With the conclusion of the 2022 WNBA Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun where the Aces won in four games, the professional women’s basketball calendar now turns to Australia – the host country for this year’s FIBA World Cup.
Team USA will now have a bit more time to finalize its roster with the season having concluded. We know that Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd will be on the roster in addition to Ariel Atkins, but Diamond DeShields and Aliyah Boston have also been part of the preliminary roster.
Also complicating matters for the Stars and Stripes is playing its first two contests on back-to-back days as part of the preliminary round. Team USA gets Belgium on Wednesday then Puerto Rico on Thursday.
Regardless of who makes the final roster, Team USA will once again enter this year’s FIBAs as the odds on favorites. After all, they are winners of the last three FIBA World Cups and will aim for a fourth with a berth in the Paris 2024 Olympics on the line. Cheryl Reeve will lead Team USA into this year’s tournament as its head coach in place of Dawn Staley.
But that does not mean this year’s rendition will be up against soft competition. Here is a look at who will attempt to deny a USABWNT 4-peat in Sydney, Australia.
The Belgian Cats will be one of the first teams in action this FIBA World Cup when they match up against Team USA on Wednesday. Belgium is the fifth-ranked team in the world via FIBA and is another one of the Group A teams.
The names that will catch the eye of many an American basketball fan include Emma Meesseman (an All-Star Five recipient from 2018) and Julie Allemand. Both Meesseman and Allemand are coming off stellar seasons with the Chicago Sky where the team advanced to the WNBA semifinals. Belgium was barely dispatched from the medal stand as a fourth place finisher in the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Tenerife, Spain after losing in the Third Place Game to the host nation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina 🇧🇦
This year’s FIBA World Cup has been trimmed down from 16 teams to 12 teams. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but will be in the thick of things for this year in Sydney.
Jonquel Jones, 2021 WNBA MVP, is coming off another stellar season as she led the Sun to the 2022 Finals. Bosnia and Herzegovina were one of the several teams that earned a ticket to this year’s FIBA following the Qualifying Tournament back in February. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the 26th ranked team in the world and will begin its tournament this Thursday vs. Puerto Rico.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s second matchup of this year’s FIBA World Cup group stage will be against China. Anyone who follows international women’s basketball knows China is always a threat to make noise in international competition.
Names that will be familiar include Li Yueru who had a stint this past season with the Chicago Sky and Han Xu who is becoming one of the more recognizable faces of the New York Liberty. China is ranked seventh in the world per FIBA’s ranking and begins group play on Thursday when they take on Korea. China managed a sixth place showing in 2018 following an 81-67 defeat to France in the Fifth Place Game.
Puerto Rico 🇵🇷
The berth that Puerto Rico obtained for the 2022 FIBA World Cup was originally meant to be bestowed upon Russia. But due to the war in Ukraine, both Russia and Belarus were banned from international competitions by FIBA.
Puerto Rico will enter this year’s competition as the 17th ranked team in the world. It will also enter competition battling adversity back home as Hurricane Fiona has left the entirety of the island territory without power. The team has yet to finalize its FIBA roster, but names such as Arella Guirantes, Jazmon Gwathmey and Mya Hollingshed may make said final roster once it is unveiled.
Korea will be hoping for better fortunes in this year’s FIBA World Cup than it had in Spain for years ago. The team was part of Group A with Canada, France and Greece, but went 0-fer against its fellow group comers.
Korea will enter this year’s FIBA World Cup as the 13th ranked team in the world. The team will start group play on Thursday against China. Typically, Ji-Su Park would be the notable name on the Korean roster, but that mantle will likely be assumed by Kim Dan-bi. She went undrafted in the 2012 WNBA draft and has played her entire career domestically with Incheon Shinhan Bank S-Birds.
With Group A out of the way, let us see about Group B…
France fought its way to a fifth-place finish four years ago. FIBA currently has the French tabbed as the No. 6 team in the world and will start its group play on Thursday when they take on what is always a tough team to beat in the Australian Opals.
This year’s French rendition will include Iliana Rupert who is coming off the Aces’ run to a WNBA championship. It will also include Gabby Williams who completed a stellar 2022 with the Seattle Storm and a Marine Johannes who was instrumental in delivering the Liberty its first postseason victory since 2015.
Serbia last qualified for this tournament in the 2014 rendition – when it still went by the brand of the “FIBA World Championship for Women.” The team had an eighth place showing that tournament after losing a one-point contest to Turkey (62-61) then a defeat in the Seventh Place Game to France by a final of 88-74.
Serbia shall enter this year’s FIBA World Cup as the 10th ranked team in the world with its group play commencing on Thursday when the team takes on Canada. In past international competitions, Ana Dabovic was the signature player to watch for Serbia but that honor will likely be bestowed upon frontcourt force Tina Krajisnik who had a stint this season with the Sky.
Japan was, of course, the host nation of last year’s Olympics. The Japanese were one-and-doned from the 2018 FIBA World Cup following an 87-81 defeat at the hands of China.
The team will begin this year’s FIBA World Cup as the eighth-ranked team in the world per FIFA and will commence its group play on Thursday with a matchup against Mali. The squad’s 31-year old power forward, Ramu Tokashiki, will once again be a featured player to keep one’s eyes on when getting a glimpse of how Japan performs this tournament. She is known to WNBA fans as having experience with the Seattle Storm.
When one thinks of an African nation that will qualify for an international women’s basketball competition, one may automatically think Nigeria. Unfortunately, because of a ban on international competitions by its government, D’Tigress was replaced by FIBA with the nation that borders Nigeria to its west in Mali – who narrowly lost to D’Tigress in the qualifying round.
As the 37th ranked team in the world per FIBA, Mali will have some tough sledding this tournament. The team begins group play on Thursday against Japan. Sika Kone, a third-round 2022 draft selection by the Liberty, will be one of Mali’s key players.
With this year’s tournament having a major D’Tigress-shaped hole in its core, it must be acknowledged that Canada defeated Nigeria by a final score of 73-72 to claim seventh place in the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Canada is the fourth-ranked team in the world by FIBA and starts is group play on Thursday against Serbia. Team Canada always fields a team with noteworthy names from the WNBA and NCAA ranks. That, of course, includes Kia Nurse (Phoenix Mercury), Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton (Minnesota Lynx) and Kayla Alexander not to mention Laeticia Amihere from the South Carolina Gamecocks and Aaliyah Edwards of UConn Huskies fame.
This year’s World Cup host nation, Australia is sure to head into this year’s tournament with a robust home court advantage from the crowds in Sydney. The Australian Opals managed a silver medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup after being defeated by Team USA by a final of 73-56 with Liz Cambage earning All-Star Five honors.
Because of the much-ballyhooed divorce between the Opals and Cambage – which included the alleged incident from the matchup with D’Tigress in the run-up to last year’s Olympics – Sandy Brondello’s Australia bunch will be sans Cambage. The Opals will have another noteworthy name as Lauren Jackson, one of the WNBA’s 25 all-time greatest players, a two-time WNBA champion and a five-time WNBL champion, will return for Australia at 41 years old. Australia is ranked third in the world by FIBA and begins group play on Thursday against France. Australia also has Rebecca Allen, Sara Blicavs, Ezi Magbegor, Stephanie Talbot and Sami Whitcomb on its roster.