‘Tis the season for international tournaments! Tipping off today in the lovely nation of Thailand is the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women, a competition with a field truly representing the best of the worldwide class. Sixteen teams will be competing for the prize, and no fewer than 13 of the world’s top 15 FIBA-ranked women’s programs will be represented. As for Europe, all five of FIBA’s top five European women’s teams – Russia, Spain, Czech Republic, France, and Lithuania – are participating.
What chance do the Continental ladies’ teams have? Well…
First and foremost – as is so often the case in European basketball – is Team Russia. Russia has recently regained the no. 2 spot in the FIBA national rankings, recently jumping Australia thanks to the country’s general domination in tournaments such as this. The U19 Russians have looked pretty good in pre-tournament friendlies against competition such as France and are graced with weak competition in Group C: Opponents in the pool are Canada (FIBA women’s world ranking of 13), Japan (15), and Tunisia (29). Don’t pencil, *pen* these ladies in for the knockout phase.
Team Spain will have to contend with opening against the no. 1-ranked American monster in Group D, but most worrisome for the Spanish ladies has got to be the recent lack of preparation as a team this bunch has had lately. Eight of the team’s players were participating in U18 and U20 international championships in Europe in July, and some arrived in Thailand just last week.
Despite the Iversonian philosophy, you have to believe that some lack of practice will make things difficult; i’d be slightly worried about that match against Team China (6).
Team France (8) drew a tough lot, jumping in pool A with Australia (3), South Korea (9), and Argentina (11). France’s U19 team has not looked good in Thailand warm-ups, though to be fair, Teams USA and Russia have the capacity to do this to lots of teams. On the other other hand, this team was smoked three times consecutively at home by Team Sweden’s U20s before leaving for Thailand, causing some slight nervousness in La France, to be sure.
Czech Republic might be considered a favorite to take Group B, which also features Brazil (4) and host Thailand (40), but if you’re looking for a dark horse to go deep into this tournament, you should be looking to Team Lithuania (12).
Why? One simple – yet so significant – fact. In 2008, Lithuania took the 2008 U18 European Championship; the team in this tournament is composed of every single one of those 12 players. Even beyond soon-to-be international stars Aurime Rinkeviciute and Gintare Mazionyte, this group is an embodiment of both a golden generation in basketball and the intangibles of teamwork.
Aside from Russia, Team Lithuania may be Europe’s best hope in the 2009 U19s – and a great squad to keep an eye on in the future.