Fans might be excited and waiting for EuroBasket 2017 once the club campaigns finally end later this month but FIBA and all the other stakeholders in the tournament have a waiting game of their own to play. Withdrawal and confirmation season promises to be drawn out, writes Emmet Ryan, and it could have a big impact on the balance and marketing of the competition
When Kristaps Porzingis confirmed he was going to play for Latvia at EuroBasket, it was the news fans and organisers alike needed. The Latvian has become a legitimate star in the NBA and is a familiar name with the casual fan, the type that needs to have heard of folk playing to care about watching any game in any sport. Kristaps is really good at basketball so basketball nuts will obviously be happy to see him in a Latvia shirt in September but it’s his crossover appeal that helps when it comes to eyeballs.
Wins like Kristaps have been thin on the ground of late and the trend hasn’t so much been to withdraw as it has been to wait a while before making any kind of call. Rudy Gobert has confirmed he won’t be suiting up for France, taking a deserved summer off but also putting a big dent in the hopes of Les Bleus heading into the tournament. Teams on the fringes of contention but likely to make some noise for qualifying or even progressing in the knockout rounds have got some better breaks.
Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik will never be confused with Porzingis when it comes to star power but the duo confirming they will be lining out for Turkey is a big boost for the primary hosts of the competition. This is a Turkish team that is, once again, in transition so it needs whatever difference makers are available to have a shot at making some noise.
Ukraine are in the classic rirunno Shaggy phase. Svyatoslav Mikhailyuk of Kansas, who impressed so much in the 2014 World Cup, looks like there’s a good chance he will suit up at EuroBasket but the likes of Joel Bolomboy are up in the air while the odds are against Sergei Gladyr and Pooh Jeter returning.
Ukraine fit the mould of so many sides heading into the summer as the who will suit up couldn’t be more in doubt for the vast majority of outfits. NBA heavy sides like Spain and France are already getting that sneaky feeling they will be fielding almost Euro-exclusive based sides later this summer. Then there’s the likes of Greece and where the broad assumption is Giannis Antetokounmpo will play and Dennis Schroeder won’t but there’s nary a grain of real information on either case, it’s just more the gut assumptions of people who watch a lot of basketball.
Normally it’s a reliable route to follow as there are trends when it comes to who is and who isn’t likely to suit up for the national side based on current contract situations, stage in their career, and the number of consecutive summers without a break. This summer however is a touch different as there are a few other factors in play.
For starters, there are just so many players whose likelihood to appear is unknown that the gut theory simply can’t be relied on heavily. There are always misses and this summer is primed for a bunch of inaccurate guesses.
The other big factor is that 2018 promises to be an actual summer off for all players from international duty, excluding the FIBA Small Countries, so it’s not like players have to choose between whether they play this year but hold off next. There’s a guaranteed break here although for some the promise of back to break summers off will hold a big appeal. Rest matters and grabbing what you can when you can tends to help extend careers.
For FIBA this is an issue in terms of the marketing of the tournament. Go back to the 2014 World Cup where Kevin Durant was the selling point of the competition. It was the KD show first, then the aimed for USA vs Spain showdown, then the rest would sort itself out. KD withdrew, Spain got bounced in the quarters, and the whole event ran like a coronation for Team USA who had an unusual star power situation.
For those who don’t recall. This was a USA team with James Harden before he reached the level of superstardom he now holds, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were seen as good but nobody saw what the Warriors were about to do coming. Anthony Davis was meant to be the star but he was just fine in the tournament while the breakout star was…Kenneth Faried. Seriously, Faried was being seen in a new glorious light after one week in Bilbao. His spot at Rio was meant to be all but guaranteed per the rumours such was the interest in him at the time.
Had FIBA known the future they could have said fans would get to watch Curry just before he wins the first of two straight NBA MVP awards rather than having to watch the then reigning MVP back out. The hindsight of that however leads to some interesting opportunities.
This year’s EuroBasket can, from a marketing perspective, be about this emerging European generation. The presence of Porzingis in Istanbul, Lauri Markkanen and the Greek Freak in Helsinki, is a good starting point. With Cluj-Napoca and Tel Aviv, there’s definitely more of a waiting game but it’s something to build off rather than hoping the established star power comes when the hot new things, which are great sellers to casual fans in their own right, look the better bet.
For those of us less focused on the bottom line and more about the wins and losses, it’s not going to get any easier this summer. We just have to wait and keep waiting. Will Marc Gasol suit up for Spain? Dennis for Deutschland? Probable NBA champion Zaza for Georgia? And all the other questions.
It’s a long and likely confusing summer ahead and it will be well into August before we get a good idea of what teams will be most impacted by withdrawls going into the big show.