What Utsunomiya Opener told us about upcoming FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2022
20 May 2022
UTSUNOMIYA (Japan) - The FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2022 started spectacularly at the Utsunomiya Opener with the season launch meaning much more than crucial ranking points and bragging rights.
With the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2022, the biggest event in 3x3, just a month away, it was an important early gauge to see how some of the teams are faring before this year's showpiece in Antwerp.
Serbia are loaded but have selection dilemmas
To the shock of no one, the four-time World Cup champs are stacked with talent. It's a good headache to have but there will be stars unlucky to miss out. Selecting who makes the cut will be harder than decisions made on The Bachelor.
One player who should make his Serbia debut is new world No.1 Strahinja Stojacic, who won the MVP in Utsunomiya after a dazzling display. The springy Serb continues to get better as he makes an early case to be the best player in 3x3.
He should be joined by Ub teammate Dejan Majstorovic, who has long been a regular for Serbia and won bronze at last year's Tokyo Olympics alongside Liman big fellas Aleksandar Ratkov and Mihailo Vasic.
But places are not guaranteed. Sniper Stefan Kojic is another superstar who shone in Utsunomiya and so too did Ub's Marko Brankovic, who matched Stojacic's scoring output.
With such a wealth of in-form options, No.1 Serbia loom as the team to beat in Antwerp.
2019 feels a lifetime ago. Things have changed a lot since then but, fortunately, for USA their two main stars Robbie Hummel and Kareem Maddox wound back the clock as they formed arguably the deadliest duo in Utsunomiya.
They led Princeton to a runner-up finish, their best result since 2019, with Maddox a Mad Man around the rim while Hummel was humming from deep. They combined for an insane 62 points to prove they have not lost a step.
With the duo smoking opponents in Utsunomiya, it's given a boost for USA's title defence as they try to banish the ghosts from last year's disappointment of missing out on the Tokyo Olympics.
Host Belgium's stock is rising due to 'Must See TV'
You can look at it two ways. Glass half empty - Antwerp's semi-final curse continued in Utsunomiya and they've now lost in the final four five times from seven events in the last 12 months.
But glass full - Antwerp made it that far playing without a sub as they rode the hot hand of - you guessed it - Thibaut Vervoort, who is on a quest to show that his incredible debut last year was no fluke.
'Must See TV' regained his status as the hottest show around as he scorched opponents with a scoring binge in Utsunomiya, where he topped the charts with a crazy 40 points in just 4 games.
Just imagine Vervoort heating up in front of the loud home fans in Antwerp at the World Cup!
They also importantly beat Vienna 21-18 in the pool stage ahead of Belgium's clash with Austria early at the World Cup. It should be a psychological boost for them.
Belgium stunned the world when they almost won a medal at the Tokyo Olympics. But no one should be surprised if they finish on the podium at the World Cup.
Latvia are in good hands with Nauris Miezis still doing Nauris Miezis things.
The Olympic gold medalist hasn't missed a beat as he led a shorthanded Latvia playing without a sub, with sharpshooter Edgars Krumins missing, to the quarter finals in Utsunomiya.
Latvia might have trouble replicating their silver medal efforts at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2019 but don't write them off. They still have the heart of a champion led by Miezis, who was so incredible in Utsunomiya he even outscored Tokyo Dime by himself!.
Latvia have a depth of talent in case Krumins and Karlis Lasmanis do not play but Miezis would have to play at his absolute best to give them a chance to win their first-ever World Cup.
We just spent the previous paragraph gushing over 'The Maze' but these Dutch Masters don't fear anyone. On Day 1 in Utsumoniya, Amsterdam held Miezis to just 5 points as scorching hot Dimeo van der Horst powered them to a 21-18 win.
It was in important result with Latvia and the Netherlands set to clash in a Pool C blockbuster at the World Cup. Latvia will be strengthened, but the Netherlands have tall and rangy defenders to somewhat bother the brilliant Miezis.
Can they make him look mortal again? We can't wait to find out.
Lithuania and Austria show signs but appear off the pace
Even though Vienna lost to Antwerp in Utsunomiya, they should feel encouraged with their quarter-final finish under new player-coach Stefan Stojacic, who will also be steering the ship at the World Cup.
Vienna played gritty defense, using their size to stifle opponents, and that should make Austria highly competitive in a tough Pool D featuring USA, Belgium and Egypt. Although their lack of scoring punch outside of star Filip Krämer remains a concern and needs to be addressed before the World Cup.
While, hoops power Lithuania are the No.2 seed at the World Cup and a couple of their stars balled out in Utsunomiya. Aurelijus Pukelis led Sakiai to the quarter-finals, while Darius Tarvydas was a bucket getter with his new team Jeddah.
They led Lithuania to silver at last year's Europe Cup but it will be a tough task to repeat that effort in Antwerp. With certain rivals looking strengthened, Lithuania appear a peg below the elite after what we learnt from Utsunomiya.