Basketball-loving Slovenia will be feeling some extra love for the game during the month of September. A field of 24 teams packed with Euroleague and Eurocup talent will start the climb to the continental pinnacle when EuroBasket 2013 tips off on Wednesday, September 4. Tournament will be played in four cities, ending at Stozice Arena in Ljubljana, a stage that has proven itself host of some incredible basketball atmosphere on Euroleague game nights since opening in 2010. The teams will not only fight for the medals, but also at stake are six berths in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, to be held in Spain. Just as two years ago, the grueling EuroBasket schedule will have the medal contenders play 11 games in 18 days. The 24 teams are divided into four groups of six, with just the best three teams reaching the second phase at Stozice Arena. There, two groups of six teams, whose first-round results will also be counted, will yield eight survivors to the medal rounds. One-off, do-or-die quarterfinals, semifinals and final games will reveal which national teams get on the podium, and which others can keep fighting for the World Cup tickets. The Turkish Airlines Euroleague is once again the most-represented league at the event, with 73 of its players on the active rosters in Slovenia. A total of 135 players competing in Slovenia play club basketball for teams that will take part in this season's Turkish Airlines Euroleague, the Euroleague Qualifying Rounds or the Eurocup . Moreover, there are five head coaches from Euroleague and Eurocup teams working the sidelines at the EuroBasket 2013, as well as four more coaching greats who have Euroleague titles to their names. The stage is set for a spectacular tournament, with Euroleague and Eurocup stars in the main roles, trying to reach basketball glory.
France, Israel, Ukraine, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium
France believes that its time to aim for the country's first basketball gold medal is now, on the biggest stage. France is a clear favorite in Group A with Tony Parker leading a roster full of former Euroleague players like Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Nando de Colo, and Florent Pietrus, or emerging Euroleague stars like Joffrey Lauvergne of Partizan NIS Belgrade and Thomas Heurtel of Laboral Kutxa Vitoria. This group also features an optimistic Israeli side, with Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv players Lior Eliyahu, Guy Pnini and Yogev Ohayon, or former All-Euroleague swingman Yotam Halperin. Eurocup runner-up Axel Hervelle of Bilbao Basket headlines Belgium's roster after Matthew Lojeski, this summer’s addition to Euroleague champion Olympiacos Piraeus, was injured at the last minute. Meanwhile, Germany, Ukraine and Great Britain enter the tournament depleted. The Germans, without Dirk Nowitzki, will try to contend by riding the inside presence of Laboral Kutxa center Tibor Pleiss and Heiko Schaffartzik of FC Bayern Munich on the perimeter. In absence of Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Joel Freeland, Devon van Oostrum of Laboral Kutxa will make his EuroBasket debut for Great Britain, while Artur Drozdov of Budivelnik Kiev sure to be an important part of Ukraine's campaign.
Lithuania, Serbia, Bosnia, FYROM, Montenegro, Latvia
Four different national teams from the former Yugoslavia and powerhouse Lithuania guarantee lots of fireworks in Group B. The Lithuanians have many weapons, starting with a former All-Euroleague forward Linas Kleiza, who joined Fenerbahce Ulker this summer, and Mantas Kalnietis, a reigning Eurocup champion with Lokomotiv Kuban. Twin brothers Darjus and Ksistof Lavrinovic of Budivelnik Kiev and Zalgiris Kaunas respectively are featured in the froncourt, while Martynas Pocius of Zalgiris, Mindaugas Kuzminskas of Unicaja Malaga, and Jonas Maciulis of Panathinaikos Athens make Lithuania strong on the wings. FYROM, a surprise fourth-place finisher two years ago, will once again be led by two-time All-Euroleague point guard Bo McCalebb of Fenerbahce, two-time Euroleague champion big man Pero Antic as well as a Euroleague veteran, Vlado Ilievski. Current Eurocup Rising Star trophy winner Bojan Dubljevic of Valencia Basket will battle inside for Montenegro and Euroleague veteran Milko Bjelica. In the absence of some prominent players, Serbia will rely heavily on two-time All-Euroleague center Nenad Krstic and forward Nemanja Bjelica of Fenerbahce. Bosnia and Herzegovina hopes to be a dark horse behind former Euroleague ace Mirza Teletovic, all-round forward Nihad Djedovic of Bayern Munich and Brose Baskets Bamberg point guard Zack Wright, while Latvia hopes to spoil the party.
Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Georgia, Czech Republic
Two-time defending champion Spain and host nation Slovenia are among the candidates to climb onto the podium, but first they have to get into the next stage from Group C. Despite several key absences, Spain still put together a star-studded roster headlined by All-Euroleague First Team selection Rudy Fernandez and his Real Madrid teammate, Sergio Llull, both runner-ups for the continental title last season. They have with them former Euroleague stars Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio, as well as former all-Euroleague swingman Fernando San Emeterio. Slovenia will challenge the champions carried by the sellout crowds, flashy point guard Goran Dragic, Euroleague veterans Jaka Lakovic and Bostjan Nachbar, as well as Jaka Blazic of Partizan and Zoran Dragic of Unicaja Malaga. For both teams, the toughest challenge in the group is expected to come from Croatia. All-Euroleague center Ante Tomic of FC Barcelona will lead a Croatian roster that also features big man Luka Zoric of Fenerbahce and Panathinaikos guard Roko Ukic. Croatia also brings teen sensation Dario Saric of Cibona Zagreb as well as scoring ace Bojan Bogdanovic of Fenerbahce. Poland’s challenge to grab one of the top three places will rely heavily on center Marcin Gortat and forward Maciej Lampe of FC Barcelona, while Georgia puts faith in a two-time Euroleague champ Giorgi Shermadini and veteran Manuchar Markoishvili of Galatasaray Liv Hospital Istanbul. Czech Republic will try to sneak in the second round with CEZ Nymburk’s veteran Jiri Welsch leading a youthful, but athletic, squad.
Greece, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Sweden, Finland
Group D is arguably the toughest of the four, with five teams legitimately contending for three spots to advance. The reigning Turkish Airlines Euroleague MVP Vassilis Spanoulis will lead a Greek team loaded with experience and winning mentality thanks to having roster full of top Euroleague players like Rising Star Trophy winner Kostas Papanikolaou of FC Barcelona, another two-time Euroleague winner, as well as former champ Nikos Zisis of Unics Kazan and Antonis Fotsis of Panathinaikos. World Championships silver medalist Turkey also brings a dangerous squad led by Hedo Turkoglu, and former Euroleague stars Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik. Turkey's deep roster among others includes Oguz Savas, Emir Preldzic and Omer Onan of Fenerbahce, Semih Erden, Kerem Gonlum and Dogus Balbay of Anadolu Efes, Sinan Guler and Ender Arslan from Galatasaray. Before the start of the tourney not much has gone right for the 2012 Olympic and 2011 EuroBasket bronze medalist Russia, as a coaching change was made just days before the start of training camp. Russia will also miss its entire frontcourt from the past two tournaments, and so will rely a lot on Vitaly Fridzon of CSKA Moscow, Sergey Monya of Khimki Moscow Region, while Eurocup champion Alexey Savrasenko postponed his retirement to play in this tournament. Former Euroleague runner-up Marco Belinelli is set to lead Italy which has a new point guard in Travis Diener of Banco di Sardegna Sassari, while Angelo Gigli, Alessandro Gentile and Nicolo Melli of EA7 Emporio Armani Milan bring Euroleague experience to the squad. Finland, with sharp-shooters Petteri Koponen of Khimki Moscow Region and Euroleague veteran Teemu Rannikko, will look to build on the success from 2011, while their Scandinavian neighbor Sweden returns to the Final Round of EuroBasket for the first time since hosting the tournament a decade ago.