The crown princes of international basketball, led by Manu Ginobili, are one of the favorites in this tournament. Most of this group has been together since 1999 and, at their best, they are the embodiment of team basketball. The Chicago Bulls' Andres Nocioni and European star Luis Scola are as tough as they come.
A newcomer to the national team, Pablo Prigioni, had the most assists ever in the Euroleague this year and strengthens an already dynamic group. However, some spotty play in recent games leads me to think some complacency might be setting in. Regardless, the World Championship goes through them, at the moment, and not the United States.
Former Vince Carter punch line Frederic Weis has become a capable defensive center.
While not one of the favorites, France has six NBA players on its roster, so intimidation shouldn't be a factor.
Serbia and Montenegro
The two-time defending World Champions have been in turmoil since an abysmal 1-5 Olympic showing in 2004. Poor chemistry, coaching instability and top players passing on opportunities to play for the national team have become the norm for a country that treats basketball like the state of Indiana does.
Things may be starting to look up, however. Buoyed by a roster that includes 10 players 25 or younger, Serbia has played very well in games leading up to the World Championship. And, the go-to player is none other than Darko Milicic, who has parlayed a strong finish at the end of the Orlando Magic season into a chance to keep his now-promising NBA career on track with a strong showing in Japan.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Igor Rakocevic is a scoring machine and 6-foot-5 guard Uros Tripkovic is one of the best NBA draft prospects in the tournament.
This is the best of three mediocre teams, one of which will advance out of the preliminary round. However, Venezuela's chances were diminished by the injury to one of its top scorers, former University of New Orleans star Hector Romero, in an exhibition game against Argentina. He will miss the tournament.
In his absence, scoring guard Oscar Torres has NBA experience, and center Richard Lugo is no Carl Herrera, but a serviceable inside player.
I can assure you that these players have other things on their minds than just the World Championship. Brian Beshara, a Dallas native and former LSU player, watched two Israeli helicopters hover over a burning radar installation just a few hundred yards from his apartment in early July. The national team quickly got out of the country and hasn't been back since.
If there is a bright spot for this team, it is underrated forward Fadi El Khatib, who averaged 17 points a game at the World Championship in Indianapolis in 2002.
Although this team has some recognizable NCAA names on its roster and is coached by a former Michigan State standout in Sam Vincent, the national team program is still in its infancy stage. Funding has been an issue and recently two of its players with NBA experience, Olumide Oyedeji and Obinna Ekezie, were dismissed from the team.
Tunji Awojobi (Boston University), Julius Nwosu (Liberty), Al Anagonye (Michigan State), Ebe Ere (Oklahoma) and Kelenna Azubuike (Kentucky) will not strike fear into a lot of hearts in Japan.