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Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to lead Greece to Olympics

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Giannis Antetokounmpo will play for Greece at the FIBA World Cup for a second time, but much has changed since his debut five years ago.

Antetokounmpo, then 19 and coming off his Milwaukee Bucks rookie season, was a sub in all six games at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Greece was eliminated in the round of 16 and ultimately failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

But now Antetokounmpo is the NBA MVP, looking to lead Greece back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008.

“I haven’t talked with the coach yet. I don’t know which position I will play in,” he said, according to FIBA. “But I don’t care. I just want to play. Whether I play as a guard or as a center, I don’t care. I’m a basketball player. I want to help the team in every way.”

The top two European teams at September’s World Cup in China qualify for Tokyo 2020. Others can still qualify at a last-chance tournament next year.

Greece, without Antetokounmpo, beat longtime European power Lithuania in the 2017 EuroBasket round of 16 before falling to Russia in the quarterfinals. The Greeks are now ranked eighth in the world, but sixth among European nations behind Spain, France, Serbia, Lithuania and Slovenia.

Kosta Koufos and Nick Calathes, both with major college and NBA experience, have also featured on the Greek national team in recent years. Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ little brother, played for Greek junior national teams before debuting in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks in two games in March.

Greece, should it advance out of its World Cup first-round group with Brazil, New Zealand and Montenegro, would likely play the U.S. in the second round of group play, where the top two of four nations per group advance to the quarterfinals.

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Pau Gasol, No. 3 scorer in Olympic history, to miss FIBA World Cup

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Pau Gasol will miss September’s FIBA World Cup after left foot surgery, but Spain’s head coach hopes to have the Milwaukee Bucks center at a fifth Olympics next year.

”We will try to do the best and get one of the spots for Tokyo 2020 so he can come with us to the Olympics,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said, according to an Olympic Channel translation of an AS report.

Gasol, 38 and already older than every previous Olympic basketball medalist, owns silver medals from 2008 and 2012 and a bronze from Rio. This will be Gasol’s first time missing a global championship since the 2010 World Championship, when he cited a need to rest from two major muscle injuries, and Spain struggled to a sixth-place finish without him.

He led the 2004 and 2008 tournaments in scoring. Gasol’s 623 career Olympic points rank third behind Brazilian Oscar Schmidt (1,008) and Australian Andrew Gaze (789), according to reports from the Rio Games. Gasol would likely have to play at least two more Olympics to pass Gaze.

It was unknown whether Gasol would continue with the national team after Rio, but in 2017 he played at EuroBasket and became that tournament’s career points leader, passing Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker.

Others from Spain’s golden generation have retired from the national team, including José Calderón and Juan Carlos Navarro. The active pool still includes NBA veterans Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

The top two European nations at the World Cup will qualify for Tokyo, but it’s not Spain’s only chance. Four more nations overall will qualify for the Games at a global tournament next year.

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Is Diana Taurasi the GOAT? Who is the best player today? Kara Lawson reflects on FIBA World Cup

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After the U.S. women’s basketball team again won the biggest tournament outside of the Olympics — the FIBA World Cup — 2008 Olympian and NBC Sports Washington Wizards TV analyst Kara Lawson discussed noteworthy topics within the U.S. team and the sport abroad with Tokyo 2020 in mind (questions and answers lightly edited for clarity) …

OlympicTalk: Overall impressions from worlds aside from more U.S. dominance?

Lawson: The turnover from 2016 in Rio to this year’s roster. Six players that helped the U.S. win gold [at the Olympics — Tamika Catchings (retired), Lindsay Whalen (retired), Seimone AugustusSylvia FowlesAngel McCoughtry and Maya Moore (all resting)] now turned over to six new players. They’re starting to integrate that next generation of players like A’ja Wilson, Jewell Loyd. Obviously Breanna Stewart was on the 2016 team, but was a young player then. She’s still young, but she’s asserted her dominance. You can see her becoming a focal point. There will probably be more tweaks [for Tokyo 2020]. I would anticipate seeing some of the familiar faces that we didn’t see in 2018. The U.S. is well positioned to bring home a seventh straight gold medal.

OlympicTalk: Who is the world’s best player?

Lawson: I would say probably Breanna Stewart [WNBA and FIBA World Cup MVP]. Also, the way Brittney Griner played inside. Also Diana Taurasi. To me those are the three players. You look at their performance in the World Cup. They’re able to change the game in different ways. Brittney Griner’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but what she was able to do was be the backstop back there and really solidify the U.S.’ defensive prowess, then offensively in the semis and finals. Stewart and her all-around game playing out of position for most of the tournament [at small forward]. Of course you had the experience of Taurasi, how she played in the semifinal, particularly out of halftime [when the U.S. led by just one point over Belgium] and the third quarter.

OlympicTalk: What happens with the starting lineup — in particular Stewart at the three — when Maya Moore returns and Elena Delle Donne isn’t coming off a knee injury?

Lawson: That’s going to be something the committee has to look at going forward. Stewart’s going to be on the floor. What position she is, it really doesn’t matter. But there are a lot of post-up players. With Delle Donne not fully healthy [at worlds] and how strong this team was, if she’s healthy that’s a whole new ballgame. There’s a lot of options, and they can bend their rotation any way they want to go. If Maya Moore’s back in the mix, that helps to upgrade this roster’s wing depth and obviously athleticism and shooting. There were definitely some flaws in the roster in terms of wing depth not a ton of athleticism at guard.

OlympicTalk: Is Diana Taurasi, now with seven global gold medals in addition to her club accolades and likely one final Olympics in 2020, the greatest player of all time? 

Lawson: She’s definitely in the GOAT conversation for sure with the likes of Cheryl MillerLisa LeslieTamika Catchings. At every level, she has achieved what those stars have or more. There is a winning component to a GOAT conversation. By the end her college career, she put herself in position to be talked about as one of the greatest college players ever [three NCAA titles at UConn]. In the WNBA, it took her four years to make the playoffs, but in her first year in the playoffs she won a championship. You look at all the international success, not just with the U.S. team but the EuroLeague, then playing at this level at this age [36], it’s incredible. I don’t know if you’re going to find a better résumé than what Diana Taurasi has to be the greatest of all time. In the top group of players, you can say this player or that player was a better player, and those are all reasonable arguments. What’s not reasonable is that Diana Taurasi would not be in the conversation.

OlympicTalk: It seemed like four years ago there was a question if a young point guard could supplant Sue Bird before Rio. She’s still the No. 1 point guard on this team at 37. Do you see anybody challenging her before Tokyo?

Lawson: If she’s healthy, I expect to see her in Tokyo with that wealth of experience she brings. With the U.S. enjoying as much depth as they do at these competitions, she’s not needed to play 40 minutes a night. I think [a young point guard] is still a question mark for the roster. I don’t think anybody’s solidified themselves as a point guard behind Sue quite yet. It’s still kind of murky, but there’s so much growth that happens year over year in the WNBA.

OlympicTalk: Is guard depth the biggest question for this team?

Lawson: Diana Taurasi played backup point guard in the medal rounds. Obviously she’s perfectly capable of filling that role. It’s something they can work around with all the talent that they have. The biggest question is you want to be sure and hope that Bird and Taurasi are healthy for Tokyo. Not that I’m questioning them, because they have great attention to detail, discipline and focus in taking care of their bodies, but you get into your late 30s and your health is a key all the time.

OlympicTalk: Who’s the silver-medal favorite right now?

Lawson: It’s pretty even. The group of favorites might depend on which European teams qualify [at global 2020 tournaments]. Australia, obviously, with Elizabeth Cambage, the team the U.S. played in the FIBA gold-medal game, that’s going to be a team to watch. France, which lost in the quarterfinals to Belgium, is a really good team. Belgium is up and coming. Spain has medaled in three straight global competitions.

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