Saturday will mark the beginning of the FIBA World Cup, and though many of the United States’ best players will not be there, it is still the best collection of talent the basketball world has to offer outside of the NBA.
While the marquee players at the event have made their name as professionals, there are some old friends in the field who college basketball fans will remember fondly.
These are the guys in the field who we know not for what they’ve done in the NBA, but for what they did on campus:
Alex Franklin, Puerto Rico, Siena
Led by now-Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, Siena had a great three-season run from 2007-2010, making the NCAA Tournament all three years and winning two Tournament games along the way.
Alex Franklin was a major part of those teams, averaging over 13 PPG all three years and being voted MAAC Player of the Year and an Honorable Mention AP All-American as a senior in 2010.
Franklin will start at Small Forward for Puerto Rico at the World Cup, and figures to be one of their main scoring options after quicksilver guards Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea.
Puerto Rico failed to advance from the group stages at the last World Championships, but are expected to advance this time around. Though Franklin doesn’t have the NBA pedigree of Arroyo, Barea, or frontcourt mate Renaldo Balkman, he will be a big part of the team’s efforts to advance.
Gabe Norwood, Philippines, George Mason
Gabe Norwood wasn’t a major name in college, but he is plying his trade for the most lovable underdog in the tournament: the undersized squad from the basketball-crazy Philippines.
Norwood does have lovable underdog in his past though, as he was a reserve for the 2006 George Mason Final Four team that captured the hearts of college basketball nation and presaged the runs made by Butler and Virginia Commonwealth in subsequent years.
Norwood is something of a Swiss Army knife for the Philippines, he averaged 7 and 5 in the 2012 Asian Cup which qualified the team for this tournament, and is the team’s defensive stopper and most athletic player.
It will be an upset if the Philippines even win a game at the World Cup, but with a player in the fold who can channel the spirit of Jim Larranaga’s miracle team, it won’t surprise college basketball fans if they do.
Arsalan Kazemi, Iran, Oregon (via Rice)
Kazemi had a very good college career, garnering two Second Team All-Conference USA nods at Rice before transferring and averaging 9 points and 10 rebounds a game on Oregon’s 2013 Sweet 16 team.
Kazemi will also have a huge say in his team’s success or failure in Spain. Iran, like Puerto Rico, is a solid threat to advance past the group stages despite failing to do so in 2010.
If they do, it will be largely because of the twin towers of Kazemi, the first Iranian ever drafted by an NBA team (though he played in Iran last year after Philadelphia declined to offer him a roster spot) and former Grizzlies and Suns center Hamed Hadaddi.
Kazemi is an athletic power forward whose best skill is his rebounding. He will also shoulder much of the scoring load playing for Iran. A solid performance by Kazemi could help pave the road to not only the knockout stage for Iran, but to the NBA for Arsalan.
Kirk Penney, New Zealand, Wisconsin
Penney is now over a decade removed from his time at Wisconsin, but that doesn’t diminish what was a great college career.
Penney was a reserve for Wisconsin’s 2000 Final Four team as a freshman, but asserted himself later in his career. By the time he graduated, he had nearly 1,500 points and had been named First Team All-Big Ten twice.
Penney is not only the most decorated college player on this list, but figures to have the biggest role for his national team. Penney was second in entire 2010 tournament in scoring, averaging 24.7 PPG.
Penney also had 29 points and 6 assists in New Zealand’s final tune-up, a surprise win over European power Croatia.
Penney will team up with current Big Ten guard Tai Webster of Nebraska in the backcourt, making New Zealand possibly the most college basketball fan-friendly team outside the Americans.