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Team USA's 2014 off to great start

2/4/2014

Team USA has managed to dodge the Group of Death in the first-ever World Cup starring NBA players.

And that's not all.

Team USA has also avoided what could be described as a Bracket of Death for their chief rivals in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball to be staged in Spain at the end of the summer.

Which is another way of saying that Monday was a very good day for USA Basketball.

The inevitable takeaway from the FIBA draw ceremony that took place in Barcelona is that Coach K & Co. -- who can always count on zero sympathy even when the draw is unkind because they are the heavy favorites in pretty much every single game they play -- were treated far better by the proceedings than the tournament hosts.

Check it out:

Stuffed into Group A with the Spaniards are newly minted European champions France, perennial South American power Brazil and historically strong Serbia. Egypt and Iran are the other Group A residents; four teams in each of the four six-team group advance to the knockout phase.

Team USA, meanwhile, was quietly but unavoidably giddy to be joined in Group C by what appears to be the most inviting fivesome it could have wished for. Turkey, Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine, Finland, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic round out the group, which essentially suggests that the Yanks -- no matter which 12 players are selected from the 28-man player pool announced last week -- will go 5-0 before proceeding to the Round of 16.

Comfortably.

It gets even better for the Yanks when you scan the whole draw sheet. Spain, France and Argentina are all on the opposite side of the their tournament bracket, meaning that Team USA will not have to see any of the vet-filled teams most capable of upsetting them until the championship game.

Only one of those three titans of the international game, in other words, can make it to the title game and prevent the United States from repeating as tournament champions, which would automatically qualify Team USA for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and clinch a complete summer off in 2015.

Although it was immediately (and widely) noted that a group game against Turkey will be an early rematch of the 2010 Worlds final contested in Istanbul, be advised that the Turkish squad headlined by Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova isn't nearly as fearsome when it's not playing at home in front of what is universally known as one of the most intimidating crowds in world sport.

Based on what was served up Monday, Team USA's biggest push in the first eight games it will play in Espana will almost certainly come from Lithuania, which played the Yanks close at the London Olympics and finished runner-up to France at last summer's Euros. After that? We're talking Turkey and outsiders like Goran Dragic-led Slovenia, ever-gritty Australia and the FIBA Americans Cinderellas from Mexico.

Spain, by contrast, has a lot of work to do just to get the shot it so badly craves on home soil to try to avenge those narrow Olympic gold-medal game losses to Team USA in both 2008 and 2012.

To be the last team standing from the Group A/Group B side of the draw, Spain will have to outlast the accomplished trio of France, Argentina and Brazil as well as pesky foes such as Greece, Puerto Rico and Croatia in addition to the Serbians. And that is sure to be received as a welcome development in USAB circles, no matter how much the outside world thinks the draw shouldn't matter much to the deepest team on the planet.

The worst thing you can say about Monday's draw proceedings, from a Team USA perspective, is that the big names from the NBA will be forced to spend the group portion of the tournament in relatively dreary Bilbao as opposed to one of the three decidedly sunnier options: Granada, Sevilla and Gran Canaria.

Yet something tells me they'll cope just fine after the path laid out for them compared to Spain's.