Commentary

Group A: Argentina, Russia highlight deep field

Originally Published: August 8, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Click here for Chris Sheridan's preview of Group B

A look at the six teams competing in Group A of the Olympic men's basketball tournament:


Argentina


The defending Olympic champions return several key members of the team that defeated Italy for the gold medal in 2004 in Athens. Four of their five starters -- Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola and Fabricio Oberto -- are NBA players, and their sixth man, Carlos Delfino, was an NBA player, too, before becoming one of several players who accepted more lucrative offers this summer to play in Europe.

Not as deep as they once were, with Walter Herrmann and Ruben Wolkowyski opting to sit out this summer.

Key player: Point guard Pablo Prigioni, who takes over the job held by Pepe Sanchez four years ago.



Australia


Known as the Boomers in their homeland, they have been competitive in warm-up matches against Argentina and the United States. During the game against the Americans in Shanghai, they tried to get in the superstars' heads by refusing to call them by their names. "I've got No. 6; you've got No. 11," they'd say when setting up to defend an inbounds play involving LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

But the most striking pre-Olympics Boomers story was told to ESPN.com by retired Aussie power forward Andrew Vlahov:

"At the 1996 worlds, I got into it with Alonzo Mourning and Shawn Kemp, and I told them: 'If either of you want to fight me, one of you will never walk again.'"

Key player: Chris Anstey, the Australian League MVP, who has a better inside-outside game than Andrew Bogut.



Croatia


One of three teams to qualify for the Olympics in July at a tournament in Athens. Basketball fans in America won't be familiar with many of Croatia's players, other than Zoran Planinic, who spent three years with the New Jersey Nets as Jason Kidd's backup.

Damir Markota, who spent one season with the Milwaukee Bucks, was left off the final roster after spraining his ankle in Athens. Coach Jasmin Repesa selected 7-footer Damjan Rudez over NBA prospect Ante Tomic as Markota's replacement.

Key player: Davor Kus, a shooting guard who plays professionally for Unicaja Malaga of the Spanish League.



Iran


Another team unfamiliar to American basketball fans -- except those who watched the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league in Utah, where Iran lost by 17 to the Dallas Mavericks and by 25 to the Utah Jazz. Qualified by winning the 2007 FIBA Asia championship, but have zero chance of making it out of the preliminary round.

Key player: Hamad Ehadidi, a 23-year-old, 7-foot-2 center who had 19 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks versus the Mavs to emerge on the radar of NBA scouts. His conditioning, however, is his primary weakness. He declared for the draft in 2004 and was not selected.



Lithuania


Finished third in the Olympics in 1992, 1996 and 2000. In 2004, they defeated the United States in the preliminary round in Athens before losing a rematch to the Americans in the bronze-medal game.

A back injury has kept Darius Songaila of the Washington Wizards off the team, but Linas Kleiza of the Denver Nuggets is on board, as is former NBA player Sarunas Jasikevicius, who made seven 3s and scored 28 points in Lithuania's victory over the United States in '04.

Key player: Ramunas Siskauskas, who spent last season with Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow. He can play the 1, 2 or 3, and his offensive game is as crafty as it is unorthodox.



Russia


Stunned the basketball world in summer 2007 by defeating Spain in Madrid to win the European Championship. Coached by Israeli-American David Blatt and led by American expatriate J.R. Holden from Pittsburgh, who plays for CSKA Moscow and holds a Russian passport.

They are tall and they are long, but they aren't particularly good shooters. Their best-known star is the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko, who won MVP honors at EuroBasket last summer.

Key player: Viktor Khryapa, who was added to the 12-man roster Thursday despite missing all of Russia's tuneup games with a sprained ankle.

Click here for Chris Sheridan's preview of Group B

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.