By: Jason Fleming
Most people who read HOOPSWORLD, or any other sports news site, are pretty familiar with Team USA and how the team has been built. They know the intriguing player combinations the US can put on the floor, be it Carmelo Anthony and in the power positions or young point guard studs Chris Paul and Deron Williams together in the backcourt.
But how much do people know about Team USA's competition for gold at the Beijing Olympics? Who are their star players? How did they get to Beijing?
The biggest competition for gold is widely regarded to be Argentina, Greece, China, Spain and Germany. Let's take a quick look at each of the contenders, in no particular order.
Players to Watch: Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto
Argentina is in the Games because they were the up to the United States at the 2007 FIBA Tournament of the Americas in Las Vegas. They also are the defending gold medal winners, having taken the top spot at the 2004 Games in Greece. If there is one team that will not be intimidated by the NBA players on Team USA, it's Argentina – they play with and against these guys every night. Delfino, actually, was Chris Bosh's teammate last season in Toronto.
Players to Watch: Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhi Zhi, Liu Wei
China is in by virtue of being the host of the Games, but they'd be a force anyway. Any team that can put the size on the floor they can with a line of Yao, Yi and Wang is going to be difficult to handle, plus this team is well-drilled on the basics. The biggest question is whether or not their guards will be strong enough to keep with the likes of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. Also, don't underestimate the factor of playing for the home crowd in China – the Chinese team will want to leave a good impression.
Players to Watch: Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman, Patrick Femerling, Steffan Hamman
Germany qualified for the Games by beating Puerto Rico in Athens at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament to claim the last spot in the Olympics. This was the first berth in the Games for Germany since 1992. This team, despite being the last one in, could give USA fits. Remember all the talk about Team USA lacking size? A matchup with Germany – which will happen in the preliminary round – will see the US and it's only three true power players having to deal with a German team that boasts six players 6-10 and taller, four of those at least seven feet. For a team that hasn't been that impressive rebounding the ball in exhibition games with Turkey and Lithuania, that could be a problem.
Players to Watch: Andreas Glyniadakis, Vasileious Spanoulis, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Antonis Fotsis
Greece made the games through the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament as well. Like Germany they have plenty of big men, with five players measuring 6-10 or taller, but may play a more physical game than the Americans are expecting. Greece also has plenty of good shooters and took second in the last major tournament, the FIBA World Championships in 2006 in Japan. They finished fifth at the last Olympics as the home team.
Players to Watch: Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio
Don't know who Ricky Rubio is? He's a top prospect for the 2009 NBA Draft, so take a good long look. How about the other Gasol? He's going to be playing for the Memphis Grizzlies. And Fernandez? He's looking to join a long-term backcourt trio of himself, Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless in Portland. This team, winners of the 2006 FIBA World Championships, is very, very good. In addition to the five players mentioned above the team also includes Juan Carlos Navarro (who returned to Europe this year after a season with the Memphis Grizzlies) and Jorge Garbajosa (bought out of his Toronto Raptors contract after a series of leg injuries). Mark your calendar for Saturday, August 16th at 10:15 pm (Beijing time – Friday, August 15th, 1:15 pm Pacific time, 4:15 pm Eastern time). That game, though it will be only a preliminary one, should be fantastic.