World Cup buzz (16-3-14)

We are 166 days away from the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain and already players are putting their names in the hat to be considered for their respective national sides.

The World Cup, formally the world championship was renamed to show the tournament’s prestige. For all nations to recognise that the World Cup is the biggest basketball event there is.

And on August 30, it all begins again.

Here’s the buzz with some of the nations that will be in Spain this summer.

USA

The reigning world champions and Olympic gold-medallists will start the World Cup as hot favourites. They put out a reserve team four years ago in Turkey, as the American media put it and still came away with the Naismith Trophy, going undefeated in the process.

This year, during NBA All-Star weekend, some the players that were present in New Orleans confirmed their availability in the off-season. Kevin Durant and Kevin Love already announced their willingness to play this summer. Another member from the 2010 squad, Steph Curry has also announced that he wants to retain the World Cup as well.

Two new names though have put their name down as ‘available’ and that’s 2012 Olympic gold medal winner James Harden and Dwight Howard, who has not played in a USA uniform since the Beijing Olympics of 2008.

Howard’s mind though goes back to the 2006 world championships in Japan where his USA side were eliminated in the semi-finals by Greece, which, up to now was their last defeat.

“I can recall that game like it was yesterday,” Howard said. “They ran one play that we couldn’t stop, a high pick-and-roll.  They either got Baby Shaq [Sofoklis Schortsanitis] in the paint for a lay-up or [Vassilis] Spanoulis coming off [a screen] for a three. It was a tough game for us, but we learned a lot.”

The Houston Rockets big man though wants a chance for revenge in Spain.

“I want to be there with those guys,” Howard said. “Hopefully this summer, we’ll get ourselves a world championship and we’ll come back here and celebrate.”

FRANCE

Eurobasket winners France might have to concede that the MVP in Slovenia last summer Tony Parker will not feature in Spain but they should still boast a strong line-up with the majority of the Eurobasket-winning team aboard.

One player that has put his name down is Toronto Raptors guard Nando De Colo, who has said that unless nothing else unexpected arises in the NBA, he will be available for international duty this summer.

PHILPPINES

Possibly the busiest team so far even in this incredibly early stage has been the 2013 FIBA Asia runners-up as they prepare for their first World Cup since 1978.

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes has already named a preliminary list with all 12 players from last year’s FIBA Asia championship success in the running. Brooklyn Nets big man Andray Blatche could also be in that squad if he gets his passport. The House committee on justice in the Philippines has approved a bill for Blatche’s naturalization but the process is still ongoing.

Two players who have declined invitations to join the national team though are Greg Slaughter and Marcio Lassiter, who have both said that the 12 players that played in the hometown tournament last year should travel to Spain and compete.

“I know the feeling of people coming into something you’ve already started,” said the 24-year-old Slaughter. “I think what they started back in August, I think those 12 should be the ones to go on and represent the country.

“I just feel like it’s right that the people who started that, they worked so hard, I think they deserve this.”

SENEGAL

Senegal center Saer Sene has said that Group B has no underdogs involved and that any team can be competitive.

The African side, along with the Philippines are outsiders to qualify from Group B, which also features Argentina, Croatia, Puerto Rico and Greece, but the big man says that Senegal are in the mix just like the others.

“They should not rule us out. There are no underdogs in this group because are all at same level,” Sene said.

“People keep saying that Croatia, Greece and Argentina are the strongest teams in the group. I’m afraid but I disagree. There is no such thing in a tournament of this dimension, because of the high competitiveness involved.

“It is not only between Senegal and the Philippines to compete for the last two places in the group. There are no unbeatable teams in our pool.”

Sene though is desperately trying to get back to match fitness, since he injured his left knee playing domestically for Antibes in France and is working out every day.

“I have been working very hard from Monday to Saturday. I have already started to run, lifting weights, I have been doing cardio and I have lost weight,” he said.

He is hopeful for a return to action in late May.