Fiba World Cup Group C: USA, Greece, New Zealand, Jordan
MANILA, Philippines—All eyes will be on Team USA and its collection of NBA talents when they make their 2023 Fiba World Cup debut on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
The United States, bannered by All-Star guard Anthony Edwards, finds itself slotted in a relatively light Group C with an ailing Greece side, New Zealand and Jordan.
Greece and Jordan open Group C play at 4 p.m. while the US battles New Zealand at 8:40 p.m.
Inquirer Sports took a deeper look at Group C in a series of previews for the first round of the group phase held in Manila.
The United States is the odds-on favorite to win the Fiba World Cup—and for good reason.
Even minus their best players, the Americans remain a force to be reckoned with due to the fact that they still assembled quite a collection of stars led by NBA All-Star Anthony Edwards.
A testament to its potential, the US swept its six-game exhibition slate with victories over Puerto Rico, Spain, Slovenia, Serbia, Greece and Germany despite having been together for two and a half weeks.
Against the Germans in Abu Dhabi, the US showed its ability to fight through adversity after coming back from 16 down in the second half to win 99-91.
Edwards validated his status as USA’s go-to guy with 34 points.
But make no mistake, Team USA is far from a one-man show with the likes of Austin Reaves, Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Mikal Bridges having their moments as well throughout its buildup.
Rounding out the squad are Brandon Ingram, Paolo Banchero, Bobby Portis, Walker Kessler, Cam Johnson and Josh Hart.
The US, determined to redeem itself after coming off its worst finish in the World Cup at seventh in 2019, is expected to breeze through Group C, which also features Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Greece, New Zealand and Jordan.
The absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who begged off from the global showcase due to health issues, dealt a big blow to Greece’s hopes of making it far in this year’s World Cup.
Making matters worse, Antetokounmpo is not the only key player missing for Greece.
Veterans Nick Claathes and Kostas Sloukas are also out as well as Kostas Antetokounmpo leaving Thanasis as the only Antetokounmpo available.
Expected to start for the shorthanded Greeks are guards Thomas Walkup and Giannoulis Larentzakis, forwards Kostas Papanikolaou and Dinos Mitoglou and center Giorgos Papagiannis.
Thanasis, who is also teammates with his younger brother Giannis with the Milwaukee Bucks, has been coming off the bench for Greece in scrimmages.
Walkup has filled in the void left by Calathes at the point guard spot. He was one of the few bright spots for Greece in a 108-86 loss to the US in a tune-up game last week.
Greece, which failed to advance to the quarterfinals in the 2019 World Cup and wound up in 11th place, beat Slovenia twice in a pair of tuneups but went winless in the Acropolis tournament in Athens with losses to Serbia and Italy.
Completing the cast for the Greeks are Manolis Chatzidakis, Ioannis Papapetrou, Lefteris Bochoridis, Michalis Lountzis, Nikos Rogkavopoulos and Dimitris Moraitis.
With Team USA tipped to secure the top spot in Group C, the second and final ticket to the next round will be up for grabs.
New Zealand is eager to reach the second round especially with Greece saddled by injuries.
Flynn Cameron, Isaac Fotu and Finn Delany are expected to spearhead the Tall Blacks, who are without NBA starting center Steven Adams.
The Kiwis have played exhibition games of their own with their most recent game ending in an 88-81 loss to surging Italy on Monday night in the Fiba Solidarity Cup in Shenzhen, China.
Last week, they beat the Shenzhen Leopards, one of the top teams in the Chinese Basketball Association, 77-67.
Earlier this month, the Tall Blacks took a 107-76 beating at the hands of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Canada in the DBB SuperCup Final in Hamburg, Germany and dropped a 69-68 heartbreaker against China in the same tournament.
New Zealand placed 19th in the 2019 Fiba World Cup.
Aiming for a much better finish in the Fiba World Cup, Jordan shook its roster up and brought in a new naturalized player in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Hollis-Jefferson will make his World Cup debut in Manila—a place he is very familiar with having led the TNT Tropang Giga to a championship in the PBA Governors’ Cup last April.
The former NBA veteran, who had stints with the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers, will power the Jordanians, who are looking to pull off a surprise or two in the group phase.
Before Hollis-Jefferson, Jordan was reinforced by Dar Tucker, who averaged 19.6, 7.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the 2023 World Cup Asian Qualifiers. He also posted 20.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in the Fiba Asia Cup.
Veteran forward Zaid Abbas is back again for another tour of duty.
Jordan went winless in the group phase in 2019 and placed 28th overall.