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USA draws Czech Republic, Japan, Turkey in World Cup group

2018 USA Basketball Men's National Team Minicamp

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 27: Kevin Durant #52 of the United States attends a practice session at the 2018 USA Basketball Men’s National Team minicamp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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As the two-time defending World Cup champions, USA Basketball has aspirations far beyond the group phase of the World Cup.

But that’s where the tournament starts, and Team USA will face the Czech Republic, Japan, and Turkey in Shanghai when the World Cup tips off in China on Aug. 31.

The Americans will be the clear favorite in the group, where the top two teams advance to a second group stage. Those 16 teams will be put into four groups of four and will play each other, with the top two teams from each group advancing to a final eight knockout sage.

Turkey is ranked 17th by FIBA and could have NBA players Ersan Ilyasova and Furkan Korkmaz, plus former NBAer Omar Asik. The Czech Republic is ranked 24th and is led by Tomas Satoransky. Japan is the longshot in the group, ranked 48th in the world (although FIBA’s rankings are not the most reliable indicator).

Kobe Bryant took part in the FIBA World Cup draw in China and said things will not be easy for the USA.

“I think the parity is unlike it’s ever been before,” Bryant told the Associated Press. “I think it’s a testament to how much the game is growing. But you can absolutely see one of these emerging countries come forward and have a big tournament. You know how tournaments go - one team gets momentum and gets hot, then off you go.”

Gregg Popovich will coach Team USA, a roster expected to be loaded with top NBA stars because the tournament is in China, a massive basketball shoe market. Elite players are expected to opt in at the levels not seen for other international events.

“It’s exciting to learn the makeup of our preliminary round pool and to know we will be playing our first three World Cup games in Shanghai,” Popovich said in a statement. “I think all of the pools are well balanced and I know very well there are many national teams who have a legitimate shot of winning the 2019 World Cup.”

The U.S. is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp at Las Vegas on Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The World Cup itself starts on Aug. 31 and if the Americans make the gold-medal game — as expected — they will play through Sept. 15. Which is about two weeks before NBA training camps open on the other side of the globe.