The race for the 12 berths in the men’s basketball competitions at next year’s London Olympics has begun.
At the moment, only three countries are assured of slots in the 2012 Summer Olympiad.
The United States, as the reigning World Basketball Championship titlist (in addition to being the defending Olympic gold medalist), and Great Britain, as the Olympic host, are automatic entries.
Another early qualifier is Tunisia, which upset Angola, 67-56, in the finals of the 2011 FIBA African tournament to break a six-year title stranglehold by the Angolans.
Two Olympic slots each are at stake in the ongoing FIBA qualifiers Tournament of the Americas in Argentina (August 30-September 11) and EuroBasket in Lithuania (August 31-September 18).
There are 10 entries in the Tournament of the Americas, led by Brazil, which beat host Puerto Rico two years ago for the title.
The Brazilians are banking on U.S. National Basketball Association frontliner Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs in the ongoing competitions but are missing the services of their other NBAers such as Leandro Barbosa, Nene and Anderson Varejao due to injuries or contractual issues.
In the EuroBasket, a total of 24 teams – eight more than the 2009 field – are seeing action. Defending champion is Spain, which routed Serbia, 85-63, in the finals two years ago in Poland for the Spaniards’ first European crown.
Los Angeles Lakers frontliner Pau Gasol, who was named the Most Valuable Player in 2009 EuroBasket, is back with the Spanish national team after sitting it out during the 2010 World Basketball Championship in Turkey despite his country’s status as the biennial showcase’s defending champion.
The FIBA Oceania qualifying tournament between Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, will be held from September 7-11.
Two years ago, the Tall Blacks dislodged the Boomers as the Oceania champions and got into the World Championship party outright.
The 26th FIBA Asia Championship is slated September 15-25 in Wuhan, China.
Bannered by two-time tournament MVP Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Islamic Republic of Iran has won the last two Asian crowns, including a 70-52 thrashing of perennial powerhouse and host China in the 2009 finals in Tianjin.
China played without 7-7 Houston Rockets center Yao Ming during the 2009 edition and now has lost him permanently following his retirement last July.
The Chinese will continue to enjoy the services of a pair of big men with NBA experience as well – Wang Zhizhi, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers, and Yi Jianlian of the Washington Wizards.
Only the gold-medal winner in the FIBA Asia Championship automatically qualifies for the London Olympics.
The also-rans from the various zone qualifiers will still have an opportunity to get to the London Games through the back door, however.
A special pre-Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in July next year will feature the second- and third-best teams from Asia and Africa, one from Oceania, the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 squads from the Americas and the third- to sixth-ranked teams from Europe.
At stake in the extra qualifier are three “wildcard” berths to the London Olympics.
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