August 29, 2010

World Cup of Hoops tips off in Turkey

It has been a great summer for top global competitions in my two favourite sports. The excitement and stinging noise of vuvuzelas from the FIFA World Cup have barely stopped ringing in my ears, but now here's more to celebrate for hoop fans: the 2010 FIBA World Championships, featuring the best basketball teams in the world, tipped off in Istanbul, Turkey on August 28th.

The championships features 24 powerhouses of world basketball such as defending champions Spain (who won the tournament in Japan in 2006), 2006 silver medal winners Greece, a USA team full of young NBA stars, and Argentina. Other countries such as Serbia, Russia, Australia, Lithuania, and Brazil are also participating. Asia is featuring four teams too: China, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Spain and USA are probably joint favourites for this tournament, even though Spain is playing without the 2006 MVP and recent visitor to India Pau Gasol. Spain will be led by Juan Carlos Navarro, teenage phenom Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, and Marc Gasol.

The Americans have kept home their Beijing Olympics gold medal winning squad: So now Wade, Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, etc, etc, etc... They have instead fielded a young, small team of quick guards, so small that Lamar Odom starts at Center. USA's best player is probably NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant. He will be supported by the likes of Derrick Rose, Andre Iguodala, and perhaps the team's only "elder" statesmen, Chauncey Billups.

The home squad of Turkey will also field an interesting lineup featuring NBA player Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova.

Other players to watch out for in this tournament will be Luis Scola (Argentina), Tiago Splitter and Leandro Barbosa (Brazil), Nicolas Batum (France), Goran Dragic (Slovenia), Dimitris Diamantidis (Greece), and Viktor Khryapa (Russia).

Unfortunately, this tournament has been marred by the injuries or omission of players who will not be able to show their skills at the world stage. After the aforementioned plethora of talented American stars and Spaniard Pau Gasol who will be skipping out, other well known names such as Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni (Argentina), Yao Ming (China), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Tony Parker (France), Nene (Brazil), and Andrew Bogut (Australia) won't be playing.

Still, the tournament has been able to gather a lot of hype and interest around the world, and could really be a propellent to help launch basketball even more as a global sport.

The competition tipped off last night with a shock, as an unfavoured French side took down defending champions Spain in their first game 72-66. USA took care of business against Croatia, defeating them easily 106-78. China's Yi Jianlian had an impressive start to the tournament with 26 points and 14 rebounds but couldn't stop his team from being put away by Greece 89-81.

On a side note, the Championships will be featuring three official ambassadors from India as part of the "Children of the World" programme. Two Indian sub-juniors Poojamal and Yogesh Kanderia, along with coach P. Deepa Sundari will be amongst hundreds of other youngsters from all FIBA nations to enjoy a short flavour of the championships and attend training camps.

Stay tuned for more info as basketball continues to take over the globe!

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