Spain World Cup win, US woes blow Olympic basketball wide open
by Peter STEBBINGS
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics basketball suddenly looks wide open after reigning champions the United States suffered their worst World Cup, Spain triumphed and Argentina surprised.
World Cup bronze medallists France, and Australia, who were edged out of the medals but pushed eventual winners Spain all the way in the semi-finals, will also be in contention.
And not forgetting Serbia, who along with Gregg Popovich’s young Team USA were the favourites in China but were also surprise victims in the quarter-finals.
The Tokyo Games are just over 10 months away and after some downtime following their exertions at the World Cup, teams will begin training their sights on next summer.
“It’s exactly what I knew it to be because I’ve been involved with it before and in this day and age basketball in other countries is not a secret,” Popovich said after his team’s disappointing seventh-placed finish.
“So it’s not like there’s an epiphany or revelation to be made.
“There are wonderful teams and wonderful coaches all over the world so there’s no surprise in any of that.”
If the United States can convince the likes of double gold medallist LeBron James to play in Tokyo, they will be favourites to make it four Olympic titles in a row.
But it remains to be seen whether the flak flying Team USA’s way after the China debacle scares the A-listers away or stings them into action.
– ‘Spain not the most talented’ –
Spain’s World Cup triumph, sealed with a comprehensive 95-75 victory over surprise finalists Argentina on Sunday in Beijing, was built on defence and teamwork honed from playing together down the years.
They also had Ricky Rubio, the Phoenix Suns point guard who was named tournament MVP, and the experience and international knowhow of Marc Gasol.
Rubio described the Spain team as “a family”.
In contrast, the US roster was one of the youngest in China and was thrown together at the last minute. The players were still getting to know each other as the tournament began.
“We were not the tallest or most talented, or in the odds when the tournament started, but we worked hard,” said Spain’s coach Sergio Scariolo, an assistant at NBA champions the Toronto Raptors.
“They didn’t lose faith in themselves, and basketball rewarded them.”
– Disappointment fires Australia –
Australia brought the Americans’ run of 78 consecutive wins in major competitions and exhibition games to an end just before the World Cup, a forewarning of what was to come.
The Boomers led Spain for much of their thrilling semi-final, only to lose in double overtime. They similarly ran out of gas in their bronze-medal match against France.
It left Australia still searching for a medal in the worlds or Olympics — a barren run that they hope they can finally snap next summer.
Mitch Creek, their forward, hopes that the Boomers will have all their players for Tokyo — they were missing Philadelphia 76ers Jonah Bolden and Ben Simmons in China.
“This team is going to be a very powerful team when it comes to the Olympic Games,” he warned.
The Australians are still simmering from their one-point defeat to Spain in the bronze-medal match at Rio 2016.
“We haven’t forgotten about the previous Olympics, the fourth place there,” he said.
“And we’re certainly not going to forget about this World Cup campaign.
“So there’s a lot we can take out of this and build upon.”