Olympics: 5 Nations That Threaten USA Basketball In The Race To Gold
Team USA Basketball has always been dominant in the world stage, whether it’d be in the World Cup or the Olympics. However so far, the team has had a rollercoaster Tokyo Olympics campaign.
After coming off a disappointing seventh place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Team USA Basketball has called up some of its top players headlined by Kevin Durant and Damien Lillard. But despite reinforcing the team with an All-Star cast, the team is so far holding a 3-3 record including exhibition games.
It is evident that the world has finally caught up on Team USA Basketball, although talent-wise, there’s no team that can match its star power. But then again, international basketball reminds us that this sports is a team game. And in this edition of the Olympics, there are teams that not only bolster NBA players, but also rosters that have been together for years. For this piece, let’s take a look at five nations in the Olympic field that can threaten USA’s gold medal streak.
Tokyo Olympics: Team USA-Gold Hunting And Its Enemies
Nigeria is an African powerhouse team, and they shocked the world after upsetting Team USA in an exhibition game, 90-87. This was a historic upset that saw the first time USA loss to an African nation. Furthermore, it was a vindicated victory for the Nigerians, who were on the receiving end of the USA’s 156-73 beatdown during the 2012 Olympics.
Although Nigeria hasn’t done so well in the world stage, they aren’t pushovers. The D’Tigers are certainly not short of talent, especially with eight NBA veterans in their roster. Led by Josh Okogie, Nigeria has the personnel to keep in step with the world’s best basketball countries.
Thankfully for Team USA Basketball, they might not see Nigeria in the succeeding rounds of the Tokyo Olympics. Currently, the D’Tigers are holding a winless 0-2 record. Nigeria needs to win their game against Italy convincing enough to become the one of the best third-placed teams to advance to the quarterfinals.
Spain has been one of the top contenders in international basketball for decades. Currently ranked second in the world, the Olympic team boasts of a season roster that includes NBA players such as Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Willy Hernangomez. They are also surrounded by former NBA vets Pau Gasol, Victor Claver, Alex Abrines, Rudy Fernandez, and Sergio Rodriguez. In addition to this, the team also has Euroleague star Sergio Llull.
The core of this team could very well be past their prime. However, they’ve showed that they still have some gas left in the tank after they won gold in last year’s FIBA World Cup. And for sure, they’d love to add an Olympic gold medal to their collection.
Fortunately for Team USA basketball, Spain hasn’t beaten them since 2002. Furthermore in their recent encounter, USA asserted their mastery over them in a pre-Olympic exhibition game with a 83-76 victory.
However if Team USA encounters another collapse, there’s no doubt that the Spanish National Team will be making the most out of the opportunity to destroy their rivals’ gold medal hopes. Currently, Spain is holding a 1-0 record after dispatching Japan, 88-77.
Like Spain, Slovenia hasn’t defeated Team USA in recent memory, with exception to the time Yugoslavia knocked out USA out of medal contention in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Furthermore in their recent encounters, Slovenia has been on the receiving end of a blowout loss. In an exhibition game in 2014, USA defeated Slovenia 101-71. Slovenia would also take a 76-119 beatdown at the hands of the Americans in the FIBA World Cup in that same year. Although the history favors USA, the result could be different this time around.
Slovenia has recently been making history in the international basketball scene. As we all know, one of the brightest young players in the NBA is Luka Doncic. Luka has elevated the play of Slovenia in the recent years. He was able to lead the team to its first Eurobasket Championship in 2017. And earlier this year, Luka helped his nation clinch a spot in the Tokyo Olympics to make its first-ever Olympic appearance, with him being crowned as the MVP of the OQT in Kaunas.
— FIBA (@FIBA) July 5, 2021
As of writing, Slovenia is currently leading Group C with a 2-0 record after beating Argentina and Japan in convincing fashion. The Mavericks guard had a historic Olympic debut against Argentina. He dropped 48 points, which is the second highest tally in a single Olympic game.
Luka Doncic is now tied for second place in Olympic history for points in a game.
He removed himself from play while there was 4:35 left in Slovenia’s 118-100 win over Argentina. pic.twitter.com/1iEbHTuwaw
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) July 26, 2021
With Slovenia making history with Luka, there’s no question that they are a legitimate medal contender. And if Team USA can’t find a solution to contain Luka’s magic, then another upset could be on the horizon for this redeem team.
Despite being in the post-retirement era of Tony Parker, France has been doing relatively well in the international scene. As we all know, they pulled off an upset against USA in the Olympic opener, 83-76. This was USA’s first Olympic loss since 2004. But in addition to this, France also defeated USA, 89-79, during the 2019 FIBA World Cup to knock them out of medal contention. Because of this, there’s no doubt that Les Bleus is one of the major threats to USA’s gold medal hopes.
France is composed of various of players with NBA experience. They are led by no other than reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. He is surrounded by NBA players Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Frank Ntilikina. Aside from them, France also have former NBA players Nando de Colo, Guerschon Yabusele, and Vincent Poirier. With this roster, France has showed why they are a legitimate medal contender. In fact, they finished with the bronze medal in the last edition of the FIBA World Cup.
After losing to France in the opening round, fortunately for Team USA Basketball, they won’t have to deal with them until the final rounds. But should they meet again deep in the medal rounds of the Tokyo Olympics, USA will have to dig deep to halt the French National Team.
Another team that USA needs to watch out for is Australia. Based on history, Australia is arguably the hungriest team in the Olympics to finish at the podium. In the past two world events, the Boomers fell short of finishing at the podium in the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2019 FIBA World Cup. And this year, they are more motivated than ever to bring home a medal. Because of this, USA has plenty of reasons to fear the Boomers.
Australia is one of the nations that is loaded with NBA experience. In their roster, they have Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Aaron Baynes, Joe Ingles, Matisse Thybulle, Josh Green, and Dante Exum. Because of this, there’s no doubt that Australia has the talent to keep in step with Team USA. Although the loss of Ben Simmons could be a huge blow, there’s no question that this squad is ready to battle.
The Boomers have shown that they aren’t intimidated by the star power of Team USA. In their recent encounter, Australia handed USA its second of a back-to-back exhibition loss earlier this month. Australia defeated USA in the latter’s home floor, 91-83. It is also worth noting that Australia also defeated USA in their previous encounter, 98-94 in a tuneup for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Although these two squads have yet to meet in the world stage as of late, there’s no question that Australia will be out to re-assert their mastery over this redeem team.
Currently, the Boomers are holding a 2-0 record to lead Group B after defeating Nigeria and Italy. With the Boomers on a roll, Team USA Basketball needs to gather their bearings quick before possibly meeting them in the knock-out rounds of the Tokyo Olympics.