Reasons every team could win the 2022 U17 World Cup title - Part 1
MIES (Switzerland) - United States have never lost a game at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup and will be favorites going into the 2022 edition. But every country is heading to Spain with the dream of hoisting the trophy at the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena in Malaga on July 10.
We looked at every team and figured out how they could end the Americans' run and dethrone the champs.
This is first installment with half of the teams. Part 2 is coming next week.
Group D - Best result: 6th place in 2012
Argentina failed to finish better than sixth in any of the previous five U17 World Cups, but Leo Gutierrez does not lack talent in his South American team - who also have some important experience. Deadly sniper Juan Bocca, all-around wing talent Lucas Giovannetti and power forward Maximo Lomello all were playing a year up and helped Argentina reach the Semi-Finlas of the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2022 and qualify for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2023. Bocca, Giovannetti and Lomello helped Argentina defeat Canada in the Group Stage, which is actually the second time that trio knocked off the North Americans as they beat downed Canada in the opening game of the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2021. Those wins will go a long way in building Argentina’s confidence. The Spain-based duo of Bocca and Giovannetti also are among a strong group of players who are learning the game in Italy, including Francisco Zustovich, Tomas Fernández, Matias Zanotto and Tomas Scola. Ignacio Respaud meanwhile was named MVP of the Basketball Without Borders Americas camp and there is also continuity within the team as Gutierrez has 11 of his 12 players from U16 in the camp for the U17 team.
Group A - Best result: 2nd place in 2018
France are loaded with high level talent who will also be extra motivated to finish the job that Killian Hayes and Theo Maledon could not do in 2018 when they finished second. Bernard Faure's team have everything a team needs to win - great skill players at all positions, depth, length, success and hunger. France basketball is flying right now on the continent with the likes of Mohamed Diawara - the MVP of the Basketball Without Borders Europe camp; his Paris Basketball teammate Pacome Dadiet; the ASVEL Villeurbanne duo of Zacharie Risacher and Killian Malwaya; INSEP Paris leaders Noah Penda, Maxim Logue and Theo Pichard; Florent Pietrus' son Illan Petrus; as well as Alexandre Sarr, who experienced the United States first hand with Overtime Elite. France lost to United States in the 2018 title game and this time they will not come up one step short.
Group B - Best result: 3rd place in 2016
Lithuania will have a Zalgiris Kaunas connection in Malaga and that will be one the leading reasons the Baltic side can have success. Lithuanian head coach Remigijus Bardauskas is also in charge of Zalgiris' junior team and he will have as many as six players from his club on the team - Aleksas Beliauskas, Kristupas Kepezinskas, Mantas Kocanas, Augustas Navickas, Petras Padegimas, Vytautas Zygas. Four of those players - Kepezinskas, Kocanas, Padegimas and Zygas - are back from the squad that Bardauskas coached at the FIBA U16 European Challengers 2021 to get the country's fourth ticket to the U17 World Cup. The Lithuanians showed their heart and desire in the Challengers by coming back from 18 points down in the Semi-Finals to beat Russia in overtime. Ernestas Matulevic had a big game against Russia and he will need to play big in Spain as the Lithuania team could be smaller than some other countries. But Lithuanians also are known for their shooting, and that will be key in big games as well.
Group C - Best result: 12th place in 2018
When most people think of African basketball, countries like Nigeria, Angola, Tunisia and Egypt come to mind. But Mali have been the superpowers in terms of youth hoops on the continent - and actually the country has made history at the global stage as well. Mali finished second in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 - representing the greatest result by an African country in a global FIBA event. Don't think that Ibrahim Oumar Doumbia and Malick Diallo are not hoping to become a similar guard-big man duo like Siriman Kanoute and Oumar Ballo from the U19 World Cup. Doumbia led Mali in scoring at 15.5 points to go with 2.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.9 steals at the FIBA U16 African Championship 2021 while Diallo was a monster in the paint, averaging 15.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 3.1 steals and 2.0 blocks. Diallo shot 62.8 percent from the field while Doumbia and Moussa Diawara were not afraid to hoist up the triples - though they struggled from long range. Souleymane Dagnon and Tiemoko Diallo are two other players who could get hot from long range and if the shooters miss, Malick Diallo is not the only player with great size as both Ladji Coulibaly and Abdoul Karim Keita both averaged more than 4 offensive rebounds per game at the FIBA U16 African Championship 2021. That great size could be a major advantage in Spain and help Mali make more history.
Group D - Best result: 2nd place in 2010
Pressure can be difficult to deal with and perform at the highest level. Having no pressure and very little expectation from the outside can be liberating. Poland are heading to Spain with zero pressure and very low expectations that they can win. Maybe that will serve the Eastern Europeans perfectly. One thing that cannot be denied is they can beat good teams - as they showed at the FIBA U16 European Challengers 2021, knocking off Croatia, Latvia, home team Bulgaria and Germany to win their Challenger and make their first U17 World Cup appearance since the inaugural event in 2010. Poland showed in Bulgaria that they have a balanced team - with four players scoring in double figures. Szymon Nowicki was the main leader, averaging nearly a double-double, but point guard Pawel Sowinski led the team in scoring in two of the games, Jan Nowicki not only showed he can score but also crash the offensive glass - grabbing six offensive rebounds vs Bulgaria. And Marcin Kosiorowski showed in the Challengers that he can be a difference maker from long range. Poland also have the motivation of becoming the next generation of heroes - similar to how the likes of Mateusz Ponitka, Przemyslaw Karnowski, Tomasz Gielo and Michal Michalak were when they took silver in 2010
Group A - Best result: 3rd place in 2014
Serbia are one of the strongest and proudest basketball nations on the globe and Dragoljub Avramovic's team will not be going to Malaga to just make up the numbers. The Balkan side will however be missing one of the major leaders from last summer's team at the FIBA U16 European Challengers - leading scorer, assist man and captain Nikola Topic. Also injured is 7-foot-2 Filip Malesevic. Still Avramovic will have a strong unit. Andrej Musicki will most likely handle the playmaking duties and he will have nice weapons around him - with the likes of Ognen Stankovic, Lazar Gacic and Bogoljub Markovic, who all participated at the 2022 Basketball Without Borders Europe camp; as well as Filip Jovic, Mitar Bosnjakovic, Asim Djulovic and Lazar Gagic. If Serbia can fill the role of Topic, there is no reason they cannot win their first-ever U17 crown - and add to their 2014 third-place finish.
Group C - Best result: First appearance
Slovenia are the only team in Spain which will be making their U17 World Cup debut. But that doesn't mean at all that the Balkan side should automatically be counted out of the title hunt. There is actually precedent that European teams land on the podium in their first appearance on the cadet global stage. Croatia took home bronze in their first maiden U17 World Cup tournament in 2012, and Turkey reached the Final when they debuted in 2016. Slovenia could very well have the leading scorer in the tournament when it's all said and done as Jan Vide is an absolute scoring machine. He poured in 27.0 points per game in the FIBA U16 European Challengers 2021 when Slovenia went 4-1 and only lost to Serbia to qualify for the U17 World Cup. Vide's scoring average would have been even higher had he not scored only 4 points against Czech Republic in the final game after torching Israel for 34 points, Turkey for 31 points and Serbia for 38 points. Slovenia are not just Vide though as Peter Bandelj averaged 16.4 points in the Challengers and Lon Lican chipped in 9.2 points as a marksman from the outside. The Slovenians showed just how tight of a unit they are as four players grabbed at least 5.6 rebounds. With Vide running the show, anything is possible for the debutants, who would love to actually jump a step even higher in their first showing.
Group B - Best result: 4th place in 2012, 2014 and 2016
Spain's deep group of talent will be so excited about finally playing together as the country did not play in the FIBA U16 European Challengers last summer. They will be hosting the U17 World Cup for a second time following 2016, when they lost in the Semi-Finals for a third straight time. The Iberians possess some top level players at every position and have a lot of ways to beat teams. Sergio De Larrea has elite passing skills, Izan Almansa is a highly-skilled athletic power forward while Aday Mara is a big man who can play around the rim on both ends of the court and also is a crafty passer. There is also Conrad Martinez, Lucas Mari, Alvaro Folgueiras among others. The fact that Spain have already suffered so much heartbreak - losing three straight Semi-Finals and then failing to pick up a medal in any of those tournaments - and the fact that Spain are hosting the tournament will be enough for them to take the crown.