have believed him,” said Tomáš Satoranský, who finished the game with 20 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.
“We believe in ourselves, we know how hard we have worked to fill a huge gap caused by the absence of Jan Veselý. The 2017 European Championship was a total failure for us, so we must do something good here. We owe it to ourselves, to our country and to our legendary players of the past. I haven’t seen them play, but I’ve heard of them, especially Jiří Zídek. In this team, from the very first moment, we have the same motto and try to live by it all the time: ‘Fight like lions!’”
Aussie Assists Festival
Australia was the first team to secure qualification to the 2020 Basketball Olympic Tournament in Tokyo through the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The Boomers will be back to the Far East next year, as after New Zealand failed to make the top 16 they will be the top-ranked team from Oceania in the tournament, regardless of their results from the second round on.
Furthermore, Australia, never able to win a medal either in the Olympic Games or in the World Cup, is one of the top-ranked teams in assists in this tournament. After four games, the Aussies average 25.5 per game, second only to Serbia’s 30.8.
Today Australia prevailed over the Dominican Republic, 82-76, in a game that turned into an assists festival, as the winners dished out 30 of them. Patty Mills had nine, Matthew Dellavedova seven, and centre Andrew Bogut six.