Tokyo Olympics: Can the Jazz Trio Help Countries Reach Olympic Glory?
From July 25, the world basketball hub will be the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, where all of the men’s and women’s Olympic basketball tournaments will take place and Utah Jazz will be well represented from the start.
Joe Ingles (Australia), Rudy Gobert (France) and Miye Oni (Nigeria) will all compete to win their first Olympic medal. In fact, Australia and Nigeria have never won an Olympic medal in basketball, and although France won two silver medals in the sport, the last time was at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
The biggest questions ahead of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Games, of course, revolve around COVID-19 and its impact on competition and namely its impact on Team USA. Think of this as your jazz-centric Olympic introduction – what to know and who to watch.
The Australian Men’s National Team, known as the Boomers, is widely regarded as the team with the best chance to challenge the US team at the Olympics.
International basketball journalist Igor Curkovic surmises that most people will try to win an Australian medal in Tokyo, not only because of their star roster, but also because they narrowly missed it so recently.
“The whole world probably wants to see the baby boomers step onto the podium in Tokyo,” writes Curkovic. “Because they fell in love with the Rio 2016 Olympics and the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, they ended up in fourth place every time.”
Ingles, Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs) and Aron Baynes (Toronto Raptors) lead the squad which also includes NBA players like Matisse Thybulle (Philadelphia 76ers), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers), Josh Green ( Dallas Mavericks) and former Jazzman Dante Exum (Cavaliers) as well as some of the best players in the Australian NBL.
The Boomers won their three exhibition games against Argentina, Team USA and Nigeria, while training in Las Vegas, but their last friendly against Team USA was canceled when health and safety protocols prevented the US side from participating.
In addition to their near misses, much of the Baby Boomer roster is aging, and it’s unclear how long this group will be able to compete for a medal together. They are already without Andrew Bogut, who retired from basketball in December at age 36, and for everyone else, Baynes (34), Ingles (33) and Mills (32) could decide to hang up their sneakers before the Paris 2024 Games.
Gobert is undoubtedly the headliner of the France team. The NBA three-time defensive player of the year leads a team that has long been seen as a contender for medals leading up to the Tokyo Games, mainly because they won bronze at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, beating both the United States and Australia.
But, France have lost their three exhibition games leading up to the Tokyo Games, two games against Spain and another against Japan, despite a roster that includes NBA players Nicolas Batum (Los Angeles Clippers), Evan Fournier (Boston Celtics), Timothe Luwawu -Cabarrot (Brooklyn Nets) and Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks).
The Nigerian national team has become the wellness team and underdog of the Olympics. Coach Mike Brown (currently assistant to the Golden State Warriors and former coach of the Lakers and Los Angeles Cavaliers) led the Nigerian team to exhibition victories over the United States and Argentina. The Nigerian squad includes eight current NBA players – Josh Okogie (Minnesota Timberwolves), Precious Achiuwa (Miami Heat) and Chimezie Metu (Sacramento Kings) play alongside Gabe Vincent (Heat), KZ Okpala (Heat), Jahlil Okafor (Detroit Pistons), Jazz’s Oni and Jordan Nwora (Milwaukee Bucks), who will join the team in Tokyo following the conclusion of the NBA Finals. In addition, former Jazzman Ekpe Udoh is on the list of 12 players.
Although the Nigerian team is not expected to win a medal in Tokyo, it could make unexpected waves and shock people.
United States Team
While there are no jazz players on the United States Men’s National Team, what is happening and happening with the United States team could drastically change the Olympic terrain.
The team are still waiting for three players who are in the NBA Finals – Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton of the Bucks – and have had major upheavals because of the coronavirus.
Jerami Grant ran out of time during camp due to health and safety protocols, and Washington Wizards goaltender Bradley Beal is no longer with the team after being in COVID-19 health and safety protocols and was replaced by Spurs’ Keldon Johnson. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls) is currently in health and safety protocols and did not travel with the team to Tokyo on Monday. In fact, Team USA only went to Tokyo with eight players on their flight.
While the team still boasts top talent like Kevin Durant (Nets), former Weber State greats Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Draymond Green (Warriors), there are questions about their ability to field a full team and how much they will be able to perform given that three of their players will have such a quick turnaround after the NBA Finals and the start of Olympic competition.
Due to the time difference, some games may be difficult to watch. But, in the interest of being fully informed, the first game of France and Team USA will meet on July 25 at 6:00 a.m. MST. Australia and Nigeria will also meet in their first match on July 25 at 2:20 am MDT.