Nowitzki, Gasol highlight Group B

Updated: August 17, 2006, 4:48 PM ET
By Fran Fraschilla | Special to ESPN.com

World Championship: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

Spain

Spain
This is one of the four or five teams that possess a legitimate chance to win the World Championship on Sept. 3. It is led by an NBA star in Pau Gasol, who did not play in the European Championship in 2005 and is on a mission to vault Spain into elite status internationally.

Pau Gasol
Gasol
Along with Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, Gasol is the best frontcourt scorer in the tournament. In addition, he plays with one of the most underrated pair of guards in the world right now in Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors and Juan Carlos Navarro of Barcelona. As a 22-year-old, Navarro lit up Team USA for 26 points in a win at the 2002 World Championship.

Jorge Garbajosa, a recent Raptors pickup, has been one of the best post players in Europe over the last five years. One other thought: Spain has defeated Argentina six straight times.


Germany

Germany
After a 104-game season that culminated with an appearance in the NBA Finals, Nowitzki took three weeks off and jumped back into German national team practices. It was Nowitzki's monster MVP performance in the 2005 European Championship that helped Germany to a surprising silver medal and qualified it for Japan.

Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of help for Mavs Man. Ademola Okulaja and Patrick Femerling, who played at North Carolina and Washington, respectively, are solid role players. Pascal Roller is a heady point guard but not blessed with great talent. Nevertheless, this team is always well-prepared by coach Dirk Bauermann and with a talent like Nowitzki, it is dangerous.


Panama

Panama
This is a sneaky good team that may not have much of a chance to medal but could cause a lot of problems for the rest of Group B. All five starters enjoyed very good success in their NCAA careers.

Ed Cota starred on three Final Four teams at North Carolina and has played seemingly everywhere in Europe. Ruben Douglas led the nation in scoring at New Mexico in 2003 and currently stars in Spain while Michael Hicks finished second in the NCAA scoring race in 2000. In addition, 6-foot-9 center Ruben Garces helped Providence to an Elite Eight appearance in 1997 and Jaime Lloreda averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds as a senior at LSU in 2003.

It is hoped that new coach Guillermo Vecchio, a veteran of the Argentina national team, can provide some stability. By the way, the coach who last summer helped Panama qualify for the World Championship at the FIBA Americas tournament: Nolan Richardson.


Japan

Japan
Without its best player, Yuta Tabuse, a jet-quick point guard who starred at Division II Brigham Young-Hawaii and had a recent brief NBA stint with the Phoenix Suns, there is not a lot of hope for the host country in this tournament.

Kei Igarashi does not possess Tabuse's experience but does have an excellent opportunity to step out from Tabuse's shadow and play well. Advancing in the tournament would be cause for joy among Japanese basketball fans.


New Zealand

New Zealand
The Tall Blacks were the hit of the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. They finished fourth in the tournament and got rave reviews for their play. Pero Cameron, a sweet-shooting 6-7 forward, was the only non-NBA player to make the all-tournament team.

Craig Bradshaw, a 6-10 center who currently stars at Winthrop University, will be an NBA prospect next season. Kirk Penny, the former Wisconsin standout, and Phil Jones, also are dangerous shooters. This is a fun team to watch and certainly can advance to the next round, but a top-eight finish is probably a great accomplishment this year.


Angola

Angola
This has been the dominant team in Africa for some time, but it is also a team in transition. The architect of Angola's success recently, Mario Palma, has left to become the national team coach of Jordan, and its best player, Angelo Vitoriano, has retired at the age of 37. However, Olimpio Cipriano leads a young group of talented players to Japan. Advancing out of the preliminary round would be a nice accomplishment.

Fran Fraschilla is a college basketball analyst for ESPN. He formerly was the head coach at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico.

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