With the rosters set, it's time to analyze the group stage for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Let's start with the competition in Group A.
Coach: Dirk Bauermann
Key players: Jan-Hendrik Jagla, Demond Greene
Analysis: The German team can be a very different team depending on whether Dirk Nowitzki is on it or not.
The Dallas Mavericks power forward stepped down and stayed home this time, and left the Dirk Bauermann-coached team holding its breath. In any case, Germany looks like an energetic team, with good floor control and with young players who look ready to grow wings of their own and not just be mere stewards on Nowitzki Airlines.
"These games can only make us better," Bauermann said when asked about the Love Cyprus Basketball Tournament that Germany played in along with Greece, Croatia and Russia. "Every minute is important for the young guys. I hope we can show our commitment and great determination."
In the mini tournament, Germany fell to Greece (the eventual winner) and Croatia but did manage to beat Russia. Before that, the Germans had defeated Belgium and Sweden in the Netherlands.
After that, they fell at home against Croatia and Lithuania, but they did beat Turkey.
In the last Olympic Games, the Germans finished 10th, and in the EuroBasket tournament in Poland, they were 11th. They are in a rebuilding mode, and losing both Nowitzki and Chris Kaman can result in a more positive development later on, giving the younger stars more room to grow.
The most outstanding players on the team are center Jan-Hendrick Jagla and perimeter players Demond Greene and Steffen Hamann. But if Germany wishes to leave a mark after its trip to Turkey, it should rely on team play more than on any individual player.
For those who will be on the lookout for young promising players, you might want to follow these four guys: Robin Benzing (20 year-old forward), Tim Ohlbrecht (21-year-old power forward), Elias Harris (20-year-old forward) and Tibor Pleiss (20-year-old center), in that order.
The German team will debut against Argentina on Aug. 28.
Coach: Luis Magalhaes
Key players: Olimpio Cipriano, Carlos Morais
Analysis: Luis Magalhaes came to the Angola national team with the idea of instilling the hunger for trophies and glory that he has always carried.
Magalhaes, born in Portugal, is one of the top coaches in his native country. He has won titles with teams such as Portugal Telecom (2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03), FC Porto (2003-04) and Ovarense (2006-07), and he then migrated to Angola, where he clinched three titles with the 1° de Agosto.
"What the Angolan federation asked of me is to maintain consistency, and above all, to improve results," the coach told FIBA.com a few days ago.
And the request makes a lot of sense. The Angolan national team sits atop the African basketball circuit, with 14 medals in FIBA Africa tournaments including nine gold (1989, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009). It is quite logical that, in order to progress, it must start to win on the international stage.
But Angola is still far from that. It is a team that faces the same expectations it has met in the past few international tournaments (in the 2006 World Championship, it was among the top 16, and in the 2008 Olympic Games, it was unable to win games); the players are athletic and energetic, but they are small in stature and lack the power of other elite-level teams.
Angola trained in Luanda after its return from the province of Cabinda and then traveled to the United States. The team later traveled to Brazil, where it was defeated (89-59) in the final game of the Super 4 against the team coached by Ruben Magnano, after having defeated Chile (80-59) in the previous game.
With iconic players such as Carlos Morais and Olimpio Cipriano as flag-bearers, along with veteran Miguel Lutonda, Angola will be looking to score an upset. But aside from Jordan, the Magalhaes team does not seem to have any chances of beating any of the other teams.
Coach: Sergio Hernandez
Key players: Carlos Delfino, Luis Scola
Analysis: Argentina will emerge as a contender in Group A, and it should expect to come out of the group phase comfortably enough to face its next rivals, who will come out of a stacked Group B that includes Brazil and the United States, among others.
It has been a while since Diego Grippo didn't have so much work as doctor of the Argentine team. In the team's training sessions in Salta, Andres Nocioni suffered a second-degree ankle sprain and will miss the tournament after the Philadelphia 76ers advised him to sit out. Later, in a game against Puerto Rico, Juan Pablo Figueroa had to leave the team after suffering a torn ligament in his right shoulder. Finally, Juan Pablo Cantero suffered a torn muscle in Logrono, Spain, and will be replaced by Luis Cequeira, who beat Juan Manuel Fernandez in the race for a spot on the starting roster.
But the curse does not seem to end there for Argentina. Hernan Jasen and Fabricio Oberto are being watched closely, and Paolo Quinteros had to play the friendly games against Spain and Brazil while suffering a fever. In any case, it is expected that the Argentine team will be ready for its debut Aug. 28 against Germany, even though previously it used the Efes Pilsen Cup in Ankara (along with Lebanon, Brazil and host Turkey) as a warm-up to get its wheels spinning again.
Sergio Hernandez's team will not count on Manu Ginobili, who decided not to participate, citing personal reasons. The Spurs guard said he is giving "priority to the Olympic Games in London 2012," using the U.S. summer to get back in shape.
In any case, Argentina still will have an elite quintet on the floor, with Carlos Delfino (Milwaukee Bucks) and Luis Scola (Houston Rockets) as the flag-bearers of the team, joined by Nocioni (Philadelphia 76ers), Pablo Prigioni (Real Madrid) and Oberto (Washington Wizards).
We will see a team that will have just enough firepower to do battle, a team that will run (whenever possible) against the heavier teams and a team that will take advantage of its front-line game in a stationary attack whenever available. One-on-one defense will combine with a 2-3 zone play to make up for a few height disadvantages and to avoid getting a lot of fouls on the inside players, an area in which the team has an excellent player (Scola) but lacks depth.
Before the World Championship, Argentina had several rehearsals at home. In its most relevant games, the team alternated a victory and a defeat against Puerto Rico, and defeated Brazil's B squad. In Logrono, Argentina fell against Spain first (a game in which several positive things were highlighted) and then defeated Brazil.
Coach: Brett Brown
Key players: Patrick Mills, David Andersen
Analysis: If we had to pin a label on Australia in this group, it surely would feature a big, red "Danger" sign.
Since Andrew Bogut left the team due to an injury (can you imagine the power this roster would have with the Milwaukee Bucks center in full flight?), the followers of FIBA basketball have dismissed Australia as a legitimate contender.
But I believe it will be an extremely dangerous team. A bad afternoon for Argentina or Serbia could be seized quite well by this team. And to be honest, Australia looks like the only team that could positively seize a bad moment from any of the other teams in this group.
Brett Brown has two NBA players on the roster: Patrick Mills (Portland Trail Blazers) and David Andersen (Toronto Raptors). Mills is a perimeter player (fast, aggressive, powerful scorer) and Andersen is made for the paint (rebounder, great technique, acceptable midrange shot).
"I believe that we have a very well-balanced team, with the right people in the right places. And most importantly, this is a team that personifies what a team should be," Brown told FIBA.com a few days ago.
Aside from the NBA players, Australia will have Aleks Maric, one of the stars on Partizan Belgrade, and other experienced players such as Joe Ingles, Mark Worthington, Brad Newley and David Barlow. In its past few warm-up games, the team seemed solid on defense but had a few scoring problems, especially with its perimeter players.
Australia participated in the Stankovic Continental Champions Cup in China and won three games (against China, Slovenia and Iran) while being defeated by Slovenia in the tournament-closing rematch.
What can we expect from this team in Turkey? Mainly, the Australians will be fast and athletic, and they will try to find weak spots in opposing defenses in transition. They must improve their perimeter game and try to impose their game in the paint through Andersen.
They are set to debut Aug. 28 against Jordan. Fair warning: We might be in the presence of an upset-minded team.
Coach: Mario Palma
Key players: Sam Daghlas, Zaid Abbas
Analysis: Portuguese coach Mario Palma is well aware of the fact that he's facing one of the toughest jobs in his career. He earned three gold medals coaching Angola in FIBA Africa tournaments (1999, 2001 and 2003) and the bronze in the last FIBA Asia with Jordan (2009), but the World Championship in Turkey will be a different affair.
Without a doubt, Jordan is the Cinderella team of Group A, and achieving a victory will be harder than fishing out a shark using a piece of wire and a drumstick. The truth indicates that Jordan does not have enough weapons to put up a fight against the most experienced teams, but at least it will be able to use this competition to gain some experience.
Jordan has had many recent warm-up games (a total of 17, with nine victories and eight defeats). It received a wild card and ended in fifth place in the Boris Stankovic Cup after falling to Qatar (63-59), the Philippines (75-71) and Lebanon (63-54), and defeating Syria (78-66). It fell to Japan (94-80) while attempting to reach the quarterfinals, and then beat Taiwan (85-70) and Iran's B squad (68-57).
Sam Daghlas, formerly with Midwestern State (he went as far as participating in a summer camp with the Sacramento Kings in 2006), and Zaid Abbas, a player for China's Shanghai Sharks, are widely seen as the most talented individual players. They are set to debut against Australia on Aug. 28.
Coach: Dusan Ivkovic
Key players: Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic
Analysis: It is hard to start on the wrong foot, but that's where it seems Serbia will begin the world championship. Its two best players, Milos Teodosic and Nenad Krstic, were suspended by FIBA for their parts in the bench-clearing donnybrook that ensued in their "friendly" match against Greece.
Krstic, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, will sit out for three games after hitting a rival with a chair, while Teodosic will be suspended for two games for fighting Antonis Fotsis.
If coach Dusan Ivkovic's team manages to escape its first few games unscathed, not only will it be able to win the group, but it will also be in the running for gold.
Ivkovic and the country's basketball federation used the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 as a platform to launch a team-wide renovation of players. They put together a young, talented team that started bearing fruit at the EuroBasket in Poland 2009, a competition in which they finished runner-up to Spain.
Now Serbia looks to take it one step farther in Turkey.
"This is the World Cup, and there will be no easy games for us. We need to use the same recipe that gave us success in EuroBasket," said Krstic a few days ago. "No one expected much from us last year, and we made it to the final game. We need to go game by game, we know that both Argentina and Australia are dangerous within this group. But we look forward to [competing] with all of them."
Several players will miss the tournament, including veteran guard Igor Rakocevic and center Darko Milicic, of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But Serbia will still has an elite roster that is especially good in the halfcourt thanks to an enviable height advantage. In order to cover their best players, their rivals may want to consider wearing stilts. Most teams won't be able to guard its big men one-on-one; the only way is through zone defense and running hard in transition, whenever possible.
Teodosic (currently with Greece's Olympiacos) is the brain, and one of the stars of the team. But watch out for Kosta Perovic (a new reinforcement for Regal Barcelona) and Miroslav Raduljica, currently with Efes Pilsen.
With the exception of an upset defeat against Canada (with an alternate roster), Serbia is undefeated in their warmup campaign, having won eight games (New Zealand, Iran and twice against Turkey in Istambul; Russia, New Zealand and Slovenia in Maribor; Slovenia in Athens).
All that remains to be seen is what team will be able to challenge this young but experienced team.
Bruno Altieri writes for ESPNdeportes.com. Click here for his archive.