One question for every team at FIBA 3x3 World Tour Utsunomiya Opener 2023
UTSUNOMIYA (Japan) - A new season brings fresh hope for 14 teams dreaming of making the perfect start to the FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2023 at the Utsunomiya Opener on April 29-30.
After an intriguing off-season brought several major changes, it's time to answer a burning question for every team ahead of the World Tour's launch.
Ub Huishan NE (SRB)
Will Ub still have the hunger for success?
Ub had the most incredible 2022 with five titles bookended by triumphs at Utsunomiya and the Abu Dhabi Final.
But that means nothing in a new World Tour season that promises to be deeper with talent than ever before.
Will the No.1 ranked team in the world continue to be motivated having conquered the mountain last year? You better believe so because these Serbs want to start a dynasty to match last decade's most dominant team - Novi Sad.
The link between these two great Serbian teams is Dejan Majstorovic and you well know he strives for continual success.
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Raudondvaris Hoptrans (LTU)
Can their momentum continue into 2023?
The name might take you by surprise for this team formerly known as Sakiai Gulbele.
They might be playing in different jerseys, but these lethal Lithuanians remain intact and itching to get into the new season after a late surge in 2022.
Sakiai claimed the title in Hong Kong to prove they were the real deal after mixed success in previous years.
Consistency has been tough for them but they seemed to find the magic formula led by dynamic duo Aurelijus Pukelis and Marijus Uzupis, who combined to average more than 12 ppg on the World Tour 2022.
Can Riga remain contenders without 'Batman' and 'Robin'?
Riga will be without superheroes Karlis Lasmanis and Nauris Miezis, who will both play for Beijing.
It's a big blow for Riga, who have been one of the World Tour powers for many years highlighted by consistency and chemistry.
But don't write them off because they still have the other Tokyo Olympic gold medallists - Agnis Cavars and Edgars Krumins. They remain the heart and soul of the team and you just know Riga will remain competitive.
But maintaining their status as the absolute cream of the crop appears difficult without their deadly duo.
Can the Austrians continue their progression?
Vienna submitted one of the most inspired seasons imaginable after last year winning the Paris Masters and finishing 2nd at the World Tour Abu Dhabi Final.
Don't expect a drop off from this rising team, who will now be led by excitement machine Quincy Diggs - the No.1 ranked American player.
Antwerp TOPdesk (BEL)
Who will pick up the slack in the absence of 'Must See TV'?
The plug has been pulled out from 'Must See TV' after Thibaut Vervoort's departure, but Antwerp shouldn't worry.
Caspar Augustijnen might just be the best player under 25 on the World Tour, while Dennis Donkor was a revelation as a two-way force late last season.
And Nick Celis, who often was overshadowed by Vervoort, is a scoring machine in his own right and might just enjoy being the top dog.
Antwerp should have enough talent to offset the loss of Vervoort, but it will be intriguing to see how they go first up in Utsunomiya.
Amsterdam HiPRO (NED)
How will de Jong fit with his new teammates?
Amsterdam have had a steady core the last couple of years but essentially traded Maksim Kovacevic with highlight reel Worthy de Jong.
They are different players stylistically, so it's not necessarily a like for like fit but de Jong is hoped to spark Amsterdam, who were just a shade under the absolute best teams last year.
De Jong's excellent playmaking skills should also provide plenty of looks to snipers Arvin Slagter and Julian Jaring, so we're tipping Amsterdam to be very dangerous starting in Utsunomiya.
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Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy (MGL)
Can 'The Bull' continue his MVP form?
Big fella Delgernyam Davaasambuu is already a winner in 2023 having led Mongolia to an incredible triumph at the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup 2023.
He was unstoppable and inspirational like Genghis Khan to prove he's a warrior for his 3x3-crazy country.
The 6ft.4 in (1.93m) Davaasambuu is hoping to translate that form onto the World Tour and you would be a brave man to bet against this dude who is in the form of his life.
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Will 'Jimmer Mania' sweep Utsunomiya?
You better believe so. Former NBA player and college phenom Jimmer Fredette is determined to represent USA in 3x3 at next year's Olympics and will start his journey on the World Tour.
He's had a taste of 3x3 at last year's FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup 2022 and helped USA win gold. The 6ft. 2 in (1.98m) dynamo clearly enjoyed the half-court game and his mix of shooting and handles means he's perfectly suited to 3x3.
And you just know his large group of devoted fans will be following his every move in Utsunomiya.
Sansar MMC Energy (MGL)
Can Ratkov's winning touch rub off on Sansar?
Part of powerhouse Liman for many years, Aleksandar Ratkov only knows one thing - contending for titles. He was something of a glue guy for them, an unselfish player willing to sacrifice stats to make sure his team gets the W.
You can't measure Ratkov's value on the box score but 3x3 real ones know he's a winner. Ratkov is hoped to provide valuable leadership for Sansar, who showed glimpses of potential last year.
His experience and knack of making his teammates better might just nudge young star Anand Ariunbold up a level as the walking bucket enters Utsunomiya red hot having helped Mongolia taste glory at the Asia Cup in Singapore.
Ratkov might just prove to be one of the most important signings this season on the World Tour.
Can they develop consistency?
Like many other teams, Partizan have the firepower to beat anyone as they showed last season when they finished second at the Prague Masters.
But they weren't able to match those heights elsewhere with consistency difficult for them.
Partizan will be hoping they get off to a strong start in Utsunomiya and they should be confident if Ivan Popovic and Marko Stevanovic continue to improve after the duo combined to average 11 ppg last season.
Utsunomiya BREX (JPN)
Can the hosts feed off their home crowd?
Utsunomiya were unable to win a game at home last year, but a quarter-final finish in Cebu should be a nice springboard into the new season.
Speedy Yosuke Saito was a flame thrower and if he can get going then the home crowd will be louder than karaoke night.
Yokohama BeefmanEXE (JPN)
Can Yokohama surprise?
They will be playing in comfortable surroundings but it will be a big ask for them to post a W in such tough competition.
Yokohama were not able to get out of the qualifying draw in Manila in their only Masters event last year, but Alexis Minatoya showed he belonged at the top level and he's primed for a breakout event.
Sydney CLBEXE (AUS)
Can Australia's strong international form translate into World Tour success?
Australia once again proved their international chops at the Asia Cup even though they fell short of a remarkable four-peat.
But success on the World Tour has been harder to find partly because Australian teams haven't competed enough.
That might hopefully change this season with Sydney keen on making a statement in Utsunomiya.
They stand a good chance of doing just that with Lucas Walker - part of Australia's silver medal team in Singapore - to lead a side that will have trademark Aussie strength and spirit.
Rosedale SwishEXE (NZL)
Can Easthope dominate the paint in Utsunomiya?
We've seen glimpses before of Zach Easthope - the 6ft. 8in (2.03m) giant who looks suited to playing for New Zealand's famous All Blacks rugby union team.
We'll be interested to see if he's gotten even stronger in the off-season and if that's the case then his opponents under the basket should be worried.