REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - The road map to the final of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 is now laid out with the draw to this summer’s global spectacle being announced.
From 1-9 July we will see which team will rise as kings of the world in the land of the pharaohs with Cairo hosting for the first FIBA global spectacle in Africa.
New Zealand surprised Australia in the FIBA Oceania U18 Championship 2016 in December and qualified for the U19 spectacle for the first time - having competed in the event in 2009 as hosts.
Sam Waardenburg emerged as a star from the Oceania qualifier but will be tested at the world level just like the rest of the New Zealand group. But any chances for the Junior Tall Blacks will likely rely upon Tai Wynyard, who was absent at the U18s as he was with the University of Kentucky. If Wynyard can bring along some of that Wildcats power, then maybe the tight-knit New Zealand could spring a surprise or two.
Korea come into the tournament looking to take the next step at the world stage. This is their fourth straight U19 tournament and sixth in the last seven editions. But the Asians have yet to finish better than 11th.
Korea will be challenged by the size and athleticism of their opponents and when talking about physicality and athleticism, France is right up there the rest of the world. And Les Bleuets must be considered one of the favourites if they are at full strength.
There have never been any questions about Killian Tillie’s talent on the court. It's been a matter of him getting and staying on the court with a long history of injuries. Tillie, playing collegiately in the US for the number one team in the country, undefeated Gonzaga University, is planning on playing in Cairo and would help make the depth of the French team tough to match.
Germany top Group B and many observers wouldn’t be surprised if they finish on the podium in Cairo with their elite level of talent. The Germans - who disappointed at the FIBA U18 European Championship but still finished fourth - actually have just as much depth and star power as France with the likes of Isaiah Hartenstein and Kostja Mushidi. Both are somewhat questionable for Cairo as it’s unclear if they will be drafted.
Hosts Egypt are back in the tournament for the fourth time in the last five editions. Despite not needing to qualify, the Egyptians took second place at the FIBA AfroBasket 2016, losing to Angola twice, including in the final.
Puerto Rico are back at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2009. While the leaders of the FIBA Americas U18 Championship team, which finished fourth in Chile, were Christian Negron and Jhivan Jackson, the Central Americans will also feature a group of players who played as lower-level players at the FIBA U17 World Championship 2014, including Leandro Allende and Jorge Pacheco.
And the fourth team in Group B is Lithuania, finalists at the FIBA U18 European Championship. This is another loaded team from Europe featuring a star trio of 1998-born players in Tadas Sedekerskis, Arnoldas Kulboka and Gytis Masiulis to go along with a 1999-born generation led by Arnas Velicka and Grantas Vasiliauskas who took second at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 and third place at the FIBA U17 World Championship 2016.
One note about Group B, Germany and Lithuania faced off in the U18 European Semi-Finals with Lithuania winning en route to the final.
With Groups A and B crossing over for the Round of 16, there are some pretty enticing match-ups possible after the group stage.
That’s it for now. Until next week with Groups C and D.
By David Hein for FIBA.com