OKINAWA (AFP) ˗ Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and France’s Rudy Gobert will be among the NBA’s international stars trying to stop the United States from regaining the Basketball World Cup when the event begins on Friday, Aug. 25, in Asia.
A young USA start the 32-team competition, which is being co-hosted by the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan, as favorites to lift the Naismith Trophy for the first time since 2014.
Spain, which beat Argentina in the final four years ago in China, when the Americans failed to make the podium, have the experienced Rudy Fernandez to lead their title defense.
But fellow veteran Ricky Rubio will be missing after announcing a break from the NBA to “take care of my mental health”.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is in charge of the USA squad for the first time, after assisting Gregg Popovich at the 2019 World Cup in China and in Tokyo two years later, where they won Olympic gold.
Edwards ‘the guy’
Kerr has picked an up-and-coming group of players to gain redemption for four years ago when the USA slumped to seventh in its defense of back-to-back world titles.
His squad is headlined by NBA All-Stars Anthony “Ant-Man” Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Brandon Ingram, Jaren Jackson and the Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero, the 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Edwards has been impressive in warm-up games — his 34 points on Sunday inspiring the USA to a 99-91 comeback victory against Germany in Abu Dhabi.
“He is unquestionably ‘the guy’,” Kerr said of the 22-year-old Edwards. “He knows it, but now the team knows it.”
No American on the roster has previous World Cup or Olympic experience, but Kerr believes that with hungry players like Edwards, they can challenge for the title.
“If you think about USA basketball over the years, a lot of young players have taken a leap in these World Cup, Olympic competitions and it feels to me like Anthony is taking that leap,” said Kerr, who has won four NBA titles as a coach.
The USA have been drawn with Greece, New Zealand and Jordan in Group C in Manila and will face stiff competition from other countries studded with NBA talent.
Dallas Mavericks guard Doncic will bring his star power to Slovenia’s team in Group F, where they will play Cape Verde, Georgia and Venezuela on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Boston Celtics center Al Horford will suit up for the Dominican Republic, while Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey will play for Australia.
But Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will not appear for Greece, after undergoing knee surgery at the end of the NBA season.
“I am not ready to compete at the level that I need to be in the World Cup,” the 28-year-old wrote on social media.
NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic will not be in Serbia’s lineup. He has opted to rest after leading Denver to their first NBA championship in June as has his Canadian Nuggets teammate Jamal Murray.
‘Room for growth’
French sensation Victor Wembanyama, the top pick in June’s NBA Draft, is missing as he prepares for his first season with the San Antonio Spurs.
But Tokyo Olympics silver medalists France could still be a threat to the US with the likes of Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum, New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier and Minnesota Timberwolves center Gobert in their ranks.
Canada were rocked by the withdrawal of star guard Murray last week but they can still boast a strong squad with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett and Houston Rockets forward Dillon Brooks.
But the US look the team to beat as they aim for a sixth title.
“We go to Manila feeling like we have a lot of room for growth,” said Kerr
“But we also go there with a lot of confidence in ourselves, in the fiber of the group, the connection, they really like each other, they play well together.
“And they fight.”