y Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Hosts Spain and several other teams are capable of defeating a United States side missing their biggest names at the Aug. 30-Sept. 14 basketball World Cup, New York Knicks playmaker Pablo Prigioni told Reuters.
The 37-year-old Argentina point guard, who joined the Knicks in 2012 from Spanish side Caja Laboral, also announced that he would be quitting the international stage after the 24-nation tournament in order to focus on his NBA career.
“Spain and a few other teams now have a chance of beating the United States,” said Prigioni at the warm-up event in Belgrade where Argentina were soundly beaten by host nation Serbia and Puerto Rico.
“It will be interesting to see how they will adjust now they are missing their biggest names.”
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin have all rejected invitations to play as the Americans prepare to defend the World Cup they won in Istanbul in 2010.
Prigioni’s Argentina team mate Luis Scola, now plying his trade with the Indiana Pacers after five seasons at the Houston Rockets and one at the Phoenix Suns, believes the title holders remain strong favourites.
“The United States are always a good team no matter who plays and Spain will obviously be contenders too as the host nation,” Scola told Reuters.
“We are a work in progress but I believe we are a good team too capable of making an impact. My expectations are high but we have to improve because we won’t beat anybody if we play like we did in Belgrade.”
Having been a key player in Argentina’s shock triumph at the 2004 Olympics and their runners-up finish in the 2002 World Cup, Scola reminisced about his boyhood dream of becoming a household name.
“There, that’s me,” he said proudly as he showed off a photo of himself as a 10-year-old ballboy at the 1990 World Cup in Argentina, huddled in a corner as Yugoslavia beat the Soviet Union in the final in Buenos Aires
“I was there every day and watched all the games.
“I am closer to the end of my career than the beginning but I will carry on for a few more years and the World Cup will not be my last tournament for Argentina,” said 34-year-old power forward Scola.
Prigioni has decided to hang up his Argentina jersey after the World Cup to stay in shape for the most demanding basketball environment there is.
“The World Cup will be my last tournament for the national team because I want to focus entirely on the NBA next season,” he said.
“Playing in the NBA is a great experience and one that came out of the blue because I didn’t expect the opportunity so late in my career.
“I try to enjoy every day, it’s the best place to play basketball and a very nice thing in the twilight of a player’s career.”
Like the U.S. and several other teams Argentina will also be at less than full strength as guard Manu Ginobili, who won his fourth NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in June, will miss out along with Milwaukee Bucks forward Carlos Delfino.
Prigioni said his country may find it difficult to advance to the latter stages of the World Cup without the influential duo.
“It will be very tough for us without Ginobili and Delfino but we will have to adjust and play without them,” he added.
“We have to believe in our young players and find a way to compete with the resources we have.”
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)