Basketball Regional qualifying starts this week

Two spots are available in EuroBasket and another pair in the FIBA Americas tournament. The winner and runner-up in each event will clinch berths in London next July.

Three teams have also secured their places in the 12-team field.

The defending Olympic champion U.S. was the first by winning the world championship last summer in Turkey. Britain was later awarded an automatic berth by FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, as the Olympic host, and Tunisia became the first surprise team by knocking off Angola on Sunday to win the African title.

Spain, the reigning European champion, returns Pau and Marc Gasol, and much of the core of the team that won the 2006 world championship and finished second to the Americans in the 2008 Olympics. The Spaniards also added more inside strength with Oklahoma City’sSerge Ibaka, a native of the Republic of Congo who played for Spanish clubs for three years, but must navigate a difficult 24-team field in Lithuania.

“The preparation has been good,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo told after a recent exhibition victory over Australia.

“We faced the best European teams and with the exception of two or three (games), they have been high-level rivals that have tested us in most games, although we won almost all of them,” Scariolo said.

Despite the NBA lockout, many teams were able to secure insurance to cover their players in case of injury, allowing top players such as NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) andTony Parker (France) to suit up.

Favored Argentina will have Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola in uniform for the tournament it’s hosting. The “Golden Generation” is hoping for one last run after winning the 2004 Olympic gold medal and a silver in the ’02 world championships.

The 10-team FIBA Americas tournament starts Tuesday, with the championship game on Sept. 11. Seeking its first Olympic berth, the Dominican Republic has turned to Kentucky coach John Calipari and is led by NBA All-Star Al Horford of Atlanta.

EuroBasket begins Wednesday and runs through Sept. 18.

Tunisia earned its first Olympic basketball berth with Sunday’s 67-56 victory over Angola, the longtime African power. The Asian qualifier and Oceania one, pitting Australia against New Zealand, will be played later in September.

The third through sixth-place teams at EuroBasket and the teams finishing 3-5 in Argentina will advance to next summer’s Olympic qualifying tournament, where the final three berths to London will be available. That field will also include two teams from Asia, two from Africa and the loser of the Australia/New Zealand series.


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