FIBA World Cup 2019 Group E Preview: Czech Republic, Japan, Turkey, United States
The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup is almost here. As part of the event’s rebrand, the number of teams incorporated will expand from 24 to 32. The tournament is being held in China and will crown a champion of international basketball—with the added bonus of seven countries securing a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The teams are split into eight groups that feature four teams apiece. The two that finish with the best record move on to the knockout round, while the other pair enter a loser’s bracket with fifth place on the line.
(See here for Group A; Group B; Group C, Group D.)
CZECH REPUBLIC (FIBA WORLD RANK: 24)
The Czech Republic National Team is making its first-ever appearance in the FIBA World Cup this year. They are the only nation participating that has never previously been part of the event—even before it was rebranded.
The country is relatively new, so the team was formed in 1993 after Czechoslovakia dissolved. They made their first appearance in an international tournament at the 1999 Eurobasket and placed 12th. However, they missed out on all subsequent events until making it back to Eurobasket in 2007.
Their success has been more consistent lately, participating in every Eurobasket since 2013. They will even serve as the host country in 2021. They also were part of the 2016 Olympics qualifying tournament but failed to make it into the actual games.
This group is led by Chicago Bulls guard Tomáš Satoransky, who’s been in the league since 2016. Prior to going to the NBA, he spent two seasons with FC Barcelona Lassa. He will not only need to facilitate for his teammates but will also be called upon as the team’s primary scorer. If he is able to pull off both, this team could have quite the debut.
They will be without Jan Vesely though. The 2011 lottery pick has come into his own since joining Fenerbahçe in 2014: He’s been selected to three straight All-EuroLeague First Teams, won the EuroLeague championship in 2017 and was named EuroLeague MVP this past season.
With a watered-down United States still likely to be atop this group’s standings, there’s at least a small chance for the Czech Republic to advance to the knockout stage.
JAPAN (FIBA WORLD RANK: 48)
The Japanese National Team has been one of the better groups in FIBA Asia since it joined in 1936. They’ve made six trips to the Summer Olympics and have been part of four FIBA World Cups.
And this current roster is arguably one of their most talented ever. Despite being on the lower end of the rankings among qualified teams, there’s a real chance that they could make some noise during the event.
Yuta Watanabe got things off the ground. In 2014, he was the first student-athlete born in Japan to receive an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship. He went undrafted in 2018 but played with the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-way contract.
Rui Hachimura next took the baton for this nation. The 2019 Consensus first-team All-American, Julius Erving Award recipient, West Coast Conference Player of the year, and two-time First-team All-WCC selection (2018 and 2019) is already a superstar in his homeland.
Standing 6’8”, he is able to play bigger and often operates as the 5 for this team. His combination of inside scoring and perimeter touch make him a very tough guard for opposing bigs. A strong performance is understandably needed if they are to make it out of the group, but with their spot in the 2020 Olympics already guaranteed, any positive outcome from World Cup play will serve as a cherry on top.
TURKEY (FIBA WORLD RANK: 17)
Playing on their home soil in 2010, the Turkish National Team faced a perceived undermanned Team USA during the final of the FIBA World Cup. Yet, a gangly and unproven Kevin Durant carried the Americans to victory.
Many felt that Turkey’s run to the title that year marked the beginning of the country’s rise to contention. It would win the 2013 Mediterranean Games but the dominance waned from then on as the team struggled in multiple tournaments. Since 2010, the club has had three different coaches—Orhun Ene (2011), Ergin Ataman (2014-16) and Ufuk Sarica (2017-present).
What once was a country buoyed by its size has transitioned into a more perimeter-oriented attack over the last decade. This year’s roster features former NCAA guards Dogus Balbay and Scottie Wilbekin. Along with Semih Erden, Furkan Korkmaz, Ersan Ilyasova and Cedi Osman., they also have plenty of NBA experience among them as well. Combined, they are one of the stronger groups that the country has put together since their 2010 breakthrough.
With two non-powerhouse nations (Japan, Czech Republic) in the group, Turkey would face yet another massive disappointment if not advancing. Then again, the field feels wide-open in this group behind the U.S.
UNITED STATES (FIBA WORLD RANK: 1)
For the first time in decades, the United States National Team enters an international competition not being the favorite to win.
The Americans have won every event they’ve been in since 2008, and they will once again be the only ones with a roster full of all NBA players. Gregg Popovich takes over as new head coach (from Mike Krzyzewski) as the entire program undergoes a change.
Instead of All-Stars and All-NBA selections, this group is made up of members who are either on the rise or have settled in as complementary pieces. Keeping the U.S. on top will now falls to the likes of Khris Middleton, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Those four are no slouches, but they don’t meet the standards that we’ve grown accustomed to since FIBA allowed NBA players to participate.
Nonetheless, the strength of this team is on the perimeter. Every player is capable of creating a shot for himself and others. There will be a lot of pick-and-roll and isolations from this group, with penetration as they typically big focus.
Yet, a big problem is always the fact that these players are thrown together only a few weeks prior to the tournament while their competition has years of experience sharing the floor with each other.
Despite the world knowing this isn’t the best collection of talent from the United States, anything short of a gold medal will still be considered a crushing shortfall.
Brandon Jefferson is a staff writer at TBW. He covers the Atlanta Hawks for The BBall Index and is a contributing writer at Fansided. Brandon is the founding and only member of the Kevin Durant Stan Club.