The 2023 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers feature four distinct tournaments between continents – Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Despite Europe getting most of the attention and media coverage, there are multiple stars playing for their home countries outside of the old continent.
Some players came to rescue their national team and push it to the Second Round, and others arrived to solidify the country’s dominance in the Qualifiers. Whatever the reason for the players’ arrival was, they provided multiple moments of joy for the fans of their respective teams.
BasketNews selected 7 players from Asian, African, and the Americas Qualifiers that dazzled the crowd with their basketball display in the June-July window.
Their teams followed different paths, but the good news is – all of them managed to get through to the Second Round.
The seven selected players averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists for 24.4 EFF during the last FIBA window. Let’s take a look at them.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was probably the brightest star in any of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers during the June-July window. In the two matches played for Canada, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard averaged 26.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.5 steals for a whopping 29 EFF.
Canada was the undisputed winner of Group C of the Americans Qualifiers. The team captured all 6 wins by an average margin of 33 points. Their toughest contest came when Gilgeous-Alexander was not around. Led by Lenovo Tenerife forward Kyle Wiltjer, Canada edged out a narrow 6-point win against the Dominican Republic back in February.
With the OKC guard on the roster, Canada handily defeated the Dominican Republic (95-75) to secure first place in the group. The last match against the Virgin Islands was a mere formality and ended in a one-sided beating (113-67).
Gilgeous-Alexander was helped by fellow NBA players Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk in the July window. If the trio shows up for the August window, Canada is basically guaranteed a spot in the World Cup.
Canada is the top team and currently the only unbeaten in the Americas Qualifiers. Since the top three squads from each new Second Round group and the best fourth team qualify for the World Cup, Canada might only need to win two games in the upcoming six.
Knowing that they will have to play four of those games against Venezuela and Panama, the Canadian basketball fans can be pretty calm about the team making it to the World Cup.
Known for probably one of the cleanest and most fluid shooting strokes in the entire NBA, Buddy Hield has been a part of the Bahamas national team since the 2014 CentroBasket Championship, a tournament for teams from Mexico Central America, and the Caribbean.
Hields averaged 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 4.0 steals for window-leading 31.0 EFF. However, the Bahamas only won one of the two matches.
Being in the same group as Canada, the Bahamas also played against the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. Although the first game against a weaker opponent wasn’t particularly difficult, the match against the team that troubled Canada at one time wasn’t as successful.
The Bahamas were trailing the entire game, and late-game efforts were not enough to take the win. Hield proved his shooter’s status during the two games, making 11 threes with a 50% accuracy.
He played almost all 40 minutes against the Dominican Republic, making all five 2-pointers and 6-out-of-11 3-pointers before fouling out during the last minute.
The Bahamas are through to the Second Round from the number three spot in the group with 2 wins and 4 losses which are directly translated into the next round.
The squad will play 6 games, two against Panama, Venezuela, and Argentina each. Their best hope to get to the World Cup is to be the best fourth team in the tournament.
The task won’t be relatively easy, though. Currently, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Uruguay are best placed to take the spot with 4 wins each. The Bahamas would have to win at least all four matches against Panama and Venezuela to fight for the chance.
However, one of the first two matches, when Hields would probably still be available to help, is against Argentina. For the Bahamas somehow manage to take the victory on the away court against a clear-cut favorite, Hield would have to put up a performance of a lifetime.
Due to the FIBA window system, Buddy Hield won’t be able to help the Bahamas during the next two windows when all the most important matches are played, rendering the country’s chances of participation in the World Cup really slim.
The giant from the island of Maio is a total menace whenever he suits up for Cabo Verde. This time was no exception.
Edy Tavares averaged 18.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks for 24.0 EFF during the two matches in the July window. If not for the requirement to have played at least half of the games, Edy would be atop many leaderboards in the tournament.
An interesting situation unfolded in Cabo Verde’s World Cup Qualifiers group during the window. Mali national team was disqualified from participating in the tournament after failing to show up for the games against Uganda (July 1) and Nigeria (July 2).
According to reports, the country’s players hadn’t been paid for their play for three years.
“Some players refused to take the team bus at the hotel while those that came to the Arena refused to kit up,” Kowowo Sports write.
As a result, Cabo Verde’s situation in the group improved significantly.
Since the Tavares-led team had previously lost to Mali and had to play against them on July 3, the loss was eliminated. Instead of having two defeats in their account, the Cabo Verdians will go to the Second Round with 3 wins and only 1 loss.
Cabo Verde was spotless in the two other games during the window, defeating both Nigeria and Uganda, for whom Brandon Davies did not suit up this time.
The country is in a relatively easier group of the two in the Second Round. Currently sitting in second place, they will play against Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, and Guinea. If Tavares helps the national team in the August window, where the team will suit up once against each of the three teams, there is a decent chance of history being made.
Cabo Verde has never been even close to making it to the World Cup. With Edy Tavares on the floor, winning against the remaining opponents in the Second Round, which they already did in the AfroBasket 2021 last summer, seems much more doable than not.
With the top two teams and the best third advancing to the grand stage, three wins in the August window would basically open up Cabo Verde to its first visit to FIBA World Cup ever.
After becoming a free agent in the NBA, Facundo Campazzo came to the FIBA World Cup Americas Qualifiers to help the Argentina national team. Saying that he helped tremendously would be an understatement.
Facu averaged 24.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists for 25.5 EFF in the two matches during the June-July window. Beautiful assists, dependable scoring, and calmness throughout the entire 40 minutes of the game were clearly visible from the savvy point guard.
Even though Argentina had basically guaranteed a spot in the Second Round, Facu’s arrival solidified the national team’s position as the top team in Group A. There’s only one blemish – the Argentinians defeated Venezuela by only 3 points (69-66), meaning their only loss against that same Venezuela back in February meant that Facu’s team finished the First Round in second place.
With 5 wins and 1 loss, Argentina comes in as the third-best team in Group E of the Second Round. As Group F is stacked with teams with positive win-loss records, the games against the Dominican Republic, which is currently the next closest team in the standings, will prove crucial for Argentina to capture the third spot in the group.
However, since Campazzo won’t be able to help his team in the last two windows when the matches against the Dominican Republic take place, it leaves Argentina with several do-or-die matches throughout the year.
Due to the FIBA Qualifiers system, the NBA players can only help their respective national teams in the August window. During the window, Argentina is set to meet Canada and the Bahamas.
If Campazzo helps the team during the August window and the squad manages to take both wins, including handing Canada its first loss in the Qualifiers, Argentina would be in a prime spot to qualify for the World Cup.
Jose Alvarado’s name was hardly known to most basketball fans before the last NBA season. Rightfully so, he went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. Later picked up by the New Orleans Pelicans, Alvarado later blossomed into an internet sensation.
Due to his energetic style of play, infectious defense, and signature steals after hiding in the corner of the court for some time, the Puerto Rican guard became one of the fans’ favorite players.
Alvarado also made a name for himself in the NBA Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns, where he showed excellent defensive prowess on Chris Paul and Devin Booker on multiple occasions.
After getting his name known in the global basketball circle, Alvarado was called up to represent his home country of Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup Americas Qualifiers.
He did not disappoint by the slightest, averaging 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 steals for 20.5 EFF for the team.
Led by Alvarado, the Puerto Rican team almost beat the USA and later handed Mexico its only second defeat. With 3 wins and 3 losses in the squad’s account, it will be a difficult journey to the World Cup in the Second Round, though.
Puerto Rico is currently fifth out of six teams in Group F. Similar to Facundo Campazzo’s situation, Alvarado will only be able to help his team in the August window. The team will play against Brazil (5-1) and Uruguay (4-2).
As only the top three teams and the best fourth team make it to the World Cup, getting both victories will be paramount to Puerto Rico’s success. If they lose at least one of the two matches, knowing the absence of Alvadaro in the following windows, the country’s hopes for qualifying for the grand stage become bleak.
While not equally bright of a star as some others on this list, Iran’s Hamed Haddadi has made his name in FIBA competitions. Playing for the country since he was 18 years old, Haddadi has participated in 18 various tournaments throughout his national team career.
The Iranian center is an Asian basketball legend. Although he’s 37 now, he still averages double-doubles. In the two games during the July window, Haddadi averaged 16.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 3.5 blocks for 21.5 EFF.
For context, that’s even better than his career average with the Iranian national team of 15.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists for 18.9 EFF.
Even though he was still as dominant as the basketball world is accustomed to seeing, the performance was not enough to net two wins during the window. On July 1, Kazakhstan defeated Iran, marking the second head-to-head loss against the same team during the Qualifiers.
An easy win against Syria improved Iran’s position in the journey to the World Cup, but only slightly. The Asian Qualifiers system is not entirely clear at this moment. The number of spots for the upcoming World Cup will depend on Indonesia’s FIBA Asia Cup performance.
As Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia are the hosts of the upcoming World Cup, all three nations would naturally be automatically qualified for the tournament. However, Indonesia is currently only no. 95 on the FIBA ranking, so the country cannot be permitted into the tournament as easily.
If Indonesia reaches at least the quarterfinal stage in the FIBA Asia Cup, only 5 spots (top two + best third) will be left for qualification to the World Cup. If they don’t, the top three teams from each group will make it into the grand tournament.
Indonesia lost all 6 games in a weak Group C, so there most likely be 6 qualifiers from Asia to the World Cup. Iran is currently tied-third with China in Group F of the Second Round. Although Haddadi plays in China, his availability to help the national team is similar to those in the NBA.
The August second Round window features Iran’s matches against Australia and Japan. The game against the World Cup hosts is a must for Iran, while the matchup against the formidable Australia is one of the good-to-have ones.
The matches against the primary opponents for qualification, China, will be held in November and February, the two months when Haddadi won’t be able to help the national team.
If Iran thinks about making it to the World Cup again, a win with Haddadi on the roster against Australia might be of utmost importance.
Although he’s already 39 years old, Marcelinho Huertas is still an integral part of Brazil’s national team. A Basketball Champions League winner with Lenovo Tenerife only helps the squad during the summers due to his age.
There’s no room for old men on the court? Think again. Marcelinho averaged 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists for 19.5 EFF during the two matches in the June-July window.
Although Huertas started off slower in a win versus Uruguay, he blossomed in a loss against Colombia with 27 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Coincidentally, it was the first and only team’s loss in the Americas Qualifiers.
With a 5-1 record, Brazil is in a prime spot to qualify for the World Cup. The August window will feature games against Jose Alvarado’s Puerto Rico and Mexico. If Brazil is successful in both, a record of 7 wins and only 1 loss would practically push the country to the World Cup.
If the wish becomes a reality, we will probably see Marcelinho Huertas’ last ride in the 2023 FIBA World Cup with Brazil. It’s not crazy to speculate that it would be the last matches of his long-tenured basketball career.
As long as Marcelinho is with Brazil, Brazil is with Marcelinho, and seeing him in the World Cup for the very first time would be a poetic ending to an illustrious career.