We’ve been talking a lot about European tournaments in the last week, mostly with Mystics forward Emma Meesseman leading the Belgium women’s national basketball team in EuroBasket Women 2017 Qualifiers.
She’s not the only basketball player in Washington playing for European supremacy.
The Wizards have three European nationals of their own with Marcin Gortat coming from Poland, Ian Mahinmi coming from France, and Tomas Satoransky coming from the Czech Republic. All three of their national teams qualified for EuroBasket 2017 in qualifiers or finishing high enough in the 2015 tournament.
Though Gortat announced earlier that he retired from playing for the Polish national team and Mahinmi hasn’t played for France since 2010, Satoransky has been a mainstay for the Czechs over the last several years along with former Wizards player Jan Vesely. So next summer, we should see at least one Wizards player in the European championships.
On Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey, we finally learned where every teams was placed. There were 24 teams put into four groups of six teams. Each team in the each group plays each other once. The top four teams in each group then advance to the knockout stage in a single elimination tournament. One team in each group is a host country. they are Finland, Israel, Romania, and Turkey.
Here are the groups. I’ve gone ahead and listed the last time each team was in EuroBasket, along with notable NBA players in recent years who played for the team, regardless of whether they are actually going to play for them or not:
Group A: France leads the way, but face tough tests with Greece and Slovenia
France is the clear frontrunner in this pool. But they will be up to some tough tests in this group. I certainly look forward to seeing how they do against Greece who have Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. I also like seeing a France vs. Slovenia match, since the Slovenians have a good number of NBA players in their pool, headlined by Heat guard Goran Dragic.
Group B: As evenly matched as it gets after Lithuania
Lithuania is the highest ranked team in the pool, so they’re the team to beat in this set. However, every team in this group has current NBA player or players with NBA experience, so it’s not like anyone is just happy to be in EuroBasket. Any team in this pool has a shot to make it to the knockout round of 16, or possibly even advance a game if things play out right.
Group C: The Czech Republic looks like a solid bet to advance to the knockout rounds
The Czechs are probably feeling pretty good about being in this pool which features host nation Romania and neighboring Hungary, who haven’t been in EuroBasket since the 20th century.
Romania is also the birthplace of two famous basketball players with ties to the Wizards. One is Georghe Muresan who played for the Wizards from 1995-1997 and was actually in the draw ceremony:
Georghe Muresan is at the #EuroBasket2017 Draw Ceremony!!!! https://t.co/sz1XAloWe5 pic.twitter.com/wbcBRqqE7t— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) November 22, 2016
The other is Ernie Grunfeld, who was a star at Tennessee, won a Gold Medal for the USA Basketball men’s national team in 1976, and is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Wizards.
Back to the Czech Republic, they look like they’re in good shape to advance since they’ve started building a track record for continental success. They advanced to their first quarterfinals ever in 2015, and were in the Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this year. Satoransky is leading the way, along with Vesely who had a forgettable tenure in D.C. That said, it’s still a tough battle for them to win the group since Croatia and Spain have more talent overall.
Group D: The Group of Death?
Three Top 10 nations, including 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist Serbia don this group. I call this group the Group of Death not because a Top 10 country is bound to be eliminated in Group play. But rather, it’s because it is inevitable that one of the higher ranking teams in this group will end up third in this group and have to play a second seeded team in another group that could also be a Top 10 team. In addition this group has four of the teams who advanced to the knockout rounds in 2015 AND Russia who came in with big expectations but fell out of the group stage early.
The team you have to feel bad for here is Belgium and it has nothing to do with Meesseman. And to be honest, I’m not partial for Belgium.
In EuroBasket 2015, the Belgian Lions (that’s their nickname) advanced to the knockout rounds by going 3-2 in their group despite having low expectations. Their signature win was a buzzer beating upset over Lithuania in group play. After that win, Lithuania appeared destined for a group exit, but they turned it around and were the runner ups.
This time, the Lions will need more than one miracle to sneak into a fourth seed as the only team in this group without NBA talent.
EuroBasket 2017 is a long time away. It will be from August 31 to September 17. I do like seeing continental competitions. And I look forward to watching it even if there were no Wizards players to begin with. That said, I’d like to see if the Czech Republic can make a deeper run this time, and will be happier to see Mahinmi play for France as well, if he chooses to do.