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FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup Power Rankings, Volume 1

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RIGA/DAUGAVPILS (Latvia) – The FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2021 is about to tip off with rosters having been finalized and teams having played their last exhibition games. So let’s give you the Power Rankings to see where the teams stack up heading into the tournament.

#1 United States USA

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 1st

There is a lot of unknown with the United States: how will they deal with international play as none of their players have played a single competitive FIBA game and how quickly can they find their game, having only started tryouts with 26 players on June 20. That being said, head coach Jamie Dixon knows how this tournament works, having guided the Americans to the title in 2007. He also has loads of talent, topped off by Chet Holmgren, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. But there is plenty of more talent including Patrick Baldwin Jr, Kennedy Chandler, Jaden Ivey and Caleb Furst. The Americans will have the target on their backs from the beginning. And it will be anything but easy. But the United States are the reigning champions and winners of seven of the 14 previous tournaments, so reputation and talent gives them the top spot before the games start.

#2 Serbia SRB

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 7th

Serbia have not reached the podium since 2013, when they picked up their second straight second-placed finish including 2011. This Serbian team is loaded with ball-handlers, including the likes of Nikola Djurisic, Aleksa Kovacevic, Mihailo Petrovic, Lazar Stefanovic and Stefan Todorovic. Handling the pressure of the likes of United States, Canada and Australia is always critical in these tournaments and the Serbs seem well stocked. Head coach Zoran Lukic, who has shown just what mastery he is capable of at Russian club Nizhny Novgorod, also has the ultra-dynamic all-around weapon Nikola Jovic, who basically can serve as a point forward and is Serbia’s next big hope. Add to that Matija Belic, Filip Skobalj and Mihailo Musikic and Serbia will be a very, very difficult team to beat. The one question hanging over the Balkan side – and the real reason Serbia wasn’t No. 1 going into the event – is if they are big and physical enough in the paint to counter the likes of the United States and Canada.

#3 Canada CAN

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 2nd

Speaking of Canada, there was hardly a peep coming out of North America about a team that has enough star talent to deservedly be considered a serious contender to become the first country other than the United States to win two U19 crowns – and add to their title from 2017. Head coach Paul Weir has a loaded roster with the likes of Caleb Houstan, Bennedict Mathurin, Zach Edey, Charles Bediako and Elijah Fisher. The middle three of that quintet was working with the Canadian senior national team ahead of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament and will be ready to match what RJ Barrett did four years ago in Egypt. The Canadians are big and athletic and will be a tough team to beat. One question mark could be depth at point guard. Ryan Nembhard teamed up with Houstan to win the United States high school national championship with Monteverde Academy, but can Weir rely on those behind Nembhard? One thing is certain: this team will not be beaten easily.

#4 Australia AUS

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 11th

While the likes of United States and Canada hold their tryouts and start training camp less than three weeks before the tip-off of the tournament, Australia are traditionally one of the first countries to have their team locked in. All of the top teams in Latvia will be missing some big names who could have been playing, but that also gives others a chance to shine. Dyson Daniels could be the biggest beneficiary of Josh Giddey not being there. Daniels will be running the Emus along with U19 World Cup veteran Tamuri Wigness, but they will have more help including Blake Jones, Biwali Bayles, David Okwera and Yaak Yaak among others. This group will be out to restore the Australian pride at this tournament as they finished ninth in 2019 – albeit with just two losses. The Emus had not finished outside the top eight in the eight competitions between 1995 and 2015, but their last medal was gold in 2003 – thanks to an out-of-this-world showing by Andrew Bogut.

#5 France FRA

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 4th

France will have the most anticipated player at the tournament in Victor Wembanyama and a team that has the pieces to win the country’s first title if they all fall into place. That is a bit of an “if” though. Wembanyama was a late arrival to France’s training camp and Matthew Strazel was even later after helping ASVEL Villeurbanne win the French league crown following his second season of playing in the EuroLeague. France will definitely be missing some of their top players but the axis of Wembayama, Strazel, Brice Dessert, Armel Traore, Yvan Ouedraogo and  Rudy Demahis-Ballou gives head coach Frederic  Crapez a good core to start with – and incorporate role players around them. France will probably go as far as Wembanyama takes them, which could be quite high.

#6 Spain ESP

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 3rd

Spain were probably going to be a bit lower on this list had it not been for the last-minute addition of Juan Nunez, an outstanding playmaker who just might push this Spain team a lot higher when the second Power Rankings come out between the Round of 16 and Quarter-Finals. The 2004-born Nunez did not participate in Spain’s training camp but he will quickly figure out how he can best serve and function in the team. This Spanish group is not full of superb athletes but more players who really know how to play the game and execute a system. The 2003-born Ruben Dominiguez was the MVP of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2019 and joins the likes of Ruben Lopez, Adria Domenech, Pau Tendero and Hector Aldrete – the latter being a great story of coming back from two knee surgeries and missing nearly two full seasons. Spain do have a lot of size on this team and that could be the biggest factor in why the Nunez addition is not enough to get them higher in these rankings.

#7 Lithuania LTU

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 5th

Lithuania have reached the Quarter-Finals in their last four appearances but they haven’t gotten to the podium since 2013 and the country’s only title came in 2011 – in Latvia. The axis of Augustas Marciulionis, Azuolas Tubelis and Liutauras Lelevicius gives head coach Gediminas Petrauskas a good base to stay in most games against any team. Add the likes of Titas Sargiunas, Edgaras Preibys, Mantas Rubstavicius and Radvilas Kneizys and Lithuania will be a tough team to beat. Having the dynamic Paulius Murauskas would have helped since Lithuania really don’t have a lot of superior athleticism other than Tubelis. So Lietuva will need to play strong as a team and hit their three-pointers to be successful.

#8 Puerto Rico PUR

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 12th

Puerto Rico have been a bit of a darling in youth global basketball of late, taking third place at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018 and finishing sixth at the last U19 World Cup with a number of tight games. If Julian Strawther were on board, Puerto Rico would be a bit higher on this list. Having watched this passionate country play the last two youth World Cups, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they reach the Quarter-Finals. Phillip Wheeler and Rafael Pinzon will do their thing and Christopher Rubayo could step up and surprise people. But this team lives and dies with their 100 percent team commitment. If that is there, anything is possible.

#9 Turkey TUR

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 6th

Turkey are back on the U19 global stage for just the second time since 2007 and the team would love to repeat their showing in 2015, when they finished third. There is some fantastic talent on Dervis Guney’s team with the likes of Adem Bona, Furkan Haltali, Tibet Gorener, David Mutaf and Batin Tuna. Unfortunately for Guney, none of those players have a PG listed as their position. Point guard is Turkey’s glaring question mark entering the tournament as Guney will have to rely on playmakers Berkay Yilmaz, Ege Yildizoglu and Mert Eskioglu to set up all of the talent around them. Consider this a challenge to that trio to prove the Power Rankings wrong and if they can step up, Turkey could have a chance. As stated, the group around those point guards is right up there with the rest of the top teams around the world.

#10 Mali MLI

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 20th

Mali enter the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2021 with the unusual situation of facing pressure in terms of expectations from the outside. Mali have taken over dominance at the youth level in Africa – two straight FIBA U18 African Championship titles and three consecutive top-two finishes at the FIBA U16 African Championship – and they shocked the world two summers ago by reaching the U19 World Cup Final, where they lost to the United States but secured the best-ever showing for an African nation at a global basketball event. Head coach Alhadji Dicko is back along with his mountainous leader Oumar Ballo to show the heroics in Heraklion were not a one-off instance. Ballo will be the main man for Mali but he will not be alone with Modibo Diaby, Bourama Coulibaly, Mohamed Sidibe and Abdramane Kanoute at his side. The latter might actually be the most important figure for Dicko’s team as the 2004-born talent will be called upon to guide the team as point guard. As dominant as Ballo was two years ago – as well as a number of other players – one could argue the driving force was point guard Siriman Kanoute, who will not be around as he is from the 2001-born generation. If Abdramane Kanoute can hold his own, Mali might have a chance of coming close to living up to expectations. But history definitely is against them.

#11 Latvia LAT

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 16th

The hosts Latvia took a major hit to their team just days before the tournament started when sniper Fred Bagatskis injured his ankle and was confirmed out of the event. It was going to be a challenge for Latvia anyhow. That’s not to say that the Baltic side does not have the talent to compete. Kriss Helmanis has the experience of playing in Spain as do Rodijs Macoha and Toms Skuja while Ricards Klanskis and Kristians Feierbergs also have played outside the country this past season. Latvia still have some shooting even without Bagatskis and there is some solid size on the team. The team will also have the support of at least limited fans at the games. But the team will need to step up altogether to reach the top eight.

#12 Argentina ARG

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 9th

Argentina are as much of a regular at the U19 World Cup as it comes – making their 14th appearance in 15 editions (ranked tied for second with Australia behind the United States’ 15 showings). The South Americans have not really had much success though, especially after 2011 with just one top-eight result. Argentina do remember fondly their other U19 appearance in Latvia when they took fourth place in 2011. For the team to have any chance of reaching the Quarter-Finals, Juan Francisco Fernandez will not only have to play at an All-Star Five level but he will need a lot of support. Fellow Spain-based Mateo Diaz must run the ship as lead ball handler with Federico Copes being called upon to hit his open three-pointers. All told, the cards will be stacked against Argentina and it remains to be seen if they have the jokers in hand to be victorious.

#13 Senegal SEN

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 38th

Senegal might have the best big man duo in Latvia with the Spain-based combo of Khalifa Ababacar Diop and Ibou Dianko Badji. Diop is more refined offensively while Badji is a tour de force as one of the fiercest shot-blockers in the tournament. But those two will not be the problem for head coach Sir Denisio Adjivon. The playcaller will need the US-based guard Cheikh Sow and Dahaba Magassa from France to really take care of the ball and execute their playmaking at a high level. Adjivon will also need his wing players to hit the open shots that they do get. Senegal will be looking to get their best-ever showing at the U19 World Cup. And it seems like they should get that done after taking 16th place in 2013 and 15th in 2019.

#14 Iran IRI

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 29th

One of the biggest issues often for countries at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup is how quickly the players can become a unit and learn to play together. That will not be a concern at all for Iran as all 12 of the players in Latvia play together for the Koochin Amol club, which has concentrated on developing young talent and will be playing next season in the Iranian Super League. And Iran’s head coach is also the Koochin head coach Mohammadreza Nouri. The Iranian team features two sets of twins (Mohammadhadi and Mohammadmahdi Lakzaeifard and Amirhossein and Nosratollah Yazarloo) with Amirhossein Yazarloo and Mohammadmahdi Lakzaeifard due to be two of the team’s leaders. Sorena Alizadeh Goorandani meanwhile participated in the Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp in 2019 and Iranian captain Pansa Fallah led the Koochin team in rebounding and was second in scoring. Whether that continuity is enough to make up for a lack of elite talent – and size as Iran’s roster has just one player taller than 6ft 8in (2.02m) – remains a major question mark.

#15 Japan JPN

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 27th

Japan enter the tournament as the fourth-youngest team – with just four players born in 2002 – and the third-shortest team (6ft 5in (1.95m)) on average. But Hall of Fame coach Kenichi Sako does have a couple of players who could help Japan pull off a surprise. Lawrence Harper Jr became the youngest player to ever debut in the Japanese B.League earlier this season while Ibu Yamazaki and Bruce Kanno played together at Meisei High School in Sendai, the same school that produced Rui Hachimura. Yamazaki is actually considered the next Hachimura in Japan. Sako also has with him 2005-born talent Yuto Kawashima, the youngest player in the competition. Despite the allure of that quartet, it does not seem that Japan will be winning too many games in Latvia.

#16 Korea KOR

FIBA World Ranking Youth Men presented by Nike: 19th

Korea are back at the U19 World Cup after missing out in 2019, which snapped a streak of four straight appearances running from 2013 to 2017. Head coach Lee Moojin will rely heavily on his superstar big man Yeo Jun Seok, who played for the Korean senior team at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers in early June and then was a late arrival to the Korean team in Latvia after playing in two games at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 in neighboring Lithuania. The step down from Yeo to Korea’s next best player is bigger than any other team in the competition. Shin Juyoung was Yeo’s teammate in guiding Yongsan High School to the Korean high school national title. But the Asians will face a major challenge in winning games.

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FIBA

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