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Coaches take nothing for granted ahead of very competitive Olympic Qualifying Tournaments
MIES (Switzerland) - The 24 teams in the hunt for spots in the men's basketball field for the Tokyo Games have a better idea of how difficult the task will be following Wednesday's draw for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to be staged in Victoria, Belgrade, Kaunas and Split.
Only the winners of each six-team OQT will advance to Tokyo, with Spain, Argentina, France, Australia, the United States, Nigeria, Iran and hosts Japan having already secured Olympic spots.
The most competitive OQT may turn out to be in Victoria, where hosts Canada, Greece and China will fight it out in Group A and Uruguay, the Czech Republic and Turkey will battle in Group B.
China will play at the OQT in Victoria, Canada.
Recently appointed Greece coach Rick Pitino said: "We are excited. Obviously Victoria is a spectacular place and there are a lot of Greeks in Canada, so hopefully they will show up and support us. Canada has the home court advantage certainly but I know that wherever we go, the Greeks are going to be there and back our team...Obviously, Turkey and Canada have the most NBA talent, but in the Olympic (qualifying) tournaments, sometimes that doesn’t matter."
At the OQT in Split, Germany, Russia and Mexico are in Group A and Tunisia, hosts Croatia and Brazil in Group B. That means Croatian Aco Petrovic, the Brazil coach, will go up against his own country. Petrovic in 2016 led Croatia to a stunning victory over hosts Italy in the Final of the OQT in Turin to clinch a place in the Rio de Janeiro Games.
"Playing against Serbia in Belgrade (OQT) is an almost impossible mission," Petrovic said. "It's a good thing we don't play there. I have a lot of experience playing these pre-Olympic tournaments. It is not so important to look at who we will face, but to focus on our team. It is a very short tournament, very short preparation and we can not misunderstand how to play. Brazil has a chance to win this tournament in Split."
"IT IS NOT SO IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT WHO WE WILL FACE, BUT TO FOCUS ON OUR TEAM. IT IS A VERY SHORT TOURNAMENT, VERY SHORT PREPARATION AND WE CAN NOT MISUNDERSTAND HOW TO PLAY. BRAZIL HAS A CHANCE TO WIN THIS TOURNAMENT IN SPLIT."
At the OQT in Kaunas, hosts Lithuania will be in Group A with Korea and Venezuela while in Group B will be Poland, who made a surprising run to the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, along with Slovenia and Angola.
Poland coach Mike Taylor told fiba.basketball: "Obviously we know Slovenia and respect them, great players when they are available, Luka Doncic and many, many great Slovenia players, recently winning EuroBasket 2017, and Angola is a team coached by a very good friend of mine, Will Voigt, a team that I have followed closely over the last few years because of our friendship.
"So this is exciting to learn these two teams are in our group. To have it in a location, of Lithuania, a country that loves basketball, a team that we are familiar with that we’ve played in our group in our qualifying tournament for the World Cup. We've played many friendly games against them over the years. So going to Kaunas, probably the shortest and most known destination for us is I think a positive."
Poland and Lithuania could square off again at the OQT in Kaunas
"We know that every team we play against and every opponent is very strong and to win our way to Tokyo is a dream goal but we’re going to put our hearts into it and do the very best that we can and hopefully write another fantastic story like we did in China this past summer."
Germany will be looking to reach the Olympics for the first time since 2008, when Dirk Nowitzki led them to one of the three berths on offer at the OQT in Athens.
"NATURALLY, QUALIFYING FOR THE OLYMPICS WILL TAKE EVERYTHING WE HAVE, AND WE MUST BE FULLY READY STARTING WITH THE FIRST GAME AGAINST RUSSIA."
Germany captain Robin Benzing said: "You can be satisfied with the draw. It will be very difficult. We will do everything we can to fulfill the Olympic dream."
The coach of Germany, Henrik Rodl, added: "I would say in comparison to the other groups that we got a good draw. The group in Victoria is certainly the strongest names-wise. Naturally, qualifying for the Olympics will take everything we have, and we must be fully ready starting with the first game against Russia."
In the OQT in Belgrade will once again be the Dominican Republic, New Zealand and hosts Serbia in Group A and Puerto Rico, Italy and Senegal in Group B. Serbia hosted an OQT in 2016 and beat Puerto Rico twice, including in the Final to advance to Rio, where they won the silver medal.
"We respect all our opponents that will be in the qualifying tournament in Belgrade, but we are not afraid of anyone," said new coach Igor Kokoskov, who was put in charge of the team last week. "We played with some of these teams last summer and had positive results, but, I repeat, our focus will be on ourselves.
"We are in control of our preparation for the coming summer. I want our players to be healthy, to have successful seasons with their teams, and then to collect all the best basketball in the country of Serbia has and to meet the expectations of basketball fans for the national team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics."
Puerto Rico coach Eddie Casiano, who recently led the Boricuas into the Second Round at the World Cup, offered his thoughts.
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"The only way we have the opportunity to qualify is if we are united and if we join our weapons thinking about the same goal," he said.
Puerto Rico last played at an Olympics in 2004, when Casiano was among the veterans in the squad. They have featured in OQTs since.