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A question for every team at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments
SYDNEY (Australia) - The FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments will provide the answers to many questions when 16 nations take to the court next month.
But what is the one key question each team must answer if they want to impress and be a success?
Belgrade (SRB) A
Question: Will Sami Whitcomb continue where she left off last year as the driving force for the Opals?
When the Opals bowed out of Tokyo 2020 after a tame and underwhelming campaign, they took a young and inexperienced side to Amman for the FIBA Women's AsiaCup 2021. Hopes were pinned on WNBA guard Whitcomb, who having been overlooked for the Olympics, parachuted in late and put on a spectacular show to lead Australia to bronze. Is she ready to now continue that impressive impact and momentum?
Question: Is the return of Jisu Park the difference-maker for Korea?
Even if Korea didn't win a game at Tokyo 2020, Park was still a colossus and because she didn't step out at the subsequent FIBA Women's AsiaCup 2021, she didn't get to play for new head coach Sunmin Jung. With the towering center back to add presence at both ends of the court, surely this gives Korea a renewed edge. She will look to combine with forwards Kim Danbi and Isaem Choi to get their team that precious ticket to Sydney.
Question: How will Serbia cope without the legendary and now retired Sonja Vasic, as well as the brilliant Jelena Brooks?
Serbia has a great coach in Marina Maljkovic who recently extended her contract and that will cushion the blow of losing two great veteran players on the court as she oversees this vital next chapter. Life moves on and Serbia still has some excellent players and options. But you will only truly appreciate just how much of a void ballers like these two leave when you are either on the ropes in future games or you are looking for a clutch option. Class and experience is always hard to replace.
Question: What does Dantas in and Dos Santos out mean for the balance of the team and Brazil's prospects?
Brazil will welcome back WNBA baller Damiris Dantas for their Belgrade mission, but that upside is balanced by the fact they will not have the use of the injured Clarissa Dos Santos. The latter may be older, but her importance can be underlined by the fact she made the All-Star Five last year when her country took bronze at the FIBA Women's AmeriCup 2021. Meanwhile Dantas was in the team for the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments two years ago in Bourges, but could not prevent a famous loss to Puerto Rico which blew a whole in their dreams.
Belgrade (SRB) B
Question: Will they finally find that higher gear and reach that exciting true potential?
It's the same old story for France. With their amazing inter-generational roster that packs so much of a punch, with talent, experience, production and promise, they now need to take the next step and cement their status as the second team in the women's global game. If matching or exceeding USA is not realistic, then being the number two team for a long time is absolutely deliverable. So many fans hope they can also finally turn on the style and entertain as well. These are big expectations for Jean-Aime Toupane as he enters his first major tournament and especially after the team flopped against Ukraine in his first game in charge last November.
Question: Does the China backcourt rotation have the quality to get it done?
There will be a big emphasis on the likes of the ever improving Liwei Yang and young Yuan Li to stand up to scrutiny and continue their evolution with this exciting China team. They have not made anyone sit up and take notice quite like their teammates in the paint, but their role is just as important. Learning all the time and getting better, they have to show they have the quality and composure at the very highest level to execute plays in the biggest moments.
Question: What happens without the playmaking skills of the influential Ezinne Kalu if she is likely ruled out with an injury?
Kalu has been the heartbeat of Nigeria's rise back to prominence in the last few years and so not having the player that makes the team tick could be a big issue. That is, if she is absent as expected due to the surgery she had towards the end of 2021. The options for Nigeria are limited and even if they have strength in the paint, they will still need to get the ball to their destructive bigs for them to go to work. Without Kalu, it will be more of a challenge for sure.
Question: Can they find their range from downtown?
The athleticism and power of Mali is hugely impressive in and around the basket. They love to drive, post up and really turn up the heat physically on their opponents. But perhaps understandably, they sometimes fall short when the other team packs the paint, plays a zone and keeps them away from those driving lanes. Mali don't have many natural shooters and they really do need to try and make more shots from three-point range to cause an upset and progress.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Question: Will the supporting cast show up to support headline act Jonquel Jones?
You can take the contributions of WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to the bank. Nobody need worry about the marquee baller since there is death, taxes and the amazing center going to absolute work for her adopted country. Yet maybe the difference-maker between history and getting to Sydney - or not, will actually be the supporting cast. Their amazing run to a 5th place finish at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021, would not have happened without Jones. Equally it wouldn't have happened had Nikolina Babic and Marica Gajic not stepped up. This must happen again.
Question: Who will be the number one playmaker?
For the past decade, Japan's national team has presented the world with some amazing point guards. There has been Asami Yoshida, Manami Fujioka, and more recently Nako Motohashi, Rui Machida and Saori Miyazaki. If Machida dazzled at the Olympics while leading the country to the silver medal and breaking records, Miyazaki followed at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup with an equally stunning effort that landed her in the All-Star Five. With so many options, who will get the minutes for Japan at the playmaker spot and be the darling of Osaka?
Question: Who can step up offensively in the absence of the injured Kia Nurse?
It's a big blow for Canada that they won't have the WNBA guard to call upon in Osaka. Recovering from an injury, Nurse will be absent and that makes life difficult for the first tournament of new playcaller Victor Lapena. Not having the likes of NCAA rising star Laeticia Amihere is one thing (as she focuses on College commitments), but when your regular leading scorer and offensive contributor is not there, you have to look at your whole strategy. Then again, opportunity knocks for the other Canadian guards to show what they are capable of.
Question: Is a lack of depth a big concern for Belarus?
If they avoid injuries and foul trouble, a lack of depth is not a concern. On the flip-side, if those issues do arise, then Belarus will not be the same time .The big issue is that both of these factors are both unknown and hard to mitigate against. With Alex Bentley pulling the strings, the legendary Anastasiya Verameyenka in the paint alongside the underrated Maryia Papaova, the core of the team is out of the very top drawer. But the further they need to reach down the roster, a lack of quality and experience is a major concern.
Washington DC (USA)
Question: Does Russia have enough class and experience at the point guard position?
It's one of the biggest question marks in the women's global game. Not only the question above, but the related question about how this once dominant nation has allowed a guard drought to materialize. From the moment Becky Hammon pulled the strings and was followed by Epiphanny Prince, the alarm bells should have been sounding. At the moment, all the eggs are in the basket of Kseniia Levchenko, since while there been high hopes for former youth star Viktoriia Zavialova, injuries have slowed her progress. The backcourt options remain a concern, even if Russia are a vibrant and improving team overall.
Question: Will new head coach Cheryl Reeve opt to change anything significant?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it - right? Coach Reeve jumps into the hot-seat and since she has worked as an assistant for some time and also as a stand-in head coach, you would expect the transition from Dawn Staley to be seamless. You would also expect that the approach, mentality and play will bear the same resemblance to what has went before. Or, will we see something different in terms of style?
Question: How does Puerto Rico manage it's lack of size in the paint?
There could barely be a more difficult set of games for underdogs Puerto Rico and not least because USA. Russia and Belgium all have dominant frontcourt leaders and lineups. It's going to be difficult to contain the likes of Maria Vadeeva of Russia, Emma Meesseman of Belgium and a plethora of options for USA, including Brittney Griner and A'Ja Wilson. While head coach Gerry Batista might be confident his guards could shoot the lights out on any given night, containing opposing bigs with the lack of size on his roster is surely a massive headache he can't solve.
Question: How does the arrival of Valery Demory change the team dynamic?
A bit like Jean-Aime Toupane of France, new Belgian playcaller Valery Demory had something of a nightmare initiation in his new role as the Cats were mauled by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 Qualifiers last November. This will be his first major tournament at the helm and while Belgium should be fine as they will be massive favorites to beat Puerto Rico, what will happen to the team dynamic? Known for their beautiful brand of basketball and the way they click on the court, how will a new coach and also possibly one or two new faces work out in these early days?