Australia have been drawn in Group H for the 2019 FIBA World Cup tipping off on 31 August 2019, and will play in the Chinese city of Dongguan in what could be deemed the 'group of death.'
In Group H alongside the world ranked number eleven Boomers, are world number six Lithuania, 23rd ranked Canada and Senegal (37th). The grouping continues Australia's run of being drawn in difficult groups at World Cup events, with the 2019 tournament requiring Australia to be on their game right from the outset as they take aim at Rio redemption.
The Boomers went close to securing a first ever medal at any major event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, going down to Spain in the bronze medal playoff in controversial circumstances. The heartbreak of Rio has been simmering, and the World Cup is the first opportunity for the Boomers to make amends starting with Canada.
Canada loom as a genuine threat and medal contender in China, with their talent available belying their world ranking status. Canada qualified for the World Cup by topping Group F in the FIBA Americas qualifiers, boasting a record that equaled that of Team USA (10-2) and ahead of world number twelve Brazil and Venezuela (20th).
Like Australia, Canada boast a growing wealth of NBA talent and could possibly suit up a squad featuring the likes of Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets), Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Corey Joseph (Indiana Pacers), Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat) and Nik Stauskas (Portland Trail Blazers) among others. While Argentina remains ranked fourth in the world, Canada is likely to be the more favoured team from the Americas region to challenge for a medal in China.
While Australia has not encountered Canada in recent times, they have crossed paths at five World Cup's, most recently in 1998, with both countries having grown in stature on the world stage since that time.
Like with Canada, Australia has a long but eventful history with Lithuania at major events, with the Boomers beaten for bronze at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic games by the European rivals. However in 2016, Australia comprehensively defeated their nemesis by a resounding 26 points in the quarter-finals in Rio to shock the basketball world.
Despite the lop-sided result in Rio, Lithuania qualified for the World Cup with the best record (11-1, equal with Greece) in the European qualifiers despite being ranked as the fourth best team in Europe, behind Spain (2nd), France (3rd) and Serbia (4th). Their depth of talent is headlined by familiar names Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Jonas Valanciunas (Memphis Grizzlies and former New York Knicks wing Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
Senegal rounds out Group H as one of the best performed teams in the African qualifiers. They finished with a 10-2 record and second behind Nigeria (33rd) albeit boasting the same record. Gorgui Dieng of the Minnesota Timberwolves led Senegal in scoring (18.3ppg) and was second in rebounds (8.3rpg) and will likely once again lead his country in China. Australia has met Senegal just once at a major event, way back in 1980 at the Moscow Olympics.
Australia opens their World Cup campaign against Canada on 1 September, followed by Senegal on 3 September. The Boomers final group stage game will be against Lithuania on 5 September and is likely to prove the pivotal contest to determine the group's top two teams to advance.
After the group stage games are completed, the top two teams from Group H crossover with Group G in the Round of 16. Group G is headlined by France (3rd) and Germany (20th), with boast sides expected to feature a host of NBA stars. Following the Round of 16, the competition enters a knock-out phase through the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and medal games.
Australia would be hoping to suit up most of their growing band of NBA stars, however it is not yet confirmed if 2019 NBA All Star Ben Simmons will be one of them.
Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavliers) and Thon Maker (Detroit Pistons) have previously signaled their intentions by playing in the Asian qualifiers, while recently Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz) confirmed his availability in a recent interview with The Pick and Roll. Dante Exum's recent knee injury is likely to have ruled out his participation, while it would be hard to suggest the likes of Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Aron Baynes (Boston Celtics), Ryan Broekhoff (Dallas Mavericks) and Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors) will not be making themselves available given their recent commitment to the national team program.
The prospect of players like of Jonah Bolden (Philadelphia 76ers), Deng Adel (Cleveland Cavaliers), Mitch Creek (Long Island Nets) and Isaac Humphries (Erie Bayhawks) from the NBA G League, and a host of European stars including Jock Landale (Partizan) and Brock Motum (Anadolu Efes) demonstrated the depth of Australia's talent pool.
Winning a medal of any colour in a knockout tournament is never easy. While Australia's pathway to winning a first ever medal at a major event is frought with danger, there is no denying the Australian talent pool has never been greater and the time is right for the Boomers to shine.
Australian Boomers 2019 FIBA World Cup Schedule (times TBA)
1 September: vs Canada
3 September: vs Senegal
5 September: vs Lithuania
9 September: Round of 16
10/11 September: Quarter-Finals
13 September: Semi-Finals
15 September: Medal Games