Surprise package poland intend to spoil the party
HAMBURG (FIBA U17 World Championship) - The freakish heat has been a feature of this inaugural edition of the FIBA U17 World Championship and with an eagerly awaited gold medal game between Poland and the USA sheduled for 16:00 CET, temperatures are set to soar further still.
Pre-tournament favourites USA has looked unstoppable all tournament long, and if at all possible, have gained momentum with each of their seven victories. Team play - visible on court and in the stats sheets - is the feature head coach Don Showalter has admitted to being most pleased about, while there have been more than a couple of memorable performances.
Poland on the other hand were not pre-tournament favourites. In fact, although close followers of international youth basketball murmured the words dark horse in the lead up to the Championship, Poland's unbeaten run has come as such a surprise that the Polish Federation and a number of media booked a last minute trip to Hamburg to assist the semi-final, and have stayed on for the final.
How many people truly believe that Poland can beat the USA? Some would say very few. Poland would say it doesn't matter. What matters the Polish coaching staff and believe that the players believe they do.
In yesterday's semi-final preview we highlighted the importance of Poland's backbone of Ponitka, Michalak and Karnowski. Little has changed since yesterday, but for the fact that this trio will have to repeat - probably better - their semi-final performance for Poland to get a shot at gold.
The toughness of last night's game and the fact that they will have had two hours less to recover does not hang in favour of Poland, who rely heavily on their immense physical resources, nor does the fact that they have not been able to rotate as much as their opponents of today.
Team USA is looking frighteningly sharp. Mc Adoo's double doubles have made him a strong contender for MVP. Gilchrist, who has had his ups and downs, had his best game yet against Canada last night, Beal has been strong, Cook and Wroten have also been excellent. Basically, the USA's depth is outstanding.
Defensively what these USA youngsters have magaged to restrict space within the paint and under the rim to almost nothing at all. This was most evident in yesterday's game with Canada. But Poland's Karnowski not only seems to be able to create space, he "is" space. If Ponitka shoots well and Karnowski manages to get more than his share of the few that don't go in, Poland will definitely trouble the USA.
Trouble the USA that is, if they are able to prevent the American scoring machine from getting going. So Karnowski will of course be required at the other end of the court, where his shot stopping abilities have complemented his rebounding skills well.
The USA are massive favourites. But as any follower of basketball knows, upsets are a feature of the international game. What is for certain is that the spectators of Hamburg’s Sporthalle are in for a treat.