Most of the Olympic men's basketball field has been set, with Argentina, Australia, Iran, Lithuania, Russia, Angola, China, Spain and the United States preparing for the August Games. The top three teams in the Olympic qualifying tournament -- which begins today in Athens -- will also compete in Beijing. Here's a quick look at the tourney.
The Favorite: Greece. The Greek team famously beat Team USA in the 2006 World Championships, setting off the maelstrom of righteous indignation which promised to (but didn't) revolutionize the way USA Basketball chose its teams. Greece boasts no current NBA players, but could beat a half-dozen NBA teams. Guard play makes the Greeks the favorites. Theo Papaloukas should be well-known in America, and Dimitris Diamantidis is one of the best perimeter defenders in Europe. Add good size up front and home court advantage, and it'd be a surprise if the Greeks didn't win this outright.
The Contenders: Germany, Brazil, Puerto Rico. At least one of these teams won't make it (unless Greece crumbles). Germany famously boasts both Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman now, though little else. Brazil will be without Leandro Barbosa, but has Tiago Splitter and some good guards. Also, Brazilian two-guard Alex Garcia shattered a backboard in the pre-game lay-up line in an exhibition last week. Awesome. But never count out Puerto Rico, with an assortment of former and current NBA players like Carlos Arroyo, J.J. Barea, and Peter John Ramos, as well SACRAMENTO STATE! product Joel (pronounced "Joe .... El") Jones.
The Wild Cards: Croatia, Canada,Slovenia. Croatia has a nice roster, with former Net Zoran Planinic and future Raptor Roko Ukic and one-time Tulsa 66er Damir Markota. But the team's had a tough spell in the exhibition season. Canada has Samuel Dalembert, who can control a game from his role as defensive anchor against the right opponent. Slovenia competes without Beno Udrih, but still have FC Barcelona point guard Jaka Lakovic and youngster Goran Dragic to man the position, along with Rasho Nesterovic up front.
The Happy-To-Be-Heres:Cameroon, New Zealand, Cape Verde, Korea, Lebanon. When Ruben Boumtje Boumtje is your star, you're in trouble; sorry, Cameroon. New Zealand lacks star power (even of the Boumtje Boumtje variety!), but isn't terrible, and is probably the best of this set. Cape Verde is ranked below even Bulgaria and Uzbekistan. Korea and Lebanon figure to matter seriously in international competition by the year 202Never.