4-nation basketball tournament tips off today
Coached by Kim Sang-shik, world No. 32 Korea will face Lithuania (No. 6), the Czech Republic (No. 24) and Angola (No. 39) in the tournament from Saturday to next Tuesday at Samsan World Gymnasium in Incheon, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Seoul. All four countries will compete at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which will run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 in eight cities across China.
Kim has put together a veteran roster with five out of 12 players at 30 years old or older. Most of the players were together for the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup. Kim experimented with a handful of 20-something wings at the William Jones Cup in Taiwan last month but opted for experienced and savvy over youthful exuberance for the World Cup.
Korea will feature Lee Dae-sung, the reigning MVP in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) Finals for the Mobis Phoebus and a former guard for the G League team Erie BayHawks. Ricardo Ratliffe, a U.S.-born center naturalized as a Korean citizen, is also on the team.
At 30, Ratliffe is joined in the senior club by a 12-year KBL veteran Yang Hee-jong (35) and former KBL MVP-winning guards Lee Jung-hyun (32) and Kim Sun-hyung (31).
Ratliffe, at 6-feet 8-inches, is one of Korea’s two centers, alongside 6-foot 9-inch Kim Jong-kyu. They will have their hands full from the very first game of the four-nation event, as they take on Lithuania at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Lithuania will be led by a pair of NBA bigs, Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers and Jonas Valanciunas of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Sabonis, son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, is coming off the best NBA season of his three-year career. The 22-year-old averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and finished second in the Sixthman of the Year voting. The 6-foot 11-inch player shot 59 percent from the field.
Valanciunas, a former first round pick of the Toronto Raptors, averaged a career-high 15.6 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his seven-year career. The 7-foot center scored 19.9 points and grabbed 10.7 boards in 19 games for the Grizzlies following a mid-season trade from Toronto.
The Czech Republic, which will face Korea at 3 p.m. Sunday, will be led by Chicago Bulls guard Tomas Satoransky. He enjoyed a strong second half last season with the Washington Wizards, while All-Star guard John Wall was sidelined with an injury. Satoransky finished with career highs of 8.9 points and five assists per game. He was dealt to the Bulls last month.
Angola will be Korea’s last opponent at 3:30 p.m. next Tuesday. Yanick Moreira, a 6-foot 11-inch center and a one-time Raptors property, and veteran guard Olimpio Cipriano could give Korea trouble.
At the FIBA World Cup, Korea will face Russia, Argentina and Nigeria in Group B in Wuhan, China. There are eight groups of four, and only the top two teams from each group will advance to the next round.
Korea will depart for China next Thursday, two days after wrapping up the four-nation event.
This year’s World Cup also doubles as a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Only the top team from Asia, other than the host country Japan, will secure a place in the Olympics. Aside from Korea, China, Iran and the Philippines will be vying for the Asian spot at the World Cup.
Korea last appeared in the Olympics for basketball in 1996.