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Vazquez headlines list of key players making important returns to national teams in Qualifiers
MIES (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers) - Numerous veterans that had missed major tournaments in recent years returned to their national teams for the November World Cup Qualifiers and made significant impacts.
Fran Vazquez, Spain
Sergio Scariolo was relieved to have Vazquez, a star in the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup team, back for the World Cup Qualifiers against Montenegro and Slovenia. The Iberostar Tenerife veteran brought talent and experience to Spain's lineup. He averaged 13 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, while shooting 10 of 16 (57.1 percent) from the floor and 6 of 7 at the free-throw line. It was also good for the inexperienced players in the Spain side to have Vazquez as a teammate and a leader. "In less than a week, we have created a very close group," he said. "The mission was to play as well as possible in the two games and we did, and we enjoyed it."
Anderson Varejao, Brazil
Varejao hadn't played in a big competition for Brazil since 2014
A glaring absentee for Brazil at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics due to injury, Anderson returned to the lineup with a vengeance in the World Cup Qualifiers. The 35-year-old had 11 points and 9 rebounds in an 86-73 win over Chile and followed that up with 16 points and 12 boards in a 72-60 victory over Venezuela.
Jeremy Nzeulie, Cameroon
Nzeulie played with a lot of fire for Cameroon
Cameroon missed Nzeulie at FIBA AfroBasket 2017. He has both skill and intensity in abundance. Thankfully for the Lions, the 26-year-old made it back for the World Cup Qualifiers and helped his national team win two of three games. The 1.88m guard had 20 points in a 65-60 win over Chad and 14 in a 116-78 romp over Guinea. Even in the 67-66 defeat to AfroBasket champions Tunisia, Nzeulie performed well with 10 points, 3 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal.
Alex Pledger, New Zealand
Pledger was terrific in both of his games for the Tall Blacks
Injuries had prevented Alex Pledger from performing for New Zealand, with his last appearance dating back to the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship. He looked as good as ever against Korea and Hong Kong, averaging 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1 block in just 16 minutes per game. At 7ft 1in (2.16m) in height and with a strong body, the 30-year-old has an important role to play for the Tall Blacks in their World Cup Qualifiers campaign.
Baris Ermis, Turkey
Ermis had the highest efficiency rating of all Turkey players in their two wins
Ermis hadn't played for Turkey since the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, so his time away must have fueled his desire. He was outstanding for Ufuk Sarica's team in wins over Latvia and Ukraine, averaging 11 points, 8.5 assists and 3.5 steals. A player with Turkish league leaders Tofas, the 32-year-old point guard scored 8 crucial points in the last 4:00 of Turkey's 67-60 win at Ukraine.
Ondrej Balvin, Czech Republic
Balvin brought some much needed strength to the low post for the Czechs
When a player is 7ft 2in (2.17m) tall and plays professionally in Spain, you know he's got something to offer. Balvin, who competed for the Czechs at FIBA EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia but didn't make the side two years later and then missed the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia and this past summer's EuroBasket in Romania, returned with a bang in the World Cup Qualifiers. He averaged 9 points and 10.5 rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game against Iceland and Finland. Against the Susijengi, Balvin was a beast on the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds. The Herbalife Gran Canaria pivot, who has lost a lot of weight since his EuroBasket 2013 appearance, is a major factor for the Czechs moving forward.
Gustavo Barrera, Uruguay
Barrera's uptempo style of play was vital for Uruguay against Panama
While Barrera had played at the 2016 South American Championship, his last big tournament for Uruguay was in 2011, at the FIBA AmeriCup in Mar del Plata. In a come-from-behind 86-73 win over Panama in the World Cup Qualifiers, the 32-year-old pushed the ball up the floor and helped wear down the visitors. He finished with 17 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds as Uruguay stormed back from a double-digit deficit to prevail.