Stars wherever you look (

Even with the greatest effort, the Italians were recently unable to stop Serbia’s NBA star Nikola Jokić (centre).

Foto: IMAGO/camera4+

If the co-favorites Lithuania and Slovenia as well as Germany and France meet at the beginning of the European Basketball Championship in Cologne, that says three things about this tournament: The German team got the toughest preliminary round group. The tournament is rich in superstars. And there is no big favourite.

Four countries – the Czech Republic, Italy, Georgia and Germany – will host six teams each, with the top four then traveling from Prague, Milan, Tbilisi and Cologne to Berlin, where the Arena am Ostbahnhof will host the entire final round from the round of 16. And then at the latest, heavyweights will play against each other every day.

Be it France’s Rudy Gobert, Finland’s Lauri Markkanen, Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanović, Germany’s Dennis Schröder, Latvia’s Kristaps Porziņģis or Lithuania’s Domantas Sabonis – almost all NBA stars from Europe have confirmed their participation in the most important international tournament of the year, leaving the fans looking forward to it lately increasing daily. Above all, however, are the big three: Serbia’s Nikola Jokić, Slovenia’s Luka Dončić and Greece’s superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. All three are believed to be able to throw their national team to the title.

Dončić had already achieved this at the age of 18 at the last European Championship in 2017. He then went to the NBA and most recently led the Dallas Mavericks almost single-handedly to the semifinals. If he is in a good mood, he is considered to be just as unstoppable in attack as the Greek Antetokounmpo. The 27-year-old even has an NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks. That leaves Jokić, who, as center of the Denver Nuggets, was voted the most valuable player in the NBA twice in a row. He then extended his contract by five years for $264 million, making him the highest-earning basketball player in NBA history.

The times when the stars prefer to go on vacation in the summer or when their employers from the USA put obstacles in their way are apparently over. The NBA, too, has finally recognized that it benefits when such tournaments spark new enthusiasm among fans. In the middle of its season, the league still does not release its players, which is why the qualifiers mostly degenerate into second- and third-class duels. But this is no longer a big issue during the summer break.

Who will put on the crown on September 18 in Berlin is still highly controversial, even among experts. The Serbs made the best impression recently, who have the great advantage of having Jokić and other tried-and-tested top players in the Euroleague, such as Vasilije Micić, in their team. In contrast to the Greeks, Serbia also plays compactly on the defensive, which makes the team less dependent on throwing luck in attack.

Only the Slovenians were able to beat Serbia in a friendly two weeks ago. After that Dončić and Co. lost surprisingly clearly with 71:90 against Germany. The reason why the Germans did not automatically become the favorites themselves is that the German Basketball Association (DBB) team had been beaten by Serbia 56:83 a week earlier.

However, one thing became clear. Due to the mass of stars, up to ten teams are probably able to win the title. The fact that four of them (France, Slovenia, Lithuania and Germany) meet early in Group B pleases the fans, who, according to the DBB, are already more than 250 for the games in Cologne and Berlin alone – despite proud daily prices of 70 euros and more bought 000 tickets. However, in the event of an unfortunate course, a favorite could already fail in the preliminary round.

Fourth place is enough to qualify for the round of 16, but national coach Gordon Herbert warns against the outsiders Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina, some of whom will also be traveling with NBA players. The focus is still on the French, who will prove to be the first big chunk on the way to Berlin this Thursday. The Olympic silver medalists usually impress with the best defense and the greatest athletics of all Europeans. The news on Wednesday that Germany’s best center, Daniel Theis, is fit in time and completes the twelve-man squad for the European Championship was all the more important. “I’m very happy that I managed to take part,” said Theis, who had missed all of the preparation due to knee problems. “I have no more complaints and can hardly wait for the start against France.”



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