Luka Doncic leads Slovenia to first Olympic basketball berth with historic performance
Luka Doncic guided Slovenia to its first Olympic basketball berth with a triple-double in a 96-85 win over host Lithuania in the final of a last-chance qualifying tournament.
Doncic, the All-NBA guard for the Dallas Mavericks, tallied 31 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to catapult the former Yugoslav republic to the Tokyo Games.
Also Sunday, Germany beat Brazil, the Czech Republic beat Greece and Italy defeated Serbia for the last Olympic men’s basketball spots.
Serbia, which in 2016 won Olympic silver and lost to the U.S. by three points, was without NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, who chose not to play for the national team after the Denver Nuggets season.
The U.S. is of course the Olympic favorite, despite a roster lacking most NBA superstars and a seventh-place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup (with even fewer household names).
Spain, Argentina and France are the world’s other traditional powers, made up the podium at 2019 Worlds and are back at the Olympics with veteran-led teams.
Upstart Slovenia won the 2017 European Championship, after never placing better than fourth previously, with an 18-year-old Doncic making the all-tournament team.
But it did not qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, leaving this week’s tournament in Kaunas as its lone path to Olympic qualification.
Slovenia, population 2.1 million, will be the smallest nation by current population to participate in an Olympic men’s basketball tournament since Estonia and Latvia in 1936, the first Olympic tournament.
Lithuania, one of the best men’s basketball nations of the last 30 years, failed to qualify for the first time since it became independent from the Soviet Union before the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Its current roster includes NBA standouts Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas.
Its Olympic appearances streak was the longest of any European nation. It was the only nation other than the U.S. to make the quarterfinals of every Olympic men’s tournament of the Dream Team era.
Lithuania was knocked out in the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2016. Before that, it lost five consecutive Olympic semifinals from 1992 through 2008 with teams led by the likes of Arvydas Sabonis (Domantas’ father who presented Doncic with an MVP award Sunday), Sarunas Marciulionis and Sarunas Jasikevicius.
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