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World Basketball Championships - A Perspective - 2002-09-09

Yugoslavia successfully defended its World Basketball title with a 84-77 victory over Argentina Sunday, in the Indianapolis, Indiana. U.S. fans were treated to international talent that they may have never seen or known.

Venezuela was led by 62-year-old American coach Jim Calvin. He grew up in Indiana, where basketball's history has some of its deepest roots and is followed at a frenzied pace. Calvin is enshrined in the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame and has coached in the Continental Basketball Association, in addition to stops in Kuwait, Australia and Bahrain. He says fans in the United States should watch more than just American college and National Basketball Association players. "There are some great players in this international basketball that people in America do not know anything about. Because international basketball is pretty darned good on any level, I think you could go to any country and say, 'I did not realize this is this good.' We do not have the corner on the market in Indiana and the United States, believe me," says Mr. Calvin. "It is a great game, anywhere."

Canada finished 14th in the 16-team field, just ahead of Venezuela. Canadian coach Jim Triano says several leagues around the world have developed highly competitive basketball players, who have been on display at the World Championship tournament. "You talk about the level of basketball internationally and there are teams now like New Zealand. And, people are surprised about New Zealand. But New Zealand plays great basketball," he says. "And they have for a while, because they have a great league. Basketball is getting better around the world."

Russia and the former Soviet Union combined to appear in seven straight World Basketball championship finals, before this tournament. Russia placed tenth this year. Coach Stanislav Eremine says his team faced more experienced players than in the past. "These tournaments show that most of the teams are at a much higher level than before," he says. "The best teams show very aggressive and team defense. Individual and team defense. And I think the selection of the shot is now much better."

Angola was the African champion and showed that, despite being the smallest team, it could compete well with others. Angola placed 11th, the best showing ever for an African team at the World Championship. Angolan coach Mario Palma says teams from Nigeria and Senegal have developed even more talent, a trend he says that has been seen over the past few years. "In the [Sydney] Olympic games, we saw a lot of teams coming up. Basketball is improving and growing so fast that nobody knows who is going to win the next game."

The United States finished a disappointing sixth, suffering its first three international losses in 10 years of using professional National Basketball Association players. But U.S. head coach George Karl says it happened for a reason. "The world is catching up. What is wrong with that? I do not think there is anything wrong with that."

Basketball was born in the United States. Many coaches at the World Championship still look to this year's host nation as the leader in talent, with a level of play to which they aspire. The latest tournament has shown the rest of the world is learning very quickly.