10 reasons to follow the event

10 reasons to follow the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade

BELGRADE (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) – Six national teams are vying in the Serbian capital Belgrade this week for one coveted ticket to Rio 2016.

Angola, Puerto Rico and Serbia will trade blows in Group A while the Czech Republic, Japan and Latvia will square off in Group B. Only the winners of each of the three FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT)s, which run 4-10 July, will qualify for the Olympics in Brazil.

FIBA.com gives you 10 reasons to follow the event.

1 – The Belgrade Arena atmosphere

It will be sizzling hot in Belgrade all week long but expect temperatures to reach boiling point inside Belgrade Arena at every Serbia game. If you are a basketball fan who has never watched a game from this venue before, during the coming days the local fans will make you rethink what classifies as absolute passion and you will promise yourself you need to experience this at least once. If you are young enough for this OQT to represent your first taste of basketball, you will be hooked to this brilliant sport for the rest of your life.

2 – At the gates of history

Two of the nations doing battle in Belgrade to qualify for Rio, Japan and the Czech Republic, have never competed in the Olympic Basketball Tournament. Serbia have not taken part in the big event since Athens 2004, when they still had not separated from Montenegro, so they are also chasing a historical first. Qualifying for Rio would not be a feat of lesser significance to Latvia, who have taken part at the Games once but it was back in 1936.

3 – Angola’s young upstarts

Following their second-place finish at last year’s FIBA Afrobasket, Angola decided it was time for a generational change. They are fielding a squad with an average age of 25, the youngest team at the Belgrade OQT, where 35-year-old Reggie Moore is the oldest player. ‘Let’s go champs’ is the motivational war cry that you will hear again and again from these youngsters at practices and time-outs, as this team has players which believe the future belongs to them and they see no reason that future cannot start right now.

4 – A country for veteran men

Puerto Rico remain faithful to a time-honoured tradition and field the most experienced team in this OQT, replete of players who know every trick in every basketball book out there. The average age of the team is just above 30 and includes Carlos Arroyo, who turns 37 this month. His last chance to play at another Olympics, you say? Puerto Rico legend Jose ‘Piculin’ Ortiz had a national team career than spanned over three decades and stepped out at Athens 2004, at the age of 41.

5 – Small-ball from the far east

If when you look at Japan all you can see is the fact they are the team with the lowest FIBA World Ranking Men position across the three OQTs as well as the smallest team in terms of size (with an average height of 1.93m), then prepare to be surprised. When Japan get their spacing and ball movement right, sharp-shooter Makoto Hiejima and power forward Joji Takeuchi can wreak havoc against any defense. Japan’s fourth-place finish at last year’s FIBA Asia Championship was their best display in almost two decades and they might have unlocked the door to more success.

6 – Latvia’s length

One thing Latvia have never had a shortage of is versatile wingers who can shoot the ball and, naturally, the likes of Janis Blums or Dairis Bertans will be key players for the Baltic team in Belgrade. But this 2016 Latvia side will break away from tradition somewhat, as the inclusion on the roster of debutant Anzejs Pasecniks alongside veteran Kaspars Berzins means Latvia have two seven-footers for the first time in recent memory, as well as more length in general as a team. They will still be blazingly-fast, they will still pull up from anywhere on the court, but now they can mix it up more than ever before.

7 – Milos the maestro

Milos Teodosic is recognised globally as one of the best guards in the modern European game and never had to prove anything to anybody, but this season he finally got a persistent monkey off his back by winning every possible competition at club level in Europe. If you think that the Serbia captain will not do everything within his power to cap off this perfect year, the best of his career so far, by playing in his first ever Olympics, think again.

8 – The dazzling J.J. Barea

If you live anywhere outside the Americas you normally get to enjoy the unique play of Jose Juan Barea during unsocial hours, so you cherish every big tournament, like the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2014, where Puerto Rico visit another continent and he showcases his speed and sleight of hand with the ball. There are some guards at the Belgrade OQT with NBA aspirations, possibly more than you think, that cannot wait to measure up against the 2011 champion with Dallas Mavericks.

9 – Vesely airlines

You are not a fan of any of these six teams but you are partial to power dunks, one-handed dunks, alley-oop dunks and general slamming? Then you cannot afford to miss any game of the Czech Republic in Belgrade.Tomas Satoransky is a 2.00m point guard with unbelievable court vision and what he enjoys the most in basketball – either in transition or in set play, doesn’t matter – is feeding the ball to Jan Vesely, the most spectacular big man in European hoops, who will find a way to make your jaw drop.

10 – Jokic takes the big stage

There are several players across the six participating teams who are set to make their senior national team debut at this OQT, but none is more eagerly-anticipated than that of Serbia’s Nikola Jokic. How will that influence the 21-year-old big man who has largely managed to fly under the radar up until now? Jokic surprised everybody during his rookie NBA season as not only he earned a starter’s spot at Denver Nuggets but he improved by leaps and bounds through the course of the year, gaining consistency in his long-range shot and polishing almost every aspect of his play.