25 August, 2023
10 September
21 Ismael Bako (ANTW)
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Centers of attention - ten we can't wait to see in the World Cup Qualifiers

MIES (Switzerland) - Towers of power. We're going to see plenty in the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers, giants that block shots and throw down vicious slam dunks.

Here are some big men to keep tabs on.

Zhou Qi, China

There was Yao and Yi, and now there is Zhou, the latest globetrotting China big who's striving to reach his best. Now Down Under with South East Melbourne Phoenix, Zhou, 25, a 2.16m (7ft 1in) center who wants his calling card to be defense, has a big fan in FIBA Hall of Famer and Australia legend Andrew Gaze said: "He's a legitimate star." China need him to prove it when they take on Japan twice in the Asian Qualifiers this month in Sendai. 

Fran Guerra, Spain

A perfect example of how bigs can experience a lot of growth as players later in their careers, Guerra, 28, has developed in a physical, slam-dunking, pick-and-rolling and shot blocking center for Lenovo Tenerife. He now returns for another window with Spain after helping them in their successful FIBA EuroBasket Qualifiers campaign.

Olek Balcerowski, Poland

The 2.19 m (7 ft 2in)  Mega Mozart center already has FIBA Basketball World Cup experience, having helped the Poles to a surprising eighth place finish in China in 2019 as a teenager. He's still only 20! Balcerowski likes to play facing the basket and looks good when putting the ball on the deck and driving to the basket. He can use either hand to score, and look out! He can throw down some rim-rocking dunks, as he did against Angola (above) at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas last summer.

Deng Geu, Uganda

The 24-year-old played beyond his years at the FIBA AfroBasket this summer. He was equal parts skill, athleticism and toughness. No one will forget Deng falling on his neck and being helped off the floor, only for minutes later to return and help the Silverbacks.

Tibor Pleiss, Germany

The 2.21m (7ft 3in) skyscraper is now 32 years of age and with plenty of experience at big clubs in Europe. He impacts games on both ends of the floor, especially with his soft jump shot and shot-swatting.

Jilson Bango, Angola

The high energy Bango earns a living in the low post with his powerful, rim-rocking dunks and his motor, which is already running on full throttle as he challenges shooters and crashes the boards.

Furkan Haltali, Turkey

There may not be a more promising youngster in the Basketball Champions League than the 18-year-old Besiktas workhorse center Haltali, who figures to a member of the Turkey national team for the next decade or more.

Mohammed Al Suwailem, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia jumped on the back of their double-double machine, the 2.08m (6ft 10in) sultan of swat, and rode him to FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualification (The tournament's been delayed until 2022 because of COVID). Al Suwailem will be fun to watch in Asian Qualifiers against Jordan, on November 26 and November 29. 

Giorgi Shermadini, Georgia

The flecks of gray in the hair of the 2.17m center could be an indication of how much stress Shermadini is under to carry his teams to victory. Coaches know if they get the ball to the Mtskheta-born pivot, there's a good chance he'll score. Shermadini, 32, is in his prime. He was the sixth leading score in the FIBA EuroBasket Qualifiers and will be crucial for Georgia as they attempt to reach the World Cup for the first time.

Ismael Bako, Belgium


The 2.08m (6ft 10in) Bako has become Baxi Manresa's main man, hitting double digits in points in seven of team's 10 games in the Spanish Liga Endesa while shooting 59.7 percent from the floor. His recent 20-point, 11-rebound master class in the Basketball Champions League triumph over Pinar Karsiyaka revealed a Bako that is blossoming into something special.