FIBA World Cup

NBA big men Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas steal the show in World Cup opener at MOA Arena 

Martin Mendoza

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NBA big men Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas steal the show in World Cup opener at MOA Arena 

ALL IN. Montenegro star Nikola Vucevic celebrates a basket in his national team's FIBA World Cup opening game against Mexico.


Chicago Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic and New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas both post double-doubles to lead their respective countries on day one of FIBA World Cup action at the Mall of Asia Arena

MANILA, Philippines – While most Filipino hoop fans tuned in to the action-packed, record-breaking 2023 FIBA World Cup opener featuring Gilas Pilipinas at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, top-notch basketball was also being played simultaneously in another Manila venue on Friday, August 25. 

Like NBA players Jordan Clarkson of the Philippines, Karl-Anthony Towns of Dominican Republic, and Simone Fontecchio of Italy – who all came to play at the Philippine Arena on Friday – it was the pair of NBA big men Nikola Vucevic of Montenegro and Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania who stole the show in Group D festivities at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Chicago Bulls star big man Vucevic dropped a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead Montenegro past Mexico, 91-71, while the New Orleans Pelicans center Valanciunas posted his own version of a double-double of 15 markers and 10 boards in Lithuania’s 93-67 thrashing of Egypt.

With many NBA stars skipping this year’s World Cup due to various reasons, the two-time NBA All-Star Vucevic believes suiting up for his home country will make him a better player come the 2023-2024 NBA season, noting the style of play in FIBA and NBA are very different.

“I’m glad I was able to come here this summer. I was able to sign a new contract with Chicago early on and be able to come here,” said Vucevic, who shot an efficient 11-of-15 field-goal clip, including a perfect 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.

“For me, it’s a good experience because the NBA game and the FIBA game are so different. Every experience like that, any adjustment makes you a better player,” he added.

Despite missing the likes of NBA superstars such as Nikola Jokic of Serbia, Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece, and Jayson Tatum of USA, a total of 55 current NBA players are competing for their respective countries in this year’s World Cup, the highest tally in FIBA World Cup history.

Highlighting this record-breaking list are NBA All-Stars Luka Doncic of Slovenia, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Canada, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Brandon Ingram, and Jaren Jackson Jr. of USA, and Lauri Markkanen of Finland, among others.

Similar to Clarkson, Towns, and Vucevic – who all breached the 20-point territory in their group phase matches in the Philippines on Friday – Gilgeous-Alexander likewise delivered a high-scoring performance for Canada on opening day, sizzling for 27 points in their 95-65 rout of the Rudy Gobert-led France at the Indonesia Arena in Jakarta. – 

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