The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup got underway Saturday in China with preliminary round groups A, B, C and D, four of the eight preliminary round groups, getting their first games under their belts.
Although there were no real surprises, several teams put in notice they were ready for medal runs and turned in impressive performances.
Medal favorite Serbia (1-0) routed Angola (0-1) as veteran Bogdan Bogdanovic pumped in 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting and NBA All-Star and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic added 14 points, five rebounds and six assists. In Group D’s other game Saturday, Italy (1-0) easily disposed of Philippines (0-1) by a 108-62 score. Amedeo Della Valle and Alessandro Gentile each scored 17 points in Italy’s win, while Danilo Gallinari, who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, added 16 points and drained 4-of-5 3-point shots.
In Group A play, host China (1-0), led by Jianlian Yi’s 19 points and eight rebounds, got started on a winning track with a 70-55 win over Ivory Coast (0-1), while Poland (1-0) defeated Venezuela (0-1) 80-69 to earn its first World Cup victory in 52 years.
Group B action saw Russia (1-0) rally to take down Nigeria (0-1) 82-77 as guard Mikhail Kulagin posted 16 points in the win, while Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves scored 18 points for Nigeria. Argentina (1-0) easily rolled over South Korea (0-1) 95-69, and Nicola Laprovittola was credited with 17 points and veteran Luis Scola, who is making a record-tying fifth World Cup appearance, added 15 points and nine rebounds.
In Group C, David Huertas poured in 32 points as Puerto Rico (1-0) battled back from 19 points down to beat Iran (0-1) 83-81. Spain dominated the second half to earn a 101-62 victory over Tunisia (0-1) as Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio accounted for 17 points and nine assists.
Sunday features the remaining four preliminary round groups beginning play, including the USA.
The two-time defending World Cup champions United States will make its Group E debut against Czech Republic at 8:30 a.m. EDT at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center, and the USA’s three first round games are available to watch on ESPN+.
Czech Republic, making its first World Cup appearance, is led by Chicago Bulls Tomáš Satoranský.
“The Czech Republic is a very good team,” said USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “They just played a really good game against Lithuania, which has been an experienced, fine executing team for a very long time. They’re big. Their sets that they run are very good, so the challenges begin with game one, and that’s the way it is.”
Popovich also acknowledged the race for gold is a wide open affair.
“There are a lot of teams that are very good and have an opportunity to do very well in the tournament. So, we don’t take anybody lightly. It’s about respecting your opponent, and we do that, without any doubt.”
The 2019 USA World Cup Team includes 2016 Olympic gold medalist Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings); Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics); Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets); Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks); Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks); Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz); 2014 World Cup gold medalist Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets); Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics); Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics); Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers); Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics); and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).
The USA coaching staff is led by head coach Popovich and USA assistant coaches and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and Villanova University head coach Jay Wright.
In Sunday’s other Group E game, Turkey, led by a trio of NBAers including Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks), Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers) and Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers), will take on a Japan team that features Washington Wizards draft pick Hachimura Rui and Yuta Watanabe of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sunday’s Group F games feature Brazil versus New Zealand and Greece going up against Montenegro. Brazil will be led by a pair of NBAers – Bruno Caboclo (Memphis Grizzlies) and Cristiano Felicio (Chicago Bulls), while Greece will be led by the reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and his brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks).
The two preliminary round Group G games will see the Dominican Republic going against Jordan and France facing Germany. Medal favorite France features five NBA players including Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks) and Vincent Poirier (Boston Celtics).
The fourth and final preliminary round group – Group H – will see medal hopefully Canada and Australia square off, and Lithuania will face Senegal. Canada’s title hopes are aided by NBA players Khem Birch(Orlando Magic) and Cory Joseph (Sacramento Kings), while Australia features Aron Baynes (Phoenix Suns), Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Matthew Dellavedova(Cleveland Cavaliers) and Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs). Lithuania medal hopes will receive a boost from Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and veteran Jonas Valančiūnas (Memphis Grizzlies).