Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

Americans not having it all their own way at Fiba Under 17 World Championship

Group phase shows basketball talent can bloom anywhere outside US borders, writes Jonathan Raymond
Kyle Clark, left, of Australia and Stephane Gombauld of France jostle for the ball during their Fiba Under 17 World Championship at Al Ahli club in Dubai on August 9, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National
Kyle Clark, left, of Australia and Stephane Gombauld of France jostle for the ball during their Fiba Under 17 World Championship at Al Ahli club in Dubai on August 9, 2014. Satish Kumar / The National

The group phase of the Fiba Under 17 World Championship in Dubai shows that basketball talent is sprouting up across the globe, not just in the United States.

US (probably) invulnerable

In their first game, the Americans looked like they might reveal a crack in their armour.

They spent much of the game defending a lead that fluctuated between eight and 12 points, and if they had allowed a significant Greece run, things could have gotten dicey.

But they never did allow that offensive spurt and finished with a 10-point victory over the Greeks. They won the next game against Angola by 43.

In any international basketball competition, the Americans will be overwhelming favourites. Nothing that has happened so far in Dubai has changed that.

Talent can bloom anywhere

The five scoring leaders in the tournament hail from France, Argentina, China, Australia and Angola. Not an American to be found.

France’s 2.03-metre forward, Stephane Gombauld, looks like an elite player. He can get down the court quickly for a kid his size, has above-average leaping ability – as he has shown while dunking – and is comfortable handling the ball. He leads the tournament with 25.5 points per game.

Argentina’s Maximo Fjellerup, the second-leading scorer at 22 points per game, has good size (1.93m) for a shooting guard and has displayed an ability to snake to the basket as well as convert the three-point shot. He reminds fans of Italy’s NBA sharpshooter Marco Belinelli, not Argentina’s Manu Ginobili.

Other standouts include Dejan Vasiljevic (20.5 ppg), Australia’s 1.88m bulldog; China’s Zhao Yanhao (1.93m), who floats around the perimeter angling for a three and scored a tournament-high 31 points against Argentina; and Angola’s Joao Jungo, a 1.98m specimen whose leaping ability rivals anyone in the tournament.

Players such as Japan’s Rui Hachimura, Puerto Rico’s Arnaldo Toro and the Philippines’ Jolo Mendoza have impressed, as well. While the US and European prospects usually get most of the NBA attention, the tournament underscores how talent is popping up around the globe.

Everyone a challenger

The four group leaders after two games are the US, Australia, Puerto Rico and Argentina. The Puerto Ricans have been the surprise team of the tournament, staking their claim to Group C with wins over traditional European powers Spain and Italy.

None of this truly matters, because group play only determines seeding for the round of 16, and every team qualifies.

After two games, Australia, Argentina, Serbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Greece, Spain, Italy and France look like possible title-game entrants. And even teams like Angola, China and the Philippines seem capable of an upset or two in the knockout rounds.

Mission accomplished

The results are grisly, there is no getting around that. The UAE have lost their two games by 200 combined points.

But coach Zoran Zupcevic said after their 89-point loss that they cannot “look at the scoreboard” to determine if this production is a success. It was, as he put it, “exposing the community to this level of basketball … because we need to move forward.”

So far, the community has mostly been willing to be exposed. While the Philippines draw a massive crowd and the US played to a mostly full building, even games such as Australia-France and China-Argentina had a decent-sized crowd for what is ultimately comparable to a high school game.

As Zupcevic said: “We are somewhere almost there.”

jraymond@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Updated: August 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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