After a brief summer hiatus, the big boys of the basketball world will be back to work starting this weekend in Japan at the FIBA World Championships. The U.S., Argentina, Spain and France are expected to be the front-runners for the medal podium due to their veteran, NBA loaded rosters. The days of college kids representing countries in these events are long gone – however, that doesn’t mean that a few lucky youngsters won’t crack their respective homeland’s rosters.
There are a handful of current NCAA players and NBA draft prospects from overseas scheduled to suit up in the tournament. Here is a rundown of who to look out for:
Aaron Bruce – Baylor (Junior)
Brad Newley – Townsville Crocodiles (Australia)
The Aussies will only go as far as their lone NBA player, Andrew Bogut, carries them. They are a very young team with only two players over 30 years of age making the roster. The youth movement is led by Baylor junior Aaron Bruce, who was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last season. Brad Newley, meanwhile, almost declared for this past June’s NBA draft before deciding to pull his name out and play another pro year in Australia. He is projected as a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft. Newley has already put up big numbers for the Boomers in tune up games leading up to the tourney so look for him to get more minutes on the court than Bruce.
Tiago Splitter – Tau Ceramica Vitoria (Spain)
Big man Splitter has pulled out of the past two years’ NBA drafts, not due to his talent but mostly because of his current contract situation in Europe. He is projected as going as high as #3 in next year’s draft due to his athleticism, size and experience. Splitter has already shined in warm-up games this season, playing very good defense on Yao Ming and China.
Yi Jianlian – Guandong Southern Tigers (China)
Speaking of China, their roster also contains a big man that is causing NBA scouts to drool. The 6’11” 18 year old Yi has already played in the Olympics for China and was named the MVP of the Chinese pro league this past season.
Marco Belinelli – Climamio Bologna (Italy)
Shooting guard Belinelli is another player who considered entering last June’s draft. He is a high scoring, three point shooting guard who is also quite athletic taking the ball to the rim. Without Raptor draft pick Andrea Bargnani on Italy’s roster, Belinelli will be looked upon to put some points on the board. Whenever Marco does enter the NBA draft look for him to possibly be a lottery pick.
Mantas Kalnietis – Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania)
A projected late first round or early second round 2008 NBA draft pick, Kalnietis is a fast 6’5” point guard. He just got done playing for Lithuania’s Under-20 team in the European Championships where he averaged 11.5ppg, 4.8apg and 3.9rpg.
- New Zealand
Craig Bradshaw – Winthrop (Senior)
The mid-major big man has plenty of experience playing internationally – he has already played in the Olympics for his native land. After seeing modest increases in his stats through his first three years in the NCAA, Bradshaw is looking to breakout in this tourney. After his standout play in games leading up to Japan, Bradshaw has been called an “emerging superstar” by Basketball New Zealand.
Ekene Ibekwe – Maryland (Senior)
Ibekwe was another player who flirted with the NBA this past spring before deciding to return to Maryland for his senior year. As the third youngest player on the team it isn’t known how many minutes Ibekwe will see in Japan.
- Serbia & Montenegro
Uros Tripkovic – Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
The 6’5” shooting guard Tripkovic is a very highly regarded prospect, expected to be a mid to late first round pick whenever he declares for the NBA draft. Uros has won 4 straight National championships with Partizan, averaging 12.5ppg and 42% from behind the three- point stripe this season.
Goran Dragic – TAU Ceramica Vitoria (Spain)
As a possible 2007 NBA first round draft pick, the 6’4” point guard is only 20 years old and is the youngest player on the Slovenian roster. Due to this fact he probably won’t see much of the court in Japan.
Rudy Fernandez – DKV Joventut (Spain)
The 21-year-old Fernandez has already seen time for Spain in the last Olympics. The Spaniards are one of the top teams in the tournament and Fernandez should see plenty of court time. He is projected as a last first round pick in next year’s draft after averaging 14.6ppg, 4.2rpg and 2.5apg last year in Spain’s top pro league, ACB.
Cem Dinc – Indiana - Sophomore
Semih Erden – Fenerbahce (Turkey)
Turkey brings an extremely young team into Japan, with only one player over 30 years of age. Hoosier fans didn’t get to see a lot of Dinc last season, with him only appearing in 3 games. Considering he didn’t really make a mark in Turkey’s warm up games, you probably won’t be seeing him much in Japan either. Big man Erden, considered a late NBA draft pick in 2008, may see some more court time than Dinc. He averaged 6.5ppg and 5.4rpg last season in Turkey.
Other young NBA prospects to look out for are:
Brazil - Cai Torres
China - Sun Yue
France - Yannick Bokolo
Serbia - Luka Bogdanovic
Spain - Marc Gasol
Turkey - Oguz Savas
When all the dust settles and the World Champion is declared, CHN will let you know how these young guns did on the big stage.