The final four spots in this summer's FIBA World Cup were filled Saturday morning with FIBA announcing Brazil, Finland, Turkey and Greece would take the wild card spots.
Turkey and Greece are longtime European powers with Greece reaching the quarterfinals in the 2012 Olympics and Turkey reaching the finals of the 2010 Basketball World Championships. Finland earned a selection for their strong showing in Eurobasket last summer. That is a country on the rise in basketball circles. Brazil is deserving with their veteran group of players with ample amounts of international experience. Plus they are hosting the Olympics in two years.
For the teams that made it, it is very deserving. The teams that missed out — like Canada, China, Germany and Italy — there is bitter disappointment in failing to qualify and failing to earn this last-chance spot.
For young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, the World Cup this summer is an opportunity to continue their growth and development. Greece is already a loaded roster but Antetokounmpo, if he makes the team, will have a golden opportunity to continue to the incredible improvements that have already begun this year.
"I've seen a lot of progress," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "He continues to learn. He continues to improve. We continue to allow him to play and, I've said it from the very beginning with Giannis, we're going to have to live with mistakes
"There are some nights where he is going to be overmatched. Some of those mistakes and times he is overmatched, we're going to have to live with. He'll continue to get better. He'll continue to gorw, continue to get stronger and continue to get more confident at playing at this level."
Antetokounmpo started 21 straight games before Friday night's loss to Orlando when Drew opted to match up with Orlando's three-guard lineup and bring Antetokounmpo off the bench. That plan did not work as the Magic got up by as much as 25 points and had a double digit deficit they would not give up for the rest of the game.
"The Greek Freak" got most of his burn in the second half and made good on the 29 minutes he played with 15 points, seven rebounds and a -5 plus/minus rating. Not bad considering the Bucks spent most of the game down by 20-plus points.
That stint included a pretty amazing under the basket dunk from Antetokounmpo, an example of the kind of plays he has made to draw so much praise around the league — including a No. 1 spot in Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated's re-draft of the 2013 Draft, an article that piqued Larry Drew's interest.
There is obviously a long way to go between now and August 30 when the World Cup begins in Spain. And there is no guarantee whatsoever Antetokounmpo will make teh experienced Greek roster. He did not play for Greece last summer in Eurobasket. He instead competed for Greece's U20 team where he averaged 8.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in 30.9 minutes per game as Greece finished first in their first round group, but had to settle for fifth place in the tournament.
Antetokounmpo is still very very raw and Greece is a team that is always in these tournaments to win it.
"If he gets that opportunity to play for the Greek team, I think that's absolutely awesome," Drew said. "The more he plays, the better he is going to get. When he achieves an accomplishment, those type things are going to enhance his game even mroe and build his confidence even more. After that, it's going to be interesting to see how good this kid can be."
For now, the focus is on making Antetokounmpo more of a household name in Milwaukee and seeing him improve for his team in teh NBA. That means learning how to play the perimeter a bit more and continuing to improve his strength and feel for the game.
Drew said numerous times that he has some special physical tools and that Antetokounmpo reminded him of some of particular players he played with in the 1980s, although Drew would not name them.
It is a long growing process for Antetokounmpo.
"The main thing with Giannis is he continues t o develop and he continues to grow," Drew said. "When I speak of growing, I'm just talking about in the areas of getting better, particularly in the areas on our level of him playing the 2-spot and him playing some 3-spot, defensively having to defend certain guys and him getting stronger and understanding these guys and knowing their games.
"And that's what he has gotten really good at. First go around against him, you may get the advantage on him, but he sooner or later figures it out. He has that understanding. All those areas that we talk about him growing and getting better at, I just want this kid to continue to improve."