Credit: FIBA.com
Credit FIBA.com

The Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Split, Croatia, is just around the corner. The hosts will battle Brazil, Tunisia, Germany, Russia, and Mexico for a single ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. BasketNews.com presents five burning questions about the upcoming Split OQT.

Will Croatia handle the pressure?

How is it possible to feel pressure with international basketball stars like Bojan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja, and Ante Zizic leading the Croatian squad? Well, if 10,000 people don't phase you, things can be very different with a crowd of Split locals.

The OQT will take place in The Spaladium Arena, which can house nearly 11,000 fans. Even though it will not be allowed to reach maximum capacity, an astounding 10,000 fans will be able to attend the games.

This will only be matched by the maximum allowed capacity in the OQT in Kaunas, Lithuania, where 11,000 will be allowed in Zalgiris Arena. Keeping in mind that the Croatian National Team are considered favorites of this tournament and that local fans have missed live basketball, the atmosphere in Split will be electric.

"Split state of mind would be hard to describe with words to foreigners," Luka Babic, Croatian national team player born in Split, said. "You need to live it. And, even then, it's questionable if you could understand it."

"All we need is a bit of fine weather, some sunshine, the sea, that easy-going rhythm, and a Hajduk win on a soccer pitch. But then again, we'll give you a lot of temper, complaining, saying how everything is horrible... and it goes round and round in circles. I don't think you can find anything similar all over the world," Babic added.

Babic is one of three Croatian NT players born in Split. The others are Ante Tomic and team veteran Roko Leni Ukic. Ukic has been playing for KK Split, a team that competes in the Adriatic and the Croatian leagues, for the last six months.

"These last six months, I've played here, in my hometown. Okay, we didn't have fans at our games in the arena, but I felt the fans' presence on every corner, before and after every single game. That's why I don't think the pressure of the checkered jersey (of Croatia) can be any bigger than the pressure of playing in yellow (of KK Split). So, for me personally, there is no extra pressure here," the Croatian national team captain Ukic said. 

We will see if other Croatian players feel the same and will be able to handle the pressure of playing in front of their home fans.

Do the Brazillian veterans still have what it takes?

The Brazillian NT has no shortage of veteran players this summer. Shooting guard Alex Garcia, who played in the NBA 16 years ago, is 41. His comrades, center Anderson Varejao, and floor general Marcelinho Huertas are 38. These players have been leaders of Brazil for many years, but with Father Time breathing down their neck, it wouldn't be wise to expect a lot from them.

Unfortunately, the new generation of Brazillian basketball players has not lived up to the level of their predecessors. While Bruno Caboclo was solid in the French LNB Pro A League, and Vitor Benite and Leonardo Meindl were efficient contributors in the Spanish Liga ACB, the rest of the Brazillian squad lacks experience.

Six players on this year's squad have spent the last season playing in Brazil, which says a lot about their level of play. Facing opponents like Croatia, Germany and Russia might be the last samba for Garcia, Varejao, and Huertas.

Can Germany survive the loss of Dennis Schroder?

The Los Angeles Lakers have a busy offseason in front of them after an early playoff exit. One player at the forefront of their decisions is point guard Dennis Schroder, who is expected to hit the open market and should have plenty of suitors. With the Tokyo Olympics approaching, Schroder decided against representing the German NT this summer. 

With that being said, the Germans still have NBA talent on their squad. One of them is point guard Isaac Bonga, who spent the last two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards. In the 2018 World Cup Qualifying game against Serbia, Bonga made his debut for the National team, becoming the youngest German player to play for the senior team in 40 years. While Bonga has not been able to earn a major role in the Wizards' rotation, the 2.03 m point guard cannot be overlooked.

The other NBA player representing Germany this summer is Moritz Wagner. The 2.11 m big man started last season as Isaac Bonga's teammate in the Washington Wizards. Later, he was traded to the Boston Celtics, and then - the Orlando Magic. Wagner played 45 games last season, averaging 6.9 points and 3.2 rebounds over 16 minutes of action.

Germany also has solid EuroLeague-level talent on their team. Among them are ALBA Berlin teammates Maodo Lo and Johannes Thiemann, CSKA Moscow's Johannes Voigtmann, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul's Danilo Barthel, and the newest addition with Zalgiris Kaunas, Niels Giffey. Even though the loss of Dennis Schroder hurts, Germany still has a fair share of talent left and will surely be a tough challenge in the upcoming qualifiers.

Will Russia be able to shut down the outside noise?

Previously this month, it was reported that the most talented Russian basketball players, including Alexey Shved, Vitali Fridzon, Sergei Karasiov, Dmitri Chvostov, and Andrei Zubkov, have declined to help the Russian NT in the upcoming OQT.

According to reports, the players expressed their dislike for the head coach Sergej Bazarevich and general manager Sergej Panov. They have reportedly shown no interest in the players and did not help them solve certain issues.

"One call from the coach or GM every six months is considered normal practice," Sport-Express cited a source. "Players are simply not being heard, and no compromises are being made. For example, Andrei Zubkov asked to come to the training camp later, but the request was not granted."

Even without their best players, Russia still has quite a few high-level athletes, such as Andrei Vorontsevich, Timofey Mozgov, Semen Antonov, Ivan Ukhov, and Anton Kardanakhishvili, that all play in the EuroLeague.

However, talent might not be enough, and the only hope for the Russians is to come together as a unit and exceed their expectations.

Will Mexico and Tunisia surprise?

The two clear outsiders of the OQT in Split are Mexico and Tunisia. Eight of Mexico's players spent their last season competing in the Mexican Basketball League. The rest of the team played in Europe.

However, only a handful compete in high-level competitions: Paco Cruz from Afyon Belediye SK and Paul Stoll from Hapoel Tel Aviv. The only other note-worthy Mexican player is Gustavo Ayon, who returned to play in Mexico last season after a long run with top-tier teams in the NBA and EuroLeague.

When we turn our attention to Tunisia, it's hard to overlook the fact that 11 out of 12 players compete in their home country's basketball league. Only guard Joackim Haddad plays elsewhere - he is a member of SMUC Marseille, an amateur basketball team in France.

Perhaps the only athlete on Tunisia's roster that most European basketball fans will recognize is Salah Mejri. The 2.16 m center spent his fair share of time competing in the NBA and EuroLeague. However, Mejri is 35, and past the prime of his career, so we shouldn't expect too much from him.

It doesn't seem likely that Mexico or Tunisia can surprise the rest of the teams in Split, but we will see.

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