The now elder statesmen of international hoops often speak about the influence the Dream Team had on them but what about the players who were born in the wake of that defining event in international basketball? Emmet Ryan looks at the most interesting young players at the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
This seems like as good a time as any to talk about youth at the World Cup given Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been named in Ukraine’s squad. For the purposes of this we’re defining these players as any born from 1992 onwards. That means one or two were born before the 1992 Olympics but we’re going to allow them those couple of months when it’s safe to say they didn’t develop all that much as ballers.
What was stunning in our look across the squads was how few young players feature on teams from the Americas. Outside of Team USA, it’s a string of veteran heavy outfits. Europe, by and large, is sending more balanced squads but there are plenty of younger players knocking around.
Evan Fournier – France/Orlando Magic
Fournier saw his time on court increase in his sophomore season with the Nuggets this past year but still ended up leaving Denver, who drafted him 20th overall in 2012, to join the Magic this off-season.
Rudy Gobert – France/Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz big man was, like Fournier, not in the French squad when they lifted the EuroBasket title last autumn. After a year splitting time between the Jazz and the Bakersfield Jam in the D-League, the time with the national squad will if nothing else give him a stable base before heading back to the NBA.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – Ukraine/University of Kansas
Mykhailiuk starred for Ukraine in the B Division of the FIBA Europe Under 18 championships this summer and he is the classic case of the hot Euro that few people have seen. As the youngest player in the whole tournament, Mykhailiuk will have the opportunity to team with veteran talent like Pooh Jeter before suiting up for the Kansas Jayhawks in the Big 12 this season.
Cedi Osman – Turkey/Anadolu Efes
The MVP of the FIBA Europe Under 20 championships, Osman is projected to go in the middle of the second round of next year’s draft. If he puts in some impressive displays in Group C, where Turkey’s opponents include the USA, the combo guard could do wonders for his stock.
Bogdan Bogdanovic – Serbia/Fenerbahce
This is a good teaser moment for Bogdan. He got drafted by the Suns in June (27th overall), their fans are talking about him but they also know they won’t see him in Phoenix for two years. There will be a lot of eyes in Arizona watching the Fenerbahce man hit the floor in Spain.
Alex Abrines – Spain/FC Barcelona
How Spain use Abrines in this tournament will be far more interesting than any discussion of his future. The back court defence of the hosts is the big question mark surrounding their chances to upset the USA. Abrines, a SG/SF hybrid, could hold some value here although his offence is the more appealing aspect of his game. FC Barcelona gave him an increased role last season and his usage is likely to go up again in the coming year but he may well only be used sparingly in this tournament.
Dario Saric – Croatia/Anadolu Efes
Like Bogdan, he’s going to tease some folks across the Atlantic. Saric, the 12th overall pick this summer, he won’t be heading to the NBA for at least two seasons so fans in Philly will see this as an opportunity to see how the Adriatic League MVP shapes up against some big time talent.
EDIT: Blatant mea culpa, I forgot about Dario’s rights being traded. That’s been fixed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – Greece/Milwaukee Bucks
It has well and truly been the summer of Giannis in terms of highlights. Everybody knows the Greek Freak is a human highlight reel, his goal in Spain will be to show he can lead a fairly mixed bag of a Greek team on a deep run.
Anthony Davis – USA/New Orleans Pelicans
Size has been a talking point for this USA team, namely that they’ve brought four centres to Spain. There’s not a lot to be said about Davis that you don’t already know other than that he could join a particularly elite club of players to win both Olympic and FIBA World Cup/Championship gold.
Andre Drummond – USA/Detroit Pistons
Did we mention Team USA is bringing several bigs? Drummond could secure the first part of the bizarre Kevin Love success train in Spain. K-Love won the world title in Turkey and Olympic gold in London and has yet to suit up in a playoff game in the NBA. One look at the Pistons and then a look at the USA’s need for bigs means Drummond has a serious shot at matching that feat.
Kyrie Irving – USA/Cleveland Cavaliers
Yesm he was technically born before the Dream Team won their medals but he’s too interesting to ignore. Around six weeks ago that Kyrie Irving was the best player on Cleveland’s roster. Spain presents Irving with the chance to remind everyone of what he can do before LeBron and Love join forces.
Dante Exum – Australia/Utah Jazz
Has there ever been a player to generate so much excitement Stateside with so few people having seen him play with the grown-ups? Aside from Darko and. really, that’s unfair. Exum excelled at FIBA Under 17s a couple of years back and caught more attention at the 2013 FIBA Under 19s. Now he gets to play with the big boys.
Jonas Valanciunas – Lithuania/Toronto Raptors
The manner in which Valanciunas has bulked up and refined his game over the last 18 months means it’s hard to remember just how young he is. There are still raw edges to shave off but he is the star of a Lithuanian team that hits Spain on the back of a hot run.