And here we go! Who will end up on the top pedestal and come out victorious in Group B of the 2023 FIBA World Cup — South Sudan, Serbia, China or Puerto Rico?
Here’s everything you need to know, beginning with Group B:
🇸🇸South Sudan (FIBA Rank: 62)
How They Got Here: Making their debut in the FIBA World Cup, South Sudan are definitely entering this summer’s tournament as the underdogs of their group. However, the Bright Stars come into the WC red-hot: led by a core three of Kuany Kuany (10 points per game), Nuni Omot (15.1 ppg), and and Majok Deng (10.6 ppg), they went 11-1 in the African Qualifiers to reach the world stage.
The Guy: Thanks to former NBA star and current South Sudan Basketball Federation president Luol Deng, South Sudan was able to add some needed star power to the squad in the form of 7’1″ beast Wenyen Gabriel, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Gabriel is a massive addition because of his NBA experience and pure skill. South Sudan has a tough draw, but they can do some damage.
X-Factor: Gabriel is a big get for the Bright Stars, but beside him is of course Omot, the leading scorer for the team in the African Qualifiers, as well as Marial Shayok, a Maine Celtics hybrid guard-forward. Shayok played his youth days for Team Canada, but Deng brought him in for this year’s World Cup. Shayok is a lanky defense-minded guy, who can also add a spark on the offensive side when needed, making him the perfect complement to the set of guys that head coach Royal Ivey’s already got.
🇷🇸Serbia (FIBA Rank: 6)
How They Got Here: Time and time again, Serbia remains one of the best producers of basketball players in the world, and show it each time they compete in the World Cup. Despite an unfortunate end to their EuroBasket run in the Round of 16, Serbia still looks to get back to their highest finish ever: a 2014 finals loss to the USA.
The Guy: The name you’re bound to hear each time you watch Serbia play is one Bogdan Bogdanovic. A longtime veteran of the NBA, the Atlanta Hawk is the heart and soul of this year’s Serbian roster, and is most definitely going to be the guy they rely on on both sides of the court. In exhibitional play this August, Bogey has been their leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points on over 40% shooting from the field. He is sure to be on every team’s radar, in the group stage and beyond.
X-Factor: While Serbia is known for producing talented big men, Filip Petrusev could be the one this year to make a name for himself. He only averaged 5 points in their exhibition games, but the 6’11” Gonzaga product can score from nearly every level: if he can break out, Serbia will be nearly unstoppable.
🇨🇳China (FIBA Rank: 27)
How They Got Here: China was absolutely dominant in the Asia Qualifying Rounds, going 10-2 overall–both of their losses came to Australia–and blowing most teams out of the water completely with overpowering offensive showings. They also now sport new head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic, who took the aforementioned Serbia to the final in 2014.
The Guy: A relatively unexpected yet welcome addition to the team was Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson, who gained Chinese citizenship in order to play for his country of origin. Dubbed by NBA fans with the nickname “Slo-Mo”, Anderson is well-known for his slow-moving, yet extremely efficient style of play.
Anderson is going to be the Dragons primary ball-handler and option on offense, especially in tougher stretches of the game, making him a huge benefit to the team.
X-Factor: Before Kyle Anderson came into the picture, there stood the Chinese twin towers: Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin. While both 7-footers can dominate down low, Zhou was simply unstoppable in the qualifying round, and is really who’s responsible for China being in the spot they currently are. If Qi can recreate his 16.7 points on 63% shooting efforts come World Cup time, China is going to be terrifying.
🇵🇷Puerto Rico (FIBA Rank: 20)
How They Got Here: Puerto Rico just barely snuck into the 2nd round of qualifiers after going 3-3 first round, but they began to get ahold of things the second time around, finishing 8-4 round 2, headlined by a 4-game winning streak. Despite the success, PR has not fared well in the World Cup as of recent, and hopes to break their streak by winning their first knockout game in over 20 years.
The Guy: The Boricua squad got some unfortunate news when it was revealed that two of their biggest stars–Gian Clavell and José Alvarado–would be out for the tournament with injuries. Because of these depletions to their roster, coach Nelson Colón is going to need NBA guard Tremont Waters to step up in a big way. Waters showed flashed of his ability during the Americas Qualifiers, averaging just over 17 points to go with 6.3 assists in 6 games of play. If he can be a consistent first option, Puerto Rico will have filled one of their biggest needs to date.
X-Factor: Waters would have been the x-factor, but given that he’s the main attraction for PR now, it seems as though there are two guys who are next up: guard Jordan Howard and forward George Conditt IV. Both can score, but it seems like Howard will have to be their next option now; however, that’s not nearly as bad as it seems, just watch some of his pro highlights.
As for Conditt, standing at 6’10” is what makes him most valuable for Puerto Rico. Given that one of the squad’s biggest vulnerabilities is their defense and lack of ability to stop scoring downpours, if Conditt can become the shot-blocker they’re looking for, the island nation might return the glory they’re hoping for.
- Puerto Rico
- South Sudan
Serbia is sure to continue their dominant nature in the group stage of the World Cup, and will be able to move on, albeit with some growing pains. As for China, there’s really only one question to ask: with Kyle Anderson now in the spotlight, how do their competitors stop Zhou Qi? Short answer: they won’t, or at least not enough to slow down China from advancing.
PUERTO RICO 🇵🇷 en el Araneta Coliseum 📍— FBPUR 🏀🇵🇷 (@fbpur) August 23, 2023
La #SelecciónPUR tuvo hoy su primera práctica en el venue donde a partir de este sábado jugará la fase de grupo del @FIBAWC. ¡Listos para rePResentar! 🔥
📸: FIBA#FamiliaPUR #WinforPuertoRico #FIBAWC pic.twitter.com/UCVmWjYlPR
Puerto Rico, when fully healthy and with the right matchups, has the ability to make it to a podium finish. But the size they will face and the injuries they’ve already sustained make it hard for them to be seen as a favorite here. South Sudan is going to be a force to be reckoned with in Africa for years to come: but right now, their lack of experience and leadership is going to catch up with them.
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