- ESPN.com NBA writer since 2010
- Covered Cleveland Cavs for seven years
- Author of two books
Team USA got a favorable draw Saturday in the quest to recapture the FIBA World Cup, though they have a potential meeting with Giannis Antetokounmpo when they face Greece early in the event.
The draw for the 32-team tournament, which runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, was held in Manila on Saturday. The World Cup will be co-hosted by the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan.
The Americans, who will be led by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr for the first time, will open Group C pool play in Manila against New Zealand on Aug. 26 before playing Greece on Aug. 28 and then Jordan on Aug. 30.
Perhaps more important, the way the draw fell, the Americans have the potential to avoid facing defending champion Spain, Olympic silver medalist France or NBA-talent laden Canada until the semifinals.
“There’s a peace of mind knowing who we’re going to play,” USA Basketball executive director Grant Hill said. “We know Greece and we know Giannis.”
Antetokoumpo hasn’t yet confirmed he will play for his national team but has made it clear it is a priority. The Milwaukee Bucks’ stunning early exit from the playoffs could make it more possible.
Additionally, Team USA’s top potential second round opponents are Lithuania, currently ranked eighth in the world, and Montenegro, currently ranked 18th. They avoided some of the other higher-ranked and dangerous opponents from Europe like Luka Doncic-led Slovenia and Nikola Jokic-led Serbia.
Unlike in the last World Cup in China where the U.S. had to travel thousands of miles across the country and ended up a disappointing seventh, the draw put the U.S. in same arena in Manila for every game.
France and Canada got the toughest draw among the contenders, being placed into the same group with pool play games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
France beat the U.S. in the 2019 World Cup as well as in pool play in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Potential No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama has expressed an interest to play alongside international star big man Rudy Gobert that could give them a dominating front line.
The French will open the World Cup in a vital game against Canada, which could have All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plus key players Jamal Murray, RJ Barrett, Lu Dort and Dillon Brooks. National Collegiate Player of the Year Zach Edey of Purdue is also expected to be on the team.
It was not the kindest draw for Spain, either. Drawn into the same pool as a strong Brazilian team, Spain will have to potentially play both Canada and France in the second round to fight its way to the quarterfinals.
It could be argued that Spain, France and Canada have three of the five most talented teams in the world and one of them won’t make it to the quarterfinals to have a chance at a medal. Team USA, possibly fortunate to wait 2,000 miles away, will be interested spectators.
Australia, the No. 3-ranked team in the world and the Olympic bronze medalist, drew a challenging group with Germany and Lauri Markkanen-led Finland for games to be played in Okinawa.
The Aussies also were drawn into a potentially high-interest side of the bracket with Slovenia, which would be a rematch of the bronze medal game in Tokyo when Patty Mills scored 42 points as Australia won its first-ever Olympic medal. Doncic had 22 points in that game for Slovenia, finishing out a brilliant showing in nearly pulling off an upset.
Both Australia and Slovenia are opposite Team USA’s side before the semifinals — if the Americans can take care of business and take the top position after playing three pool play games and then two second round games as they did under this format back in 2019.
There is a possibly for the U.S. to have a second round matchup against the Dominican Republic, which made a surprising run in 2019 in China. Karl-Anthony Towns has said he hopes to play for the Dominicans this summer, giving them star power. Also on that side of the bracket is Italy, ranked 10th in the world.
In recent months, Hill has been meeting with potential players for the U.S. roster, which will be put together in July ahead of an early August training camp. There is robust interest, Hill said, though many of the players interested are still in the playoffs and health and rest will be considered.
“We’ll have some players who are seasoned in international play but also some players new to it,” Hill said. “Now that we know what our opposition looks like, we can put our head down and try to put together a roster that gives us a chance to win.”
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