Expert Panel makes FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments picks

SYDNEY (Australia) – As excitement builds ahead of next month’s FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournaments, we check in with an expert panel to get their predictions.

We’ve turned to a trio of FIBA commentators, as well as FIBA’s women’s hoops specialist to get their thoughts on how things will go down in the scramble to make it to Sydney for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 in September.

Shona Thorburn is a two-time Olympian with Canada and is an Assistant Coach with EuroLeague Women side and reigning French champions Basket Landes.  Azania Stewart is an Olympian with Great Britain and has been making EuroCup Women history this season with London Lions.

Jeff Taylor is the legendary ‘The Voice of FIBA’ and has been commentating on the biggest women’s games for two decades. Paul Nilsen lives and breathes women’s hoops and is a passionate advocate for the female global game at all levels.

Who is the team to watch in the Qualifying Tournaments and why?

Shona: Japan! I absolutely love watching Japan play. A fast, efficient and exciting team on offense, who play with smarts and tenacity on defense to make up for their lack of size. It will be great to see Ramu Tokashiki back in action also.

Azania: I agree with Shona and will also say Japan. Being a host country can really give you confidence and they can carry on their momentum they have started in their previous tournament on home soil at Tokyo 2020. But with the window being so short and also timed mid-season, there is not a lot of time for preparation and anything can happen!

Jeff: I’m eager to see if the hunger is still there for Japan after dominating Asia for several years and also grabbing silver at the Olympics. When push came to shove, they were awesome at the FIBA Asia Cup, despite a new coach and some new players.

Paul: Watching China will be fascinating because they have the talent needed for a podium challenge in Sydney. They are quick, physical, smart, can shoot and have two of the best young players globally in Han Xu and Li Yueri. But they can’t figure out how to play them both together as ‘twin towers’. It’s a problem they ideally need to solve. I also love watching Sijing Huang on the wing.

Who might cause a surprise by making it to the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022?

Shona: Bosnia and Herzegovina could continue to make history. After an amazing FIBA Women’s Eurobasket 2021 where they held their own with some of the top countries in the world and finished 5th at last summer’s event, we could see them continue their Cinderella run.

 Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think this team really empowers the strength of team work and the strength of anything is possible when you work together. I’m very excited to commentate this team in Osaka.

Jeff: I’d go for Bosnia and Herzegovina, or maybe Belarus. Jonquel Jones is one of the best players in the world, clearly, for the former and Belarus are – well, Belarus! They may win ugly, but they win. If I had to choose between the two, I’d probably still go for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Paul: Moving away from the understandable and exciting Bosnia and Herzegovina bandwagon, maybe Korea can qualify for yet another global tournament. Rumors of their expected demise have proven to be premature and after a solid showing at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2021, they could do it if they can get Park Jisu back in the mix.

Who will have a ‘breakout performance’ and rise to the challenge in these Qualifying Tournaments?

Shona: Marianna Tolo is considered a veteran of the women’s game but has always taken a backseat role for Australia. Without the likes of Liz Cambage, I think it will now be Tolo’s time to step up and show what she is capable of doing for the Opals. She has had a great start for Basket Landes in EuroLeague Women and the French League, so hopefully the confidence she is playing with now will transfer over to the Australian national team.

Azania: Tina Krajisnik from Serbia because I think she has been an underrated post for a long time. But I think she works incredibly hard and does all the little things which are hugely important. Any team is lucky to have her on their roster.

Jeff: I don’t know if Lauren Scherf will even make the Australia team but she should. She’s big, strong, combative. She showed real toughness at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup and can help the Opals.

Paul: Sika Kone has been a sensation at youth level with her phenomenal displays at the past two FIBA Women’s U19 Basketball World Cup tournaments. She is capable even at her young age of inspiring Mali to senior success. Even if they don’t advance, I hope she can shine as she is so powerful and talented.

Who is the one player you are most looking forward to watching and why?

Shona: Jonquel Jones from Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you haven’t heard her name you must have been living under a rock the last 8 months. She was an All-Star 5 member at the last FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament, was WNBA MVP, and is currently playing for the best team in Euroleague Women in UMMC Ekaterinburg. Her game resembles that of Kevin Durrant as there is not much she can’t do offensively which she proved last summer when she averaged 33.6 points and 16.8 rebounds per game for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Can she continue to dominate the women’s game?

Azania: Jonquel Jones because I think she is really changing the women’s game and seemed to be very humble while embracing the role of a leader not only for her team, but for her adopted country in general.

Jeff: I want to see Maria Vadeeva play at her peak, give nothing away against elite bigs for the USA and Belgium, elevate Russia’s game, and make us all think that she is special.

Paul: Rui Machida made my 2020. Watching her break the Olympic assists record and inspire Japan to a historic silver medal was amazing. She handed out assists more easily than I could hand out candy, which makes me smile even now. Meanwhile her astonishing modesty after games was even more breathtaking and beautiful to witness.  It’s a fairytale story and maybe she can write another chapter.

Which of the so-called ‘big gun’ nations do you think might miss out on a ticket to Sydney and why?

Shona: I think it is fair to say Canada had a frustrating and disappointing summer of 2021 after finishing in third place at the AmeriCup Women and only winning one game over Korea at the Tokyo Olympics. Long time head coach Thomaidis stepped down in September, but Canada had still not appointed a new head coach at the start of 2021. They will not have much time to implement new systems and a style of play before the games roll around in February.

Azania: Belgium, as they have maybe lost some of their main leadership pieces. It will be interesting to see how they try and bounce back.

Jeff: Certainly, Canada fans should be nervous. They are in the same group with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belarus, two countries that played well this past summer. At the start of January, Canada had yet to even name a new coach after parting with Lisa Thomaidis! Maybe there should be some unease in Serbia, too, now that FIBA Women’s EuroBasket MVP Sonja Vasic and stalwart Jelena Brooks have retired. Both Brazil and Korea can be dangerous, but Serbia will be at home so I would think they’d be okay.

Paul: I agree Canada could be in peril but there might also be a lot of pressure on African champions Nigeria, too. While hugely talented, there have been some well documented disagreements in the camp. Even if on paper they should not and probably will not miss their ticket, the game against Mali might be tricky, especially if their African rivals play to their full potential.