The Best of 1998 World Cup: Bodiroga, Rebraca carry Yugoslavia to fourth title in return
MIES (Switzerland) - Yugoslavia were back at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 1998 in Athens and the Europeans reclaimed their spot atop the world for their fourth world title. Russia took second place followed by USA.
Dejan Bodiroga and Zeljko Rebraca carried Yugoslavia to a title run while Russia lost in the Final for the second straight World Cup. And the USA team was missing the country's best due to an NBA lockout but still grabbed third place.
The best team: Yugoslavia
The FIBA Basketball World Cup returned to Europe in 1998 after two tournaments in the Americas with Greece hosting the 13th edition of event in Athens. The games were played in the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall and Peace and Friendship Stadium from July 29 to August 9.
Once again there were 16 participating teams: hosts Greece; Olympic champions USA; the top five qualified teams from Europe - Yugoslavia, Italy, Russia, Spain, Lithuania; the top four sides from Americas - Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada; Asia's top two teams - Korea and Japan; Senegal and Nigeria from Africa; and Oceania winners Australia.
The 16 teams were drawn into four groups of four with round robin play. But the 1998 World Cup saw a format change as the top three teams from each group advanced to the second group stage Semi-Final Round - instead of just the top two as in previous editions - for two groups of six. The results from the first round carried over and the top four finishers reached the Quarter-Finals for the start of the Knockout Phase.
Greece, Yugoslavia, Lithuania and Spain all advanced with 3-0 records with Yugoslavia knocking off Russia 82-74 in overtime in Group B and Lithuania downing USA 84-82 in Group C. The other teams from Group A were Italy and Canada while Russia and Puerto Rico went through from Group B. USA and Brazil also advanced from Group C and Argentina and Australia joined Spain from Group D.
The highlights of the Semi-Final Round were Italy coming back to defeat Yugoslavia 61-60; and USA rallied from 11 points down at halftime to beat Spain 75-73. The only surprise in the Quarter-Finals was hosts Greece downing Spain 69-62 with Nikos Ekonomou scoring 21 points.
Both of the Semi-Finals were thrillers. Sergey Panov went the length of the court and made a go-ahead layup with 4 seconds left as Russia overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 3 minutes for a 66-64 win over USA. In the other Semi, Dejan Bodiroga scored 31 points and Zeljko Rebraca added 20 points and 13 rebounds in a 78-73 overtime win over Greece. The Greeks had no chance in the game for third place with USA cruising to an 84-61 win.
The Final was another exiting showdown between Yugoslavia and Russia - fitting for the storied matchups between Soviet Union and Yugoslavia of the past. The game was tight throughout with seven points being the biggest lead a couple of times for Russia. With star Dejan Bodiroga fouled out inside the final 2 minutes, Zeljko Rebraca came up with three massive plays in the final 33 seconds: blocking Mikhail Mikhaylov at one end and then putting back a miss at the other end for a 60-56 lead with 25 seconds to play. And then Rebraca sealed the title as he nailed two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining. Rebraca led Yugoslavia with 16 points and 11 rebounds and Bodiroga had 11 points. Sergey Panov and Igor Kudelin each scored 14 points for the Russians.
The best player: Dejan Bodiroga, MVP
Dejan Bodiroga was the clear leader for Yugoslavia as he guided the country to the world championship a summer after they took home the FIBA EuroBasket 1997 crown. The guard averaged a team-high 14.7 points to go with 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists while also shooting 57 percent on two-pointers.
Bodiroga did not have a bad game in the tournament, starting off with 15 points and 7 rebounds against Puerto Rico and then 16 and 9 in an overtime win over Russia. Bodiroga was limited to just 6 points the following game in a blowout win over Japan. He picked up 10 points in the next two games and finished the second group stage with 19 points in beating Greece.
Bodiroga did not slow down in the Knockout Phase with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists in playing 39 minutes against Argentina and then poured in 31 points to go with 5 rebounds and 4 assists as he played all 45 minutes in a tough overtime win over Greece in the Semi-Finals. Bodiroga fouled out with under 2 minutes to play in the Final but finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds.
Bodiroga was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammate Zeljko Rebraca, Russia's Vasily Karasev, Alberto Herreros of Spain and Italian Gregor Fucka.
The best game: Russia v USA - Semi-Finals
The first Semi-Final was truly a classic game in a showdown of teams from the 1994 Final - won by USA for the country's third championship. USA's group of underdogs were hoping to continue their great story and reach the Final while Russia were hungry to get back to the title bout and this time win it.
Russia used a 9-0 spurt and opened a 20-10 lead as Sergey Babkov was unstoppable with 13 points. The Americans eventually got into their game plan even led at halftime 39-37.
The early part of the second half saw USA still hold control and seven straight points made it 53-45. And the gap was still eight points at 58-50 when Russia head coach Sergei Belov finally brought Babkov back into the game after totaling 20 points in the first half. And he produced immediately with two baskets. Still, a Jimmy King three-pointer had the Americans up 64-54 with 3 minutes to play.
Russia rushed back into the game with Babkov draining 2 three-pointers to finish a 10-0 run to make it 64-64. Vasily Karasev then came up with a huge defensive play, drawing an offensive foul on Michael Hawkins with 10 seconds to play. Then came the play of the game - the inbounds pass went to big man Sergey Panov, who went nearly coast-to-coast, slaloming through USA defenders and then converted a layup with 4 seconds left to win the game. Wendell Alexis tossed up a long desperation three that went in but it was after the buzzer and Russia reached the Final.
The biggest story: Lockout costs USA another Dream Team
The big story from the 1994 World Cup was USA bringing NBA players to the flagship event for the first time with the Dream Team II capturing the imagination of the fans as well as the title. But a labor dispute in the NBA in 1998 cost USA Basketball the chance of making another Dream Team.
USA Basketball officials only began assembling a team three weeks before the start of training camp, looking for players playing overseasons, in the CBA or in college. Trajan Langdon and Brad Miller were the only players who had previous FIBA experience - Langdon playing at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 1995 and Miller competing at the so-called World Championship for Men 22 and Under in 1997. And Miller is the only player who would play later for USA Basketball - at the 2006 World Cup.
For the lack of experience and being a step down from the Dream Team II four years earlier, the 1998 USA team performed admirably. They only lost to Lithuania in the first group phase by two points and then to Russia in the Semi-Finals by two points and ended up heading home with third place medal around their neck.
The best performance: Alberto Herreros
For the first time in World Cup history, the leading scorer of the 1998 tournament came from Spain with Alberto Herreros averaging 17.9 points per game. That helped Spain finish fifth overall and earned Herreros a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Herreros started somewhat quietly with 13 points against Nigeria and then poured in 24 points against Australia followed by 21 points in an overtime win over Argentina. After picking up 11 points versus Brazil, Herreros shined in back-to-back games, tallying 27 points against both USA and Lithuania.
Greece did a good job against Herreros in the Quarter-Finals, limiting him to 6 points on just 3-of-11 shots plus 5 turnovers. Spain and Herreros would bounce back and finish with two wins as the guard hit for 15 points in beating Argentina and 17 in a win over Italy.
Herreros would play until 2003 for the Spanish national team and he was the leading scorer of the FIBA EuroBasket 1999. Herreros is also the all-time leading scorer in Spanish ACB league history.
|Player (country)||Points Per Game|
|Alberto Herreros (Spain)||17.9|
|Arturas Karnisovas (Lithuania)||17.1|
|Shane Heal (Australia)||17.0|
|Andrew Gaze (Australia)||16.9|
|Jose Ortiz (Puerto Rico)||16.5|
|Player (country)||Rebounds Per Game|
|Jose Ortiz (Puerto Rico)||10.5|
|Fabricio Oberto (Argentina)||10.4|
|Greg Newton (Canada)||10.1|
|Obinna Ekezie (Nigeria)||9.6|
|Zeljko Rebraca (Yugoslavia)||9.1|
|Player (country)||Assists Per Game|
|Shane Heal (Australia)||4.5|
|Sang-Min Lee (Korea)||4.2|
|Michael Hawkins (USA)||4.1|
|Ignacio Rodriguez (Spain)||3.4|
|Andrew Gaze (Australia)||3.4|