Age prevails over promise as US cedes dominance at FIBA World Cup

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For Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, their time to shine at the FIBA Basketball World Cup turned out to be a pity party on their China tour.

Greece, Serbia, and the United States, all featuring promising yet inexperienced players, came up short. It was Argentina and Spain that went head to head for the glory in Beijing's Wukesong Arena on Sunday.

In the end, it was experience in international tournaments, and timely adjustment to playing on a high level winning out over raw talent and promise.


"Offense wins games, but defense wins championships." This old saying was well demonstrated by Spain, which regained its world title after 13 years.

Buckling down on defense, Spain restrained its opponents to 70 points on average. The only opponents among eight scoring over 80 points was Australia in the semifinals, but two overtimes should be taken into consideration there.

Marc Gasol (C) of Spain competes during the final match between Spain and Argentina at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 15, 2019. (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)

In the final against Argentina that had put up an average of 87.6 points on the score sheet, Spain held their South American opponents to 75 points, highlighted by its defense on star players Luis Scola and Facundo Campazzo.

Despite age-defying performance in earlier matches, the 39-year-old big man Scola was held scoreless for an entire half for the first time in the World Cup, before nailing just eight points in total.

Scola participated in Argentina's last final appearance at the World Cup (formerly known as the World Championships) 17 years ago, before claiming the Olympic Games gold medal in 2004.

As the only member of basketball's "golden generation" active on court, Scola stunned the world with his average stats of 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds before the final in Beijing.

Playmaker Campazzo, seen as the magician on the court due to his beautiful passes and spectacular dribbles, could not power Argentina to the crown with 11 points on 2 of 11 shooting against Ricky Rubio's defense.

Spainish center Marc Gasol, 34, achieved a rare double championships in the same year after being crowned with Toronto Raptors in the NBA last season.

The Gasol brothers have been the pillar in Spain's paint. Without elder brother Pau this time, Marc contributed 14.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per outing, and was named into the All-star Five along with another player in his prime, Rubio.


Returning home with the seventh place, the worst ever result in either the Olympics or World Cup, team USA obviously had much to complain about in terms of the incessant withdrawals of NBA stars even before its training camp started.

Anthony Davis, James Harden, Damian Lillard, to name a few, were among the withdrawn players who were seemingly much more established and experienced than those standing on the World Cup court.

Kemba Walker was the only player in the USA's World Cup roster named in the All-NBA Team last season, and one of three players with an All-Star appearance.

Whether it was due to concern about pre-season preparation with a new NBA club, or for family issues, the pullouts have reduced team USA to another level, making their opponents confident and aware of victories over the two-time defending champions.

USA's overtime scare against Turkey in group stage has already made that clear as the two teams were separated by just one point. When a more balanced France stood in front, the United States failed to pave its way to the last four.

After losing its second straight match against Serbia in classifications, team USA was set to register a historical low in result at an international stage.

It felt like a cycle for the traditional basketball powerhouse, who began to build its dynasty from the 2008 Olympic Games, and ended it this year also in China.

A different scenario can be expected for the 2020 Olympic Games for the United States, as its stars will return to international duty. But the country's basketball officials won't forget about what happened during the World Cup preparation in setting up the pool for choosing the Olympics roster.


In the World Cup, operating in a 32-team format for the first time, more chances have arrived for a broader range of teams, foreshowing surprises throughout the tournament.

Czech Republic finished sixth in its maiden appearance at the World Cup. Poland, returning to the competition after 52-year absence, reached the quarterfinals.

But when you look back, huge disparity can be clearly felt, as no Asian or African team made into the tournament's last 16.

Without the last 16, and without direct qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games, it undoubtedly leaves a disappointing journey for hosts China, who were quite optimistic for a good showing when the draw was made in March.

After commencing the tournament with a Cote d'Ivoire win, Chinese fans' confidence was boosted, only to witness the ripple effect of mistakes at the end of the matchup against Poland.

Zhou Qi's throw-in was intercepted to waste China's one-point lead at the dying moment, as Poland bagged the win in overtime.

The defeat to Venezuela meant that China failed its attempt to advance to the last 16.

More agonizingly, the hosts were unable to earn direct entry into the Olympics after their second round loss to Nigeria in classification.

The gravity of world basketball is still centered in Europe and the Americas, with 15 teams reaching the last 16 and Australia being the exception from Oceania.

But not everyone is happy about the huge gap separating different continents.

"There are some groups from the start that you probably know which two teams are going to advance. These groups are obvious. I don't know that it's a good thing in general for the competition," commented Serbian head coach Sasha Djordjevic after his team thrashed the Philippines by 59 points.

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