2023 World Cup

World Cup Notes: F. Wagner, Schröder, Top Players, Banchi

Germany’s Franz Wagner was thrilled not only to win a gold medal at the World Cup, but to be able to accomplish the feat while playing alongside his brother, writes Cesare Milanti of EuroHoops. Franz and Moritz Wagner are also teammates on the Magic, but their undefeated run through the World Cup field is the highlight of their careers.

“It’s special,” Franz Wagner said after Sunday’s win over Serbia. “Special to have our parents here too. This is so surreal, it doesn’t make sense that we are both on this team and we can enjoy it.”

Wagner appears to be fully recovered from a sprained ankle he suffered in Germany’s opening game. Although he missed the rest of pool play, he was back for the knockout round, scoring 22 points and grabbing five rebounds in a semifinal win over Team USA, then posting 19 points and seven rebounds in the gold medal contest.

“There were so many moments this year in so many games that the other team made a run, this game, the game before against the States,” he added. “We never let it slip, we just kept playing and kept staying together. That made a huge difference in all these games.”

There’s more from the World Cup:

  • Tournament MVP Dennis Schröder hopes Germany’s success will lead to more exposure for basketball in his home country, per Aris Barkas of Eurohoops. The German team has become more successful in international competitions, but the games aren’t widely available to the public. “We first thought the tournament was going to be on the TV. Only the final was on the TV,” Schröder said. “Basketball is a great sport and I hope we can get our respect for what we are doing the last two years. I wish that every single game is on TV. Ten years ago when I started, we had Dirk Nowitzki but nobody knew who were the other guys on the team. Now we go to Japan and the Philippines and they know us. We hope to get this respect also in our country and get recognized.”
  • Schröder was a first-team selection by Brian Windhorst of ESPN on his list of the best players at the World Cup. Joining him on the first team are Team USA’s Anthony Edwards, Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Slovenina’s Luka Doncic and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic. Making up Windhorst’s second team are the USA’s Mikal Bridges, Australia’s Josh Giddey, South Sudan’s Carlik Jones, Serbia’s Nikola Milutinov and the Dominican Republic’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
  • Luca Banchi was honored as the tournament’s best coach after leading Latvia to a fifth-place finish in its first-ever World Cup.

World Cup Notes: Brooks, Field Size, Olympic Qualifier, Bogdanovic

Dillon Brooks‘ NBA season didn’t end well, as LeBron James and the Lakers dismissed the Grizzlies in the playoffs. The offseason has gone a lot better. Brooks signed a lucrative contract with the Rockets, then he played well enough to earn Best Defensive Player honors at the FIBA World Cup, Sportando tweets.

Brooks, who played for bronze medalist Canada, enjoys his reputation as a villian, according to Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.net.

“It’s just a persona. People love him, I have grown to love him myself. It’s like Kobe created Black Mamba. That’s my persona but only on the court. I love my kids, my family, my teammates,” Brooks said.

We have more tidbits from the World Cup:

  • FIBA is pleased with how an expanded field has led to more parity and unpredictability, according to The Associated Press. FIBA expanded the World Cup field to 32 teams in 2019, while 80 teams took part in the qualification process leading up to 2023’s event. “Parity is good,” FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis said. “It’s good because it means competitiveness. It is excellent if it comes together with a higher level of play all the time. What we have achieved is we have reached a greater depth in the roster of countries. Nine of the 32 that came to this World Cup did not play in the previous World Cup.”
  • FIBA plans to announce the hosts of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments at the end of November, Eurohoops.net relays. Those tournaments, which will determine the last four qualifiers for the Paris Olympics, will be held in early July.
  • Hawks swingman and Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic helped lead his national team to a silver medal for the second time, having accomplished the feat in 2014 as well. He’s hoping to get at least one gold medal before his international career is through, according to George Efkarpides of Eurohoops.net. “I was second once. I’ll be happy to get the gold as well. To finish the tournament with a win,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes luck is not on your side. We missed some shots, we missed some opportunities. That’s the game of basketball. That’s how it works.”

NBA Teams Expressing Interest In Arturs Zagars

Latvia’s Arturs Zagars is generating NBA interest after his standout performance in the World Cup, sources tell Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.

The 23-year-old guard led Latvia to a fifth-place finish in its first-ever World Cup appearance and set a tournament record with 17 assists in the team’s final game against Lithuania. Zagars averaged 12.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists in 25 minutes per game as Latvia defeated established powers such as France, Spain and Brazil.

That showing will increase the opportunities for Zagars, who is a free agent after spending last season with Nevėžis Kėdainiai in the Lithuanian Basketball League. Urbonas states that BC Wolves Vilnius of Lithuania had interest in signing Zagars before the World Cup began, but now it has competition from several top EuroLeague clubs. Some NBA teams are also considering a two-way contract for Zagars, according to Urbonas’ sources.

“I think it’s a fair shot. It’s all about timing, chance and opportunity,” Latvian teammate Davis Bertans said about Zagars’ NBA prospects. “Everything can happen if you end up at the right place at the right time. He has all the tools to do it. He’s relentless, as you can see. They’re putting their best defender on him every single night, and he still delivers for us.”

At 6’3″, Zagars is capable of handling either backcourt position, but he’s primarily used as a point guard. Urbonas notes that he plays with a swagger and is willing to take control of the offense, either by scoring or creating opportunities for teammates. He got a taste of NBA basketball while playing for the Wizards during the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League.

Zagars has played professionally in Europe since 2017, but his progress has been slowed by injuries, including a torn ligament in his ankle that required surgery in 2019. He withdrew from that year’s NBA draft, joining teams in Estonia and Germany before landing in Lithuania. He was hurt again late last season and wasn’t considered definite to play in the World Cup until coach Luca Banchi got to see him in person.

“Only in the training camp I understood that his body was responding well,” Banchi said. “Before, there were question marks, but the guy worked seriously during the summer and probably achieved so much that he couldn’t even predict himself.” 

Germany Wins Gold Medal, USA Fourth At World Cup

Germany wrapped up an undefeated World Cup by topping Serbia, 83-77, in Sunday’s gold medal game. Team USA, which had been favored to win the gold, left without a medal after falling to Canada in an overtime thriller in the bronze medal contest.

Dennis Schröder led the Germans with 28 points in the finals and Franz Wagner added 19. Germany was able to take down all challengers in the tournament despite playing much of it without Wagner, who suffered a sprained ankle in the opener against Japan.

Schröder was named World Cup MVP (Twitter link) and was joined on the All-Star 5 by Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, USA’s Anthony Edwards, Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic and Slovenia’s Luka Doncic (Twitter link).

Canada’s victory was noteworthy as it marked the nation’s first-ever medal in World Cup competition and only its second win against the U.S. in a senior men’s tournament. The Canadians were led by 31 points and 12 assists from Gilgeous-Alexander and 39 points from Dillon Brooks, who continues to rebuild his reputation following a playoff embarrassment and an unpleasant separation with the Grizzlies in free agency.

“It was so enjoyable. Obviously the hate doesn’t stop, it keeps going,” Brooks told reporters, including Brian Windhorst of ESPN. “It’s hard to battle against the world and a team.”

Before earning their medals, the Canadians had to survive a miracle finish from Team USA that sent the game to overtime. Trailing by four points with 4.2 seconds remaining, Mikal Bridges hit his first free throw and purposely missed the second before chasing down the rebound in the right corner and hitting a spinning three-pointer with 0.6 left on the clock. Bridges, who scored 19 points and battled Gilgeous-Alexander on defense, may be one of the members of the World Cup roster with a strong chance of returning for the Olympics.

However, Canada controlled play in the overtime to capture a 127-118 victory that sent the U.S. home without a medal for the second straight World Cup. The Americans dropped three of their last four games as defense and rebounding became persistent issues.

“We just didn’t defend well enough against Germany (in the semifinals) or against Canada, and that’s the bottom line,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Every year when you try to build a team, you try to build the best two-way team you can and be able to get stops and score, and everybody’s trying to do that.”

Windhorst points out that the Americans have now lost seven combined games over their last three major tournaments, creating a wide open race for the gold at the Paris Olympics next summer. The U.S. may have to reconsider the type of players it wants to invite, although Kerr said USA Basketball officials felt good about the World Cup roster they put together.

“We’ve really studied everything about FIBA and the history of United States basketball when we’ve won, what has been the reason and when we’ve lost what has been the reason,” Kerr said. “So we study all that stuff, and what it comes down to for us in this tournament, we put ourselves in a great position. We got to the semifinals and were right there.”

World Cup Notes: USA-Canada Rivalry, Valanciunas, Latvia

They both fell short of the gold medal game, but Sunday’s meeting between Team USA and Canada could be the beginning of a significant rivalry in international basketball, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The teams will face off for third place as the Canadians hope to win their first-ever World Cup medal and their first in any tournament since the 1936 Olympics.

Both countries have rosters filled with NBA talent, and both had successful runs in the World Cup before slipping in Friday’s semifinals. The U.S. lost to Germany by two points, and Canada fell to Serbia by nine.

“They haven’t won a medal since the 1930s, so they’re coming for us,” Tyrese Haliburton said. “I think both of our countries will expect to see each other for the coming years. So it seems like this is kind of the start.”

Familiarity is part of the storyline as players bring their NBA rivalries into international competition. There are even some ex-teammates involved as Jaren Jackson Jr. will face Dillon Brooks for the first time since Brooks left the Grizzlies in free agency to sign with the Rockets.

“I hope Dillon does talk trash,” Jackson said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be him. It wouldn’t be real.”

There’s more on the World Cup:

  • Following an All-NBA season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been one of the biggest stars of the tournament, notes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. The Canadian guard is sixth overall in World Cup scoring at 23.6 PPG and he’s number one in terms of scoring efficiency. “It’s the change of pace, yeah,” Thunder and Canadian teammate Luguentz Dort said. “Also, it’s the way he explodes, the way he can get off the defender to rise for his shot. The way that he handles the ball, the way that he creates for himself. There’s so much more.”
  • Jonas Valanciunas has represented Lithuania in every major tournament since 2011 and he’s not ready to think about stopping, per George Efkarpidis of Eurohoops. The 31-year-old center considers it an important part of his basketball responsibilities. “I feel proud playing for my country,” Valanciunas said. “That is what I can give for my country. This is how I can put my country on the map. I am going to keep doing that (as long as) my body lets me and the team needs me.”
  • Latvia wrapped up the No. 5 spot in its first-ever World Cup, defeating Lithuania by 35 points on Saturday. It’s an impressive statement from a team that played without Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out the tournament to recover from plantar fasciitis, and lost captain Dairis Bertans to an injury, observes Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.

Team USA Notes: Reaves, Haliburton, Anthony, Curry

Team USA will leave the World Cup without a gold medal, but it may have developed a few players who will be useful in future international competitions, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. This version of the American squad was built around young talent than established stars, and many of them could return for future World Cup or Olympic tournaments.

Vardon points to Lakers guard Austin Reaves as one of those players. The 25-year-old is third in scoring for the U.S. at 12.4 PPG and second in steals at 1.3 per game. He has also regularly been on the court late in close games.

“I think I’ve been able to learn a lot from a lot of really good players, a lot of really good coaches, and basically just see that I belong,” Reaves said.

International play has often been the springboard for players to assert themselves as future stars, such as Kevin Durant in the 2010 World Championship, Vardon notes. Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards appears ready to move into that role, and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton may be as well.

“I think being the point guard with other great scorers, other great players and understand that they want to be on the court at the same time as me, they want me to be in there to get them involved,” Haliburton said.

There’s more on Team USA:

  • Friday’s loss to Germany was among the topics addressed by global ambassadors Pau Gasol, Luis Scola and Carmelo Anthony during an appearance on a talk show, relays Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. Anthony, one of the most accomplished international players in American history, considers the result an “upset,” but not a huge surprise. “You have to take your hat off to Germany, and for Serbia as well,” Anthony said. “That’s good for the sport, everybody has to think differently when approaching these competitions. The game has grown globally. Everybody has an opportunity to go there and win a gold medal.”
  • Lack of size was an issue for the U.S. not only against Germany but throughout the World Cup, observes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. He notes that in three games against larger European teams, the Americans gave up 53 offensive rebounds and 64 second-chance points.
  • Stephen Curry is Team USA’s “must-have guy” for the Paris Olympics, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Instead of turning to LeBron James and Durant again, Rankin would like to see the 2024 roster built around Curry with Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo and Jarrett Allen all in prominent roles.

Luka Doncic Played Through Thigh Injury At World Cup

Mavericks star and Slovenian captain Luka Doncic played through a thigh injury at the World Cup, he told reporters following Thursday’s loss to Lithuania.

I do not know what to say,” Doncic said, according to Eurhoops. “It’s not okay. At the same time, I have to prepare for one more game, and then for a whole season in the NBA.”

The All-NBA guard said last month that he had an MRI to get the injury checked out.

It is an old injury, which caused me problems in March in the NBA,” Doncic said. “Therefore, we performed an MRI. Everything is okay. Nothing worse.”

It’s troubling that Doncic, 24, is still dealing with lingering effects from the thigh strain he sustained late in the 2022/23 season. His March MRI was clean, and he wound up missing five games.

Oddly, Doncic played a tournament-high 37 minutes against Lithuania less than 24 hours after losing in the quarterfinals to Canada, notes Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews. The game was basically meaningless, as both teams had already been eliminated from medal contention and couldn’t qualify for the Olympics.

The answer is very simple. It’s because Luka is very competitive,” head coach Aleksander Sekulic responded to BasketNews when asked about Doncic’s motivation for the game.

I don’t know where he found energy, but he said he feels great and wanted to play,” Sekulic added. “He’s our best man regarding energy. He was trying to motivate everybody and put everybody on another level. I think we were not on the level we wanted to be, but he tried hard in the game, timeouts, and locker room. He tried all the time to push them to their limits. But that’s why he played because he felt good.

This shows his character and that he loves basketball. That also shows a lot of how serious he is when he plays for his country and that he plays with his heart.”

Perhaps that explains why Doncic played one additional minute — 38 — as Slovenia defeated Italy on Saturday to finish seventh place.

Despite the injury, Doncic still put up his typical gaudy stats at the tournament, averaging 27.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.5 steals in 32.2 minutes. However, he also struggled with turnovers, committing 4.3 per contest.

World Cup Final Notes: Germany, Schröder, Serbia, Bogdanovic

Raptors guard Dennis Schröder has helped lead the German national team to a perfect 7-0 record at the 2023 World Cup ahead of Sunday’s final against Serbia. Germany’s captain says he hopes he’s helping basketball become more popular in his home country, as Aris Barkas of Eurhoops relays.

I hope that basketball gets to be little bit more attractive and gets more attention,” Schröder said. “Because I’ve been here 10 years now, and from that point to this point, it’s a huge difference. And I’m glad that I can be a part of it. And try to put Germany, our country, on the map. And that’s the reason why I play a national team. I try to help others, like little guys coming up, same as me, 15 years ago. That they can make a difference take care of their families and play on big stages.”

The 30-year-old, who has averaged 17.9 points, 6.7 assists and 1.4 steals thus far at the tournament (27.9 minutes), says doesn’t feel nervous ahead of the gold medal game, according to Barkas.

I mean, when you play basketball, you compete on the highest level anyway,” said Schröder. “Every summer game, it’s the same game for me. Of course, it’s the World Cup, it’s a big honor to play in the finals. It’s something special, but at the end of the day, it’s still a game.”

Here’s more on tomorrow’s final:

  • Magic big man Moritz Wagner says Germany’s upset over Team USA in the semifinal was a major milestone for the country, writes Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. “Germany just made the World Cup final… I think this is the biggest win in German basketball history,” said Wagner, who finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 13 minutes in the victory.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic has been Serbia’s best player at the World Cup, and he says he’s thrilled to have secured another medal for the national team, which can finish no worse than second place (silver). “I’m really happy and grateful, and also happy for this team,” the Hawks swingman said, per George Efkarpides of Eurhoops. “I know how much effort we put in since day one; the coach was really hard on us, it was tough for me too. Being out of the national team for a couple of years, I forgot how it is. That struggle. In the NBA you have a guy to bring you towels, this and that, here you kind of have to do everything by yourself. We went through all this and made it to the finals.” Asked about Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, who chose to rest this summer after winning the NBA title, Bogdanovic said the Serbian star “texts us after every game.”
  • Serbian head coach Svetislav Pesic led Germany to its lone EuroBasket gold medal in 1993. According to Barkas of Eurhoops, Pesic says he has fond memories of his time with the German Basketball Federation and respects the current group. “Both teams deserved to be in the final,” Pevic said. “Both teams demonstrated team basketball. I have, of course, and not only me but everybody, big respect for the German team. The German team is one team whose most important quality is continuity. They have played together for five years. This is a generational team and they played together excellently. They demonstrated one more time here in Manila.”

Gigi Datome Announces Retirement

Former NBA forward Gigi Datome played his final game as a professional basketball player at the 2023 World Cup, writes Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops.

Datome, who captained Italy’s national team, received a standing ovation from fans, his team, and his opponents near the conclusion of the seven-eight matchup with Slovenia. The Italians wound up losing the game to finish the World Cup in eighth place.

The 35-year-old veteran also received a standing ovation from the media after the game, Milanti adds.

This is one of the many gestures I’ve received this summer, gestures of love and respect,” Datome said. “Tonight it was very emotional. I hope this is why I played so badly. My teammates played hard and tried to make me finish with a win. However, after many years I’ve learned this is not the most important thing.

I’m proud of this team, we showed that we could compete at the highest level. They also treated me so well, they made me special. One of the best summers of my life. … Thank you to everybody. Also thanks to the referees, media, teammates, coaches, former coaches: thanks again to all of you.”

Datome played two NBA seasons with the Pistons and Celtics from 2013-15. In 55 regular season games, he held modest averages of 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per contest.

While he didn’t find much success stateside, Datome has had a lengthy and productive professional career overseas, playing another 18 seasons for various European clubs, primarily in his home country of Italy. According to Basketball-Reference, Datome averaged 8.5 points and 3.2 rebounds on an impressive .477/.429/.884 shooting line in 565 career games (19.5 MPG) across various competitions.

“I have no regrets,” Datome said, per Milanti. “It was my choice, I think it’s a good moment to step out. That’s why I feel grateful. Doing it now as captain of the Italian national team is an honor.”

International Notes: Sneed, Parker, Gobert, Nembhard, Prospects

Former Hornets wing Xavier Sneed signed with Italian club Happy Casa Brandisi, the team announced in a release. This will be Sneed’s first professional experience in Europe.

Sneed, 25, finished last season with Charlotte on a two-way deal before being waived in early August. He appeared in just four games last year, putting up a total of 17 points during that time. Sneed also spent time with the Grizzlies and the Jazz in 2021/22. In total, he has 13 NBA appearances under his belt.

The Kansas State product has spent more time in the G League, mostly with Charlotte’s affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. In 60 regular season career G League games split between Greensboro and Utah’s affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, Sneed averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

We have more International Notes:

  • France had a rough go in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, failing to reach the second round despite having NBA players like Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum. France gets an automatic bid for the 2024 Olympics due to being the host country, but was still looking to make an impact in the World Cup. Hall of Famer and French national team legend Tony Parker spoke on the loss, calling it “disappointing,” per Sarah Todd of Deseret News. Parker didn’t specifically call out any players but hinted that big names, including possibly Gobert, could be on the way out, Todd writes. “They are going to have big choices to make,” Parker said. “If you bring back big players like Joel Embiid and [Victor Wembanyama], it has to be complementary with the rest, because it could mean the departure of certain cornerstones, which can make headlines.
  • RJ Nembhard, who spent the 2021/22 season with the Cavaliers, is signing with Belgium’s Filou Oostende, Eurohoops reports. Nembhard, 24, is being added to offset the loss of fellow former NBAer Patrick McCaw, whose visa issues are preventing him from joining Oostende, according to Eurohoops. Nembhard has 14 games of NBA experience, mostly while playing on a two-way deal with Cleveland, and totaled 15 points and 12 assists in those games.
  • The 2023 World Cup was a great opportunity for younger players across the world to get competitive, meaningful minutes early in their career. HoopsHype’s Alberto De Roa takes a look at some of the top prospects from the event, including NBA draftees Rokas Jokubaitis and Gui Santos. Both Jokubaitis and Santos, whose draft rights are held by the Knicks and Warriors, respectively, looked like future NBA rotation pieces, according to De Roa.