The second round of qualifying games for the 2019 Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) World Cup will tip off on Thursday and the Los Angeles Lakers will be well represented as Ivica Zubac and Svi Mykhailiuk are expected to suit up for Croatia and Ukraine, respectively.
Neither Zubac or Mykhailiuk are strangers to the international stage. Zubac was one of the star players for Croatia during the first round of qualifiers in June and Mykhailiuk made his debut for Ukraine’s senior squad at the age of 17. However, this will be Mykhailiuk’s first time putting on the Ukraine jersey since 2014.
Here’s what the Lakers rookie had to say about helping his country qualify for next year’s FIBA Basketball World in China.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play for the national team of Ukraine. I am a patriot,” Mykhailiuk said in a statement released by the Ukranian national team. “I am looking forward to playing against Spain and I’m going to help the national team in the nearest upcoming games. I know our team cannot afford to make mistakes, so even against such a formidable opponent, we will be looking for a win.”
Mykhailiuk was excellent for the Lakers at the NBA Summer League Tournament in Las Vegas, and he’ll need some of that momentum to help carry Ukraine to the next stage of international play. Ukraine is currently seeded No. 5 in their group with the No. 1 seeded Spain squad on the schedule.
With the additions of Mykhailiuk and Alex Len of the Atlanta Hawks, they’re in a better position to string together some wins, but they’re going to need to be nearly perfect to punch a ticket to China.
Zubac and his Croatian side are in a similar position, but they have less ground to make up in a weaker group and have more NBA talent on their roster than Ukraine with names such as Dario Saric of the Philadelphia 76ers, Bojan Bogdanovic of the Indiana Pacers and Ante Zizic of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s not to mention Zubac, who has looked like a Croatian Wilt Chamberlain in the exhibition games leading up to the second round of qualifiers.
According to Lithuanian basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas, the Lakers preferred Zubac didn’t play for Croatia so close to the start of training camp, but seeing as this is the last qualifier Zubac will be able to play in before next year’s tournament, he felt he couldn’t miss the opportunity.
Ivica Zubac revealed Lakers weren’t happy with his decision to play in FIBA quals but he understood Croatia needed him: “I think nobody is a fan of this FIBA system. It’s hard & not fair to some teams, especially Croatia. But we got to do our best to get out of this situation”— Donatas Urbonas (@Urbodo) September 13, 2018
Following the conclusion of the September window, Zubac and Mykhailiuk will have less than two weeks before they have to report back to the Lakers and start preparing for the regular season. Both players are on the cusp of cracking head coach Luke Walton’s rotation, and a few extra reps with their national teams shouldn’t hurt their chances.
You can catch Zubac and Mykhailiuk in action on ESPN+ and LiveBasketball.TV starting Thursday. It’s not Lakers basketball, but it’s the best we’re going to get for the time being.
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