The U.S. became the first nation to qualify for the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball tournament by winning the FIBA World Cup title Sunday, but there are greater ramifications for Rio.
Twelve nations will make up the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball tournament. The U.S. is in. So is Brazil as the host nation, for all intents and purposes (it’s not official yet, as the qualifying procedures lay out).
The U.S.’ win over Serbia on Sunday was really a win for all of North and South America. Here’s why:
The next seven spots in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament will be determined in 2015 with continental qualifying tournaments — the winners of Africa, Asia and Oceania and the two finalists from Europe and the Americas (North and South America are combined into one tournament in basketball qualifying).
The caveat, for the Americas in particular, is that the qualifiers from the 2015 continental tournaments will be the best-placed, not-already-qualified nations.
So that means the two best nations from the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship will make the Olympics, excluding the U.S. and Brazil (again, assuming Brazil is in as the Olympic host nation).
This is the first time under the current qualifying system that the Olympic host nation and the FIBA champions are two countries from the Americas. It will be the first time since Atlanta 1996 that at least four nations from the Americas make the Olympic men’s basketball tournament.
Argentina, which won Olympic gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008, would appear to be a massive favorite to grab one of the two Olympic spots and join the U.S. and Brazil in Rio.
After that, it gets interesting.
Canada, under the tutelage of general manager Steve Nash, could earn its first trip to the Olympics since 2000 (when Nash played).
Canada was sixth at each of the last two FIBA Americas, failing to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but it has a wealth of young talent, including the last two No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft — Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins — as well as 2014 first-round picks Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis and NBA big men Tristan Thompson, Kelly Olynyk, Robert Sacre and Andrew Nicholson.
Other teams in the running include Puerto Rico, the only Americas team other than Argentina, Brazil and the U.S. to qualify for any of the last three Olympics. Puerto Rico beat the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Games. Puerto Ricans include current or former NBA players J.J. Barea, Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman. Puerto Rico failed to reach the round of 16 at the FIBA World Cup.
The Dominican Republic and Mexico were eliminated in the round of 16 at the FIBA World Cup.
The Dominican Republic has never qualified for the Olympics, but it came oh-so close for 2012, finishing third at the 2011 FIBA Americas and fourth at the last-chance 2012 qualifying tournament. One spot higher in either would have earned a trip to London. The Dominican Republic team could include NBA All-Star Al Horford and former University of Louisville players Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa.
Mexico hosts the 2015 FIBA Americas, looking to make the Olympics for the first time in 40 years.
Of course, only two of Argentina, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico can qualify for the Olympics through FIBA Americas. But they could all end up making the Olympics, because the third-through-fifth-place nations from the 2011 FIBA Americas earned spots in the aforementioned last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament the following year.
In 2012, the top three teams from the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament, which included countries from around the world, advanced to the London Olympics.
It’s likely that the nations favored to be top three in the last-chance tournament will be from Europe. The 2015 FIBA Europe Championship will be extremely competitive for its two Olympic spots, with Spain, France, Lithuania, Serbia leading the way.
*Correction: The original described Puerto Rico as “a nation,” which it is not.