AS WE SENT THIS ISSUE TO PRINT, the World Basketball Festival was only days away from taking over New York City. An unprecedented event put on by Nike, Jordan Brand, Converse and USA Basketball, the four-day celebration of the sport and culture of hoops is also a preview of sorts of this summer’s FIBA World Championship in Turkey (Aug. 28-Sept. 12), as fi ve international squads – China, Brazil, Puerto Rico, France and
Team USA – scrimmage and play exhibition games at Madison Square Garden, Rucker Park, and right in the middle of Radio City Music Hall.
Those five, plus fi ve more, made our list of 10 teams to watch at the World Championship:
Best Player: Luis Scola
Rising Star: Patricio Garino
X-Factor: Juan Manual Fernandez
Although Argentina is ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA, it looks like their heyday being led by Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfi no is over. But the future looks bright. Fernandez, who stars at Temple University, just turned 20 years old, while Garino is a 17-year-old sensation who is seen as a superstar in the making.
Best Player: Boris Diaw
Rising Star: Rodrigue Beaubois
X-Factor: Mickael Pietrus
Despite not having Tony Parker, France is an athletic group who can get out and run. They have a history of underachieving in major FIBA tournaments, though, fi nishing fi fth in last year’s European Championship, 8th in the ‘07 Euro tourney, and not qualifying for the last two Olympics.
Best Player: Vasileios Spanoulis
Rising Star: Nikos Kalathis
X-Factor: Sofoklis Schortsanitis
They don’t have any current NBA players, but United States fans know better than anybody not to sleep on Team Greece. They upset the U.S. and won silver at the last World Championship, then won bronze at last year’s European Championship. Schortsanitis, a.k.a. “Baby Shaq,” can be a
beast in the paint if he’s in shape and motivated.
Best Player: Marc Gasol
Rising Star: Ricky Rubio
X-Factor: Juan Carlos Navarro
Even without Pau Gasol in the lineup, Spain could make a gold-medal run in Turkey. Marc Gasol is coming off an NBA season where he put up 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, and Rubio guided FC Barcelona to a Euroleague championship.
Best Player: Nenad Krstic
Rising Star: Milenko Tepic
X-Factor: Uros Tripkovic
The last time Serbia played at the Worlds (2002), they won the whole thing, and they won silver at last year’s European Championship. Currently ranked 5th in the world by FIBA, they have to be considered a medal threat.
Best Player: Yi Jianlian
Rising Star: Li Xiaoxu
X-Factor: Sun Yue
With Yao Ming out of action, it’s up to skilled yet unproven Yi to carry the squad. Guard play will be crucial for the Chinese, as well as a big showing from 20-yearold Li Xiaoxu, who has already been playing pro ball for fi ve years.
Best Player: Carlos Arroyo
Rising Star: J.J. Barea
X-Factor: Renaldo Balkman
Team PR is solid in the backcourt, but aside from NBA veteran Balkman, weak up front. The two best players -- Arroyo and Barea -- play the same position, while sharpshooter David Cortes logs minutes at small forward despite standing only 6-foot-3.
Best Player: Hedo Turkoglu
Rising Star: Ersan Ilyasova
X-Factor: Semih Erden
The host country is currently ranked 18th in the world, but with the home crowd behind them and some legit talent on the roster, don’t be surprised if Turkey pulls off some upsets and grabs a medal. Turkoglu should be in a good mood after his wish was granted and the Toronto Raptors traded him to Phoenix in the offseason
Best Player: Kevin Durant
Rising Star: Derrick Rose
X-Factor: Brook Lopez
As usual, Team USA has the most talented roster topto- bottom, but this is a completely different squad than the group that won gold at the ‘08 Olympics. Durant will lead the way, but he, like many of his teammates, doesn’t have very much experience at big-time international events.
Best Player: Leandro Barbosa
Rising Star: Tiago Splitter
X-Factor: Anderson Varejao
Barbosa leads the way with his speed and scorer’s mentality, but Brazil also has a crew of rugged big men in Varejao, Nene and incoming Spurs rookie Tiago Splitter.