PHOENIX SUNS

FIBA EuroBasket 2022 features past and present Suns, Sun Devils, Wildcats

Aug 27, 2022, 8:30 AM | Updated: Sep 29, 2022, 6:57 am
Dario Saric of Croatia dribbles the ball during the basketball friendly match between Slovenia and ...
Dario Saric of Croatia dribbles the ball during the basketball friendly match between Slovenia and Croatia in Dvorak Zlatorog hall on August 20, 2022 in Celje, Slovenia. (Photo by Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images)

Does that condensed, pandemic-affected NBA schedule the last two years have you itching for NBA basketball after the league came back to its regular amount of time off this offseason?

You’re in luck! Sort of! FIBA EuroBasket 2022 kicks off on Thursday between the top international teams in Europe. While the gold-medal-winning United States from last year’s Olympics is obviously not featured, there are plenty of terrific teams and some of the best players in the world.

Among the field includes a member of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Wildcats, plus a few former Wildcats and Suns and an ex-Sun Devil.

Here are those familiar names.

(If you’d like to watch the tournament, all games are set to be on ESPN+ and you can see the FIBA schedule sync up to your time zone here)

Dario Saric, F/C, Croatia (Phoenix Suns)

Suns fans will be closely monitoring Saric, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals.

Saric, Utah Jazz wing Bojan Bogdanovic and Los Angeles Clippers Ivica Zubac headline a top-heavy roster that a deep run in the tournament isn’t likely for, but it should advance from the group stages and could produce an upset.

Bogdanovic’s perimeter scoring, Zubac’s interior scoring and Saric doing his usual glue guy stuff will cause problems for opposing defenses. It’ll come down to how Croatia’s own defense comes together and if it has any sort of reliable answer at point guard.

For now, that’s former Summer Sun Jaleen Smith. You’ll remember him because the 2021 Summer League squad featured 2020 first-round pick Jalen Smith as well. What a situation that was.

Kerr Kriisa, G, Estonia (Arizona)

Estonia is one of the countries that will be helped greatly by just qualifying for this iteration of EuroBasket and testing itself against the best of the best. Kriisa is in that same boat, as getting to face NBA players and top overseas products while being a starting guard for Estonia will be a huge boost for him heading into next season.

Kriisa is entering his third season with the Wildcats and has already established himself as a fan favorite after starting at point guard for one of the top teams in college basketball last season. While he has an eclectic playstyle that can be a bit of a roller-coaster, no one can doubt the energy and heart Kriisa plays with. He’s already talked back and forth with Slovenia’s Luka Doncic in FIBA play this summer while shaking his finger at him, because of course he has.

Kriisa is a skilled point guard who is comfortable shooting off the bounce in any situation, bringing the type of firepower Estonia will need to come away with a win in a challenging group versus Croatia, Greece, Great Britain, Italy and Ukraine.

Elie Okobo, G, France (Suns, 2018-20)

(Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)

The Suns’ second-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft didn’t make the French team that won a silver medal in Tokyo but could prove to be a sparkplug ball-handler for one of the favorites in the tournament.

Okobo, still only 24 years old, is coming off his return to professional basketball overseas in France last year, winning the French League title and Finals MVP with ASVEL. He signed with AS Monaco in July, one of the biggest teams in France. Don’t rule out an NBA return for him at some point.

Goran Dragic, G, Slovenia (Suns 2008-11, 2012-15)

Dragic has always been a stud in international play. He won the 2017 edition of EuroBasket with a then-18-year-old Doncic, who is going to be one of the NBA elite dominating this tournament.

Slovenia joins Serbia, France and Greece as the four most popular picks to win the whole thing. Dragic still has an important role on the team as another ball-handler to work with Doncic, as does Dragic’s brother Zoran, who also had a stint in Phoenix in 2014-15.

Lauri Markkanen, F, Finland (Arizona, 2016-17)

Elias Valtonen, G, Finland (Arizona State, 2018-20)

(Photo by Goran Kovacic/Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images)

The Finns will be fighting to advance from the group stages, and very well could, thanks to two former local talents.

Markkanen’s NBA career hasn’t met the heights of the No. 7 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, but a move to the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to last season has helped Markkanen redefine himself into a 3-and-D player. Cleveland went big last year with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Markkanen all starting, where Markkanen surprised many with how well he holds up defensively.

That is less of his role for Finland, where he is the top option and will get to flex all the offensive skill that made him such a tantalizing draft prospect.

Valtonen only averaged two points per game as a sophomore for the Sun Devils before leaving college in 2020 and playing professionally in Germany. Last year, he signed with Baxi Manresa, a team in Spain’s top division. Valtonen earned a consistent rotation role in Spain and is now one of Finland’s most important players.

Nico Mannion G, Italy (Arizona, 2019-20)

The Italians were one of the darkhorses of the tournament before NBA mainstay Danilo Gallinari tore his meniscus in a World Cup 2023 qualifier on Saturday. It’s a huge bummer for a country that hasn’t finished better than 7th in EuroBasket since 2003 and had a real shot at making some noise but that’ll be a whole lot tougher without Gallinari.

Still, this is a fun team to watch with recent Utah Jazz signing Simone Fontecchio and former New Orleans Pelican Nicolo Melli, plus Mannion, who looks to be Italy’s primary guard off the bench. That’s where he can certainly provide an offensive punch, as he’s averaged 14 points per game in his four World Cup 2023 qualifying matches.

Mannion arrived in Tucson as a potential first-round pick before his lone freshman season was a mixed bag, and after being selected in the late second round and spending one year with the Golden State Warriors, he went to go play overseas in 2021.

That’s where Mannion joined up with Virtus Bologna, one of the best sides in Italy and winners of 2021-22 EuroCup, the second-biggest European club basketball tournament.

Dusan Ristic, C, Serbia (Arizona, 2014-18)

(Photo by NIKOLA KRSTIC/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Serbia, armed with plenty of seasoned overseas players and Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, is the betting favorite in the tournament.

Ristic isn’t expected to play much given the back-to-back NBA MVP heads his position on the depth chart.

He has played professionally in Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia and Spain.

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FIBA EuroBasket 2022 features past and present Suns, Sun Devils, Wildcats