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Who to watch at basketball World Championship

France take on defending champions Spain
France take on defending champions Spain in Group D

By Rob Dugdale

The United States face an uphill struggle as they seek to win their first World Championship since 1994 in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Turkey.

The US will have Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh all sitting at home, throwing their hopes of bettering 2006's bronze medal finish into question.

But, unfortunately for the organisers, some of the world's most famous names are missing this summer.

China will be without 7ft 5in NBA superstar Yao Ming, Germany will be missing Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and France will be without San Antonio Spurs playmaker (and Mr Eva Longoria) Tony Parker.

Spain look to defend their title, while beaten 2006 finalists Argentina are likely to provide another tough challenge.

Nonetheless, the tournament has become a much-watched spectacle worldwide in the last few years and the added bonus for the winning team is that they will become the first men's team qualified for the 2012 Olympics.

Group A: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Germany, Jordan, Serbia

Argentina v Serbia - a repeat of the 2002 final - could decide this group with Germany and Australia also likely to have a say in the outcome.

Luis Scola
Luis Scola is likely to be Argentina's mainstay

Argentina won the 2004 Olympic Games but that generation is getting a little old. NBA veterans Andres Nocioni and Manu Ginobili are both missing and Luis Scola will probably be the mainstay of the 2010 version.

Serbia showed at last year's EuroBasket that they are now back at the top of their game after a few years in the doldrums. Led by point guard Milos Teodosic and coached by the legendary Dusan Ivkovic - brought back specifically to build a new team - they took silver behind Spain in last year and look to be an improving unit.

Germany surprised everyone in Poland by proving they can play without Nowitzki and they will have another opportunity to prove that this summer. Genial coach Dirk Bauermann has some good young players at his disposal, notably the 21-year-olds Elias Harris and Robin Benzing.

Australia will be without NBA star Andrew Bogut and their ability to cover for that loss will decide how far they go in Turkey.

Group B: Brazil, Croatia, Iran, Tunisia, Slovenia, USA

Even without so many superstars, the United States remain one of the favourites for the gold medal, mainly because the NBA is a near-bottomless talent pool to draw on.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant could be the star of an under-strength US team

Nonetheless, Team USA has had a thin time of it in the World Championship since their last win in 1994, losing twice in the semi-finals and missing out on a medal altogether in 2002, when they finished sixth.

Rising star Derrick Rose, a team-mate of GB star Luol Deng at the Chicago Bulls, could be the player to watch based on his excellent performance in a narrow victory against Spain recently and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are also expected to feature strongly for the team. USA's game against Iran should also be interesting.

Second place in the group will probably go to Brazil, Slovenia or Croatia. The presence of three NBA players - Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa makes Brazil dangerous, while Croatia have a team that has played together for several years.

Injuries robbed Slovenia of a medal at EuroBasket last summer and the absence of talented forwards Erazem Lorbek and Matjaz Smodis makes them a lot weaker and puts a load on the shoulders of Jaka Lakovic this time around.

Group C: China, Ivory Coast, Greece, Russia, Puerto Rico, Turkey

Greece were finalists in 2006 after knocking the US out of the semi-finals, and remain a tough defensive unit where the team, quarterbacked by Vassilis Spanoulis, is the true star. Their recent fight with Serbia in the Acropolis tournament leaves them without the versatile Antonis Fotsis and wide-bodied centre Sofoklis Schortsanitis for the opening two games (Tedosic and Nenad Krstic, Serbia's offenders, will also start the tournament late).

Russia find themselves having to do without Utah Jazz star Andriy 'AK47' Kirilenko for the second summer in a row but have plenty of talent and are well coached by David Blatt. Viktor Khriyapa and New York's highly-rated 7ft 1in prospect Timofey Mozgov are two players to watch.

Hosts Turkey have NBA forward Hedo Turkoglu leading them but, on a team said to be weak at the guard positions, the talents of Barcelona forward Ersan Ilyasova stand out a mile.

Group D: Canada, France, Lebanon, Lithuania, New Zealand, Spain

Spain are reigning world and European champions in basketball as well as football and, although LA Lakers star Pau Gasol is not playing, their squad is still almost embarrassingly stacked with talent.

Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio is already a superstar at the age of 19

Sharp-shooter Juan-Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez were two of the stars of the gold medal EuroBasket team in Poland last year and playmaker Ricky Rubio is an international name already, at the age of just 19. These are golden times for Spain and with USA not up to full strength, they might yet make top spot on the podium again.

France need to prove they are more than just Tony Parker and a supporting cast after a disappointing end to last year's EuroBasket - and Parker's absence in Turkey makes this crucial. Les Bleus are probably the most explosively talented group outside the USA but doubts over teamwork and their shooting remain. Portland's Nicolas Batum could be the man to cover for Parker's absence.

Linas Kleiza of Toronto is probably the star for Lithuania but there are so many good Lithuanian players at the moment that coach Kestutis Kemzura can ring the changes without affecting the overall product too much. Lithuania will be looking for a good showing in Turkey because last year's EuroBasket was a disaster by their standards and they host the next one, in 2011.

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see also
GB 'edge closer' to Olympic spots
28 Aug 10 |  Basketball
NBA superstar Deng returns to his Sudan roots
24 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams

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