FIBA has come and gone and as expected, the USA won with no threat to their gold medal dreams. This has been the relative norm ever since NBA players were allowed into international competition back in 1992. A concern I had while watching this year’s World Cup was that this particular USA team had a very, very young squad with every player, with the exception of Rudy Gay (who really shouldn’t have been on the team anyway) was born after 1988. Despite the wave of youth in the team and not entering the best players the US has to offer (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant etc.) they still managed to annihilate every opponent put forth. Spain was a very real chance to contend if they had not been shockingly knocked out by France and France themselves could have caused an even bigger upset then they did had the put forth a full strength team, but USA was still always going to be immensely heavy favourites.
The concern I had with this is that the World Cup should be the pinnacle of all basketball competitions, yet attendance and fan interest compared to the soccer world cup and the NBA is laughable. The only way to fix this is if the other countries start to challenge the US to ensure games aren’t over well before half time. Originally it seemed that this wasn’t going to happen any time soon seeing as though the US had a squad they could easily put forward for the 2018 and possibly 2022 World Cup with out a single change in the roster, until I dove into the international talent that is floating around and making huge strides to better themselves at basketball. So I thought I would select the 5 best basketball countries outside of the US who seemingly have the brightest future and take a look at what prospective and current talent they have to try and make the World Cup what it should be.
An early and disappointing exit in this year’s world cup saw the Australian Boomers ousted by Turkey in the round of 16. Despite this premature exit there is plenty of young talent and current talent in Australia to make them an international powerhouse. They currently have four players playing decent minutes for NBA contenders; Patty Mills and Aron Baynes for the San Antonio Spurs, Andrew Bogut (former All-NBA third team) for the Golden state warriors and Matthew Dellavedova (only 24 years old) for the Cleveland Cavaliers. As well as recent recruits: Joey Ingles (about time he got noticed) for the Los Angeles Clippers and Cameron Bairstow for the Chicago Bulls. These six players make up the core of Australian Basketball, a long with others currently playing in Europe. That said the bright future is firmly in the hands of their two very young budding superstars, recent draftee Dante Exum and soon to be top 5 pick Ben Simmons. Many consider Dante to be the best point guard in one of the most anticipated drafts in NBA history. While Ben Simmons could very well be Australia’s own version of Tracy McGrady. Oh, and remember the name of 16 year old, 7ft Isaac Humphries, trust me.
Canada has officially invaded NBA basketball and will soon be making serious international noise. They have the last two first overall picks in the 2013 and 2014 NBA drafts. Anthony Bennett may not have been the best first overall choice after a shaky rookie campaign, but showed serious improvement in the 2014 summer league. Andrew Wiggins has been prospected to be a basketball super-star since he was 15 years old and it would take a brave man to bet against him reaching his potential. If those two weren’t enough for Canadian’s to get excited about international basketball how about adding 2014’s 8th pick, sharp shooting Nik Stauskas, 2013’s 13th pick, offensive big man Kelly Olynyk and 2014’s 18th pick, natural born floor leader Tyler Ennis, which one unnamed General Manager said he would choose over All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. By the 2018 World Cup, if their potential’s are all fulfilled, that is a starting five any team, including the USA should be very, very afraid of. Not to mention young point guard Corey Joseph who saw significant minutes in the 2013 NBA finals for the Spurs, Lakers big man Robert Sacre, the post move specialist Andrew Nicholson and Tristan Thompson who has just spent his off-season training with LeBron James and Chris Paul (not bad company). If there is a team with the potential to really threaten the US in international basketball, it is absolutely Canada.
Croatia is a country that hasn’t seen much success in the way of basketball. There glory period was during the Toni Kukoc period in the early to mid 90’s and ever since haven’t been a permanent fixture in the World Cup. The managed to get to the round of 16 in 2010 and 2014, but the future is looking much brighter for the Croatian national team and the reason is very simple, Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja are the real deal. Dario Saric is it a do it all, sharp shooting big man with guard like skills and Mario Hezonja is an absolute scoring machine, he already has an professional basketball ready body and can create his own shot at will. These two by themselves if all goes right will make Croatia a scary team in the not too distant future.
The European powerhouse should have given USA a very competitive final had they not stumbled early against France in the early stages of the tournament. Unfortunately for Spain, unlike the rest of the teams on this list, this World Cup team seemed as though this was their prime time to win. Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez were in their primes; Pau Gasol was just on the back end of his prime and Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio were creeping up to their hay day. The World Cup was also located in Spain this year, and that home crowd advantage is huge in international play. The good news? By the next World Cup Rubio and Serge should be right in the middle of dominating both the NBA and the international game, Marc should still be very effective and hopefully Victor Claver and Alex Abrines will turn into a formidable forward combination. Although they should be very competitive they unfortunately don’t have the young talent these four other countries seem to posses.
Serbia has always been a threatening basketball country; they have produced some of the basketball elite such as Vlade Divak, Pedrag Stojakovic and Dejan Bodiroga. They also currently possess arguably the best player who is not currently in the NBA (Milos Tedosik) and Nenad Krstic, who showed immense promise until his career was plagued by injuries. Not only did they just make a surprise trip to the World Cup final, but they also have an enormous amount of young talent ready to burst into the NBA and the basketball world stage. From recent 2014 draftees the talented combo guard Bogdan Bogdanovi? (27th pick) and versatile big man Nikola Joki? (41st pick) as well as two players who the Philadelphia 76ers have put on lay away with both of them signing with European teams Vasilije Micic (52nd pick) and Nemanja Dangubic (54th pick). They also have two very promising 17-year-old guards in Vojislav Stojanovic and Stefan Peno who can help Serbia continue to be an international threat.