Yao among the U.S. challengers in Group D
However, there are some dangers lurking. First, can the Americans develop great team cohesion, offensively and defensively, in three weeks when some of their opponents have been together for a much longer period of time? Second, can a team made up largely of scorers become a team of role players in three weeks? Finally, once the U.S. gets out of the preliminary round, a formality, can it play under the pressure of an NCAA Tournament-like "one and done" situation in the next four games?
No matter how good everything is looking right now, this won't be easy.
Until 1991, Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia and has produced its share of basketball talent but has been lost in the shadows of Serbia and Croatia. The best-known players of this group are Beno Udrih of the Spurs, Rasho Nesterovic of the Raptors and Primoz Brezec of the Bobcats.
If Slovenia isn't happy just to be in this tournament, it has the talent to be one of its most surprising teams.
If Yao Ming can round into form quickly after missing all of the spring and summer following a broken bone in his left foot late in the NBA season, then China can advance out of group play. He will need help from 19-year-old Yi Jianlian, a 6-11 forward who is heading toward lottery status whenever he declares for the NBA draft.
Guard play is usually China's Achilles' heel, and with its most experienced guard, Li Nan, out of the tournament with an injury, this should be a big problem again.
Ricky Apodaca and Larry Ayuso are not NBA-level guards, but have enough NCAA and international experience to scare the best teams in this field on a given night. Daniel Santiago, a journeyman NBA center, is crafty enough to hurt you.
Pape Sow was injured in a Raptors summer league contest and is out. The Mavs' DeSagana Diop and the Clippers' Boniface N'Dong elected not to play, and 2006 NBA draft picks Saer Sene and Cheick Samb won't suit up, either. So things are not looking up for Senegal.
Changing the subject, Sitapha Savane, a 6-7 forward and the son of a Senegalese politician who actually paid his own way to the United States Naval Academy, had a very solid four-year career in Annapolis. He plays in the Spanish ACB league and hopes to follow in his father's footsteps after his professional career is over.
1. United States