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Top Standouts of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

David Yapkowitz breaks down five standouts from FIBA World Cup qualifying.

David Yapkowitz

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The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in 2019 in China, and different regions across the globe have already begun participating in tournaments to qualify for this event. Teams from four different regions will take part in the FIBA World Cup: five teams from Africa, seven teams from the Americas, five teams from Asia, 12 teams from Europe, and the host country China.

The qualifying tournaments wrapped up the first round of play on Monday night, and will not resume until February 2018. Although not very common, there are sometimes players who use these international tournaments as a means to boost their stock and even get to the NBA, if not put themselves on scouting radars.

Here’s a look at five of the top performers of the qualifying tournaments so far.

1. Xavier Munford – USA

Xavier Munford went undrafted out of Rhode Island as a senior after the 2013-14 season. He elected to play in the NBA’s G-League, was drafted by the Maine Red Claws, and then traded to the then Bakersfield Jam. Following a solid rookie season with the Jam, he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Lakers, playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas.

He returned to the Jam the following year and was named to the G-League West All-Star team after putting up 20.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This time, he drew the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were dealing with a rash of injuries. He played well in Memphis and even saw some playoff action. He ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Grizzlies, but they declined his option prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and he went back to the G-League.

This summer, he was a member of the USA national team that won the FIBA AmeriCup Championship, which led to him being included on the World Cup qualifying team. He was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in training camp this year and was playing with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League. In the two qualifying games so far, Team USA has used a balanced offensive attack with Munford putting up a team-high 13 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line. Munford is a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and if he can develop his playmaking game a bit more, he could draw some NBA interest once 10-day contract time rolls around.

2. Ding Yanyuhang – China

Ding Yanyuhang first came into mainstream prominence this past summer when he played with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in Las Vegas. He was no stranger to fans in China, however, as he’s been a rising star in the Chinese leagues for quite some time. For the past five years, Ding has steadily improved his game while playing in the CBA.

This past season, he won MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association while playing with the Shandong Golden Stars, the team he’s played for since 2011. He put up 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 39 games. He had two games, one in back in January and the other in February, where he scored 43 points. To open the CBA season, back in October, Ding scored 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, in a 116-114 win over the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who boast the likes of Brandon Jennings and Luis Scola.

In the qualifying tournament, he’s led China to a 2-0 record while putting up 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 46.2 percent from downtown, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s a tall forward with guard-like abilities and range out to three, the exact type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He’s already caught the eye of NBA teams after his summer league performance, and it probably won’t be long until he finds himself on an actual roster.

3. Miroslav Raduljica – Serbia

Miroslav Raduljica is a name that might be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He had a couple of brief stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-2015. Prior to that, he had a lengthy career in Europe where he’d been playing professionally since 2005. Like many overseas professionals, Raduljica started playing when he was a mere 17 years old.

Before coming to the NBA, he was already a highly decorated player, having won the FIBA Europe U20 Championship MVP (2008), the Serbian Super League MVP (2010), and winning the Serbian League title (2012). He was seldom used, however, in the NBA. Since heading back overseas, he’s had stops in Greece, Italy, and China where he currently plays with the Jiangsu Dragons.

He’s been the most recognizable player for Serbia during the World Cup qualifiers as fellow team leaders Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica are currently in the NBA. So far, he’s led Serbia to a 2-0 record in early play while putting up 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a burly big man with a nice touch around the rim, and he can step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. He’s still relatively young at 29 years old and surely could help a team off the bench.

4. Markel Brown – USA

Markel Brown is another name who should be recognizable to NBA fans. He was drafted by the Wolves in the second round of the 2014 draft and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets. During his rookie season, he played very sparingly during the first half of the 2014-15 season before being assigned to the G-League.

The second half of that season was a different story. Head coach Lionel Hollins inserted Brown into the starting lineup at shooting guard right after the All-Star break. He gave the Nets a solid boost, scoring in double figures six times over the final 31 games. His second year in Brooklyn, he returned to his role off the bench. Since then, he’s had training camp stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and he currently plays for the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.

He’s been one of the leaders for Team USA in the World Cup qualifiers, helping them to an early 2-0 record. The U.S. has used a balanced offensive attack and during those games, Brown has averaged 12.0 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Although athletic, scoring wings are a dime a dozen in the G-League, Brown does have prior NBA experience during which he played decently. He’s in the mold of a 3 and D wing and could earn a call-up later in the season when 10-day contracts are able to be signed.

5. Anderson Varejao – Brazil

If none of the other players on this list so far were familiar to NBA fans, Anderson Varejao surely must be. Varejao spent 11 and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he emerged as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. After he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2015-16 season, and subsequently waived, he joined the Golden State Warriors.

He was seldom used with the Warriors, and in the limited minutes he received, it looked like his NBA career was nearing the end. The Warriors released him last season in February. After winning the title, the Warriors offered him a championship ring, which he accepted. At age 35, he didn’t resurface anywhere else after parting ways with Golden State, and retirement seemed a likely option.

That was until the World Cup qualifiers rolled around this fall. Varejao has suited up for the Brazilian national team since 2001, one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s powered Brazil to a 2-0 record and has looked like he just might have some gas left in the tank. He’s averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The NBA game is very different, but teams could do a lot worse than Varejao as an end of the bench veteran guy. It’s likely he never sets foot on an NBA court again, but just in case, he’s showing everyone he’s still got it.

There are a few other names to watch during the World Cup qualifiers. Alessandro Gentile of Italy has looked good as the Italians are also undefeated at 2-0. Gentile was drafted by the Wolves in 2015, but his rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He could end up being a decent wing off Houston’s bench. Germany also has a 2-0 record, and they have Isaiah Hartenstein who was a second-round pick of the Rockets this past summer. He’s put up a near double-double with 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The guys on this list, though, are probably the ones with the best chance of ending up on an NBA roster anytime soon.

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