In his first post for BiE, Andrei Britz looks back on the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup through the eyes of a man who grew up appreciating Balkan hoops.
It’s just over a week since Spain 2014. We enjoyed two weeks of intense and fun basketball.
Spain was a close to perfect host, bolstering good venues and passionate crowds. The Spaniards are yet again capitalising on the Barcelona 92 Olympic games. One of the few countries, in recent history to do so.
Spain had put to good use the Olympic infrastructure and it has upgraded it in some areas.
Palau Sant Jordi arena, which despite not hosting basketball was one of the primary venues in those games. In September saw a new generation of athletes from across the globe play.
Basketball is today a global phenomenon and Barcelona 92 was a turning point in making the sport truly global. Spain hosted numerous successful basketball events like NBA pre-season games and the USA basketball friendly games before the 2012 London Olympic games. So picking Spain to host the event made a lot of sense.
The tournament had two clear favourites, USA and host Spain.
Spain had put together the best talent it had to try and capitalize on the home court advantage. The Gasol brothers, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and La Bomba, Juan Carlos Navaro all came together to build a world class team.
Spain looked very good in the group phase, claiming the top spot, and not losing a single game. Group A was the toughest, with teams like Serbia, France and Brazil all competing hard. Spain managed to win the group game against France, thanks to a strong performance from the Gasol brothers.
Pau, in particular, had an unexpectedly good tournament, earning a spot in the top 5 all-star team of the World Cup. Pau averaged 20 points per game with a very efficient field goal percentage of 63 per cent. So it looks like Chicago made a good move this summer.
France proved that it was no accident that they got the Euro gold last year, against the Spaniards. Les Bleus, led by Nick Batum and Boris Diaw showed that they can be a force even without the Spurs star-point guard Tony Parker. A big disappointment for the team of ball-matadors and for Espana. Even cheeky experts like Barkley were betting on Spain to steal the World Cup.
The revelation of the World Cup was Serbia. The Serbs came with a young but robust team, proving once again that they belong to the basketball elite.
Their first surprise was against Greece, a team that had the backing of most experts. The second one was in the quarter final, against Brazil. A team that has a strong front court, full with NBA bigs, Nene, Splitter and Varejao. Brazil was beaten by 30 points by the hawks from the Balkans.
But the true upset was the defeat of France. France were lucky to get a win against the Serbs in the group stage, by just one point. In the semi-final it was a different story. Led by Teodosic (24 point), the point guard from CSKA Moscow, with contributions from the talented Bogdanovic (13 points) and Raduljica (11 points), the Serbs defeated the French by 5.
35 points from Nick Batum, was not enough to keep the French afloat. The French did get a bit of a consolation by beating Lithuania to get the bronze medal.
There were high hopes for Serbia, and they carried a good momentum into the final. Serbia had to face the US-hurricane in the final, which proved too much for them. The Serbs could keep the pace with the Americans just in the first quarter. Nonetheless a great achievement for the Balkan nation.
The real magnitude of Serbia’s achievement was only realised when they came home. An approximately 20k-strong crowd, according to Serbian media estimates, took to the streets of Belgrade to celebrate, creating instant flashbacks with Belgrade in 1998 when Yugoslavia was crowned World Champion.
Considering that Serbia is now just Serbia, this is a huge achivement, for them andI can’t wait to see the likes of Bogdanovic and Raduljica in the NBA. In the end, it was USA that kept their World Champion crown. The Americans had the youngest team in the championship. They had arrived without some of their top stars as Paul George had the freak injury and Kevin Durant withdrew in the last moment.
Yet, the Yanks had enough fire-power to beat most opponents by 30 points or more. One friend of mine was joking, that USA should send high-school players, to keep things fair for the other teams. The truth is that USA has one, two more gears in their gearbox than the rest. We just need to admit it. Kenneth Faried was a beast on the courts, snapping 7.8 rebounds and 12.4 points per game. The Manimal was a regular of the highlights, bringing excitement to every game.
James Harden and Kyrie Irving also had good stats and looked unstoppable at times. I am not even going to talk about Rose. In my view we have seen too little of him in the World Cup. So the question whether he is back to his true self, remains open.
Looking back at Barcelona 92, we can say that the gap between the USA and the rest is smaller. We have now many international players in the NBA.The quality of basketball played in Europe, Asia and Australia is a lot better. But at this time it doesn’t look like USA has much to worry about.
We (the rest) can just sit back and enjoy the show.