Wed. May 29th, 2024
FIBA World Cup Group B

China’s Zhou Qi, Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, South Sudan’s Nuni Omot and Puerto Rico’s Tremont Waters. –ART/MARLO CUETO

MANILA, Philippines—A perennial contender on the world stage, Serbia finds itself the favorite in Group B.

Competition in Group B, however, isn’t expected to be a cakewalk for Serbia, which will be without two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.

Joining Serbia, which made the finals in 2014, at Araneta Coliseum are China, Puerto Rico and South Sudan.

Puerto Rico and South Sudan open Group B play on Saturday.

Inquirer Sports took a deeper look at Group B in a series of previews for the first round of the group stage held in Manila including the Group C and D games at Mall of Asia Arena.

Serbia

Serbia's Bogdan Bogdanovic Fiba World Cup

Bogdan Bogdanovic will carry much of the load for Serbia, which is missing its superstar Nikola Jokic.

Despite missing its superstar Jokic, Serbia remains a formidable team and a big reason for it is sharpshooting swingman  Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The Atlanta Hawks swingman emerged as Serbia’s top scorer in the 2019 edition of the World Cup and it looks like it will remain that way in this year’s showcase with Jokic begging off to rest following a grueling NBA season where he led the Denver Nuggets to their first ever championship.

Bogdanovic led the 2019 tournament in scoring averaging 22.9 points per game.

The Serbs, however, are also equipped with other weapons like Alen Smailagic, Aleksa Avramovic, Marko Guduric and Nemanja Nedovic.

In one of its pre-World Cup exhibition games, Serbia beat Greece, 71-64. The Serbs, however, lost to a surging Italy side, 88-89, in a game where they led by as many as 17 points.

China

China's Zhou Qi, Fiba World Cup

Zhou Qi forms a solid duo with naturalized player Kyle Anderson for China.

China has always been a team to watch out for on the global stage.

With talents like Zhao Rui, Sun Minghui and Zhao Jiwei, the Chinese have always managed to assemble a competitive crew.

But China has been in a slump recently, finishing 8th in last year’s Asia Cup and ending up 24th in the previous World Cup in 2019.

With a cornerstone like Zhou Qi, however, that may all change.

At the conclusion of this year’s Asian Qualifiers, Qi put up efficient performances for coach Aleksandar Djordjevic, posting 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per outing.

Qi was also China’s poster boy in one of Fiba’s promotional videos released recently which just shows how big of a factor he will be for his country’s World Cup bid.

That, plus the addition of naturalized player Kyle Anderson, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, China may just get back into its groove in the global competition.

South Sudan

South Sudan's Nuni Omot Fiba world Cup

South Sudan was unable to qualify for the 2019 World Cup but through the years, the AfroBasket contenders have upped their game to clinch a spot this year.

Most of Sudan’s success was due to the efforts of team captain Nuni Omot.

In the African qualifiers, Omot powered South Sudan with averages of 15.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-9 forward also showed his proficiency in shooting with a 43 percent field goal shooting clip.

But Omot won’t be the lone star talent for the squad as the country’s Basketball Federation president and former NBA vet Luol Deng also made moves of his own to bolster the Sudanese.

Wenyen Gabriel, a reliable role player for the Los Angeles Lakers last year, will be suiting up for South Sudan.

Gabriel will join Omot, Kuany Kuany, Deng Acuoth and Mareng Gatkuoth in hopes of leading the country to a shocking showing as the group’s underdogs.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's Tremont Waters Fiba World Cup

Tremont Waters has big shoes to fill for Puerto Rico.

Like Serbia, Puerto Rico also heads to Manila without one of its main men in Jose Alvarado, who has been sidelined since February due to a stress reaction in his right tibia.

In the absence of the New Orleans Pelicans’ two-way guard, Tremont Waters is expected to rise to the occasion for the Puerto Ricans.

Waters, who saw action for the Toronto Raptors back in 2021, may not be as effective on both ends as Alvarado for Puerto Rico but his playmaking could still cause big problems for South Sudan, Serbia and China.

The Louisiana State University product will share the floor with Ismael Romero, Christopher Ortiz and George Conditt for Puerto Rico come Saturday.

Earlier this month, Puerto Rico played tournament favorite United States in a tune-up and lost, 117-74, in Las Vegas. In another exhibition, the Puerto Ricans also played the Italians, who blew them out, 98-65, in Ravenna, Italy.

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