Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

World hoops body woos NBAers

FIBA hopes format change will lure stars to play for their country

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GENEVA -- Basketball's governing body will try to lure NBA stars to play in some World Cup qualifiers after creating a new format with more matches in their home countries.

The path to the revamped 2019 World Cup includes round-robin qualifying groups played in six separate fixture windows over a 14-month span starting in November 2017.

"Having the home and away games brings basketball back to the countries themselves," FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told The Associated Press. "Eventually this will benefit the whole sport around the world."

Baumann acknowledged having NBA stars regularly on national team duty was "something we would love," but that players will decide how much time to commit.

World Cup qualifiers in June and September 2018 would be most attractive to top players, he suggested. FIBA aims to schedule matches in late-June to avoid clashing with NBA playoffs.

Baumann said the governing body has good relations with the NBA, and kept the league and franchise owners informed "since Day 1" of a two-year project to improve the existing calendar.

FIBA agreed on a new competition schedule that removed some continental events from a packed four-year tournament cycle.

"NBA owners were making it relatively clear that it was not a situation they would continue to support," Baumann said by telephone from Shanghai. "We were really filling the calendar so much that we felt players were either not at the top (of their form) or had to choose which summer to play."

During Spain's rise as top challenger to the United States, Memphis Grizzlies centre Marc Gasol was selected to an Olympic Games, world or European championship every NBA off-season since 2006.

Spain will host the next worlds in 2014 as a 24-team event, before the rebranded World Cup is introduced with 32 countries in September 2019.

Baumann said skipping a year meant "getting out of the shadow" of soccer, which was playing its attention-grabbing World Cup in June-July of 2018.

Still, the new qualifying group structure -- instead of advancing from continental championships -- and 32-team format for basketball's World Cup is the trusted formula for FIFA's flagship tournament.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2012 C8

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