United States to face New Zealand, Lithuania in first games of 2019 U19 FIBA World Cup


Then-freshman Tyrese Haliburton goes up for a dunk in the second round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Tournament against Kansas State on March 15, 2019.

Jack Shover

To kick off the 2019 U19 FIBA World Cup, the United States will take on New Zealand in its first game Saturday and then face Lithuania Sunday.

The U.S. will be bringing forth the most talented and proven team in the World Cup, but while New Zealand should be an easy win for the Americans, Lithuania has the talent to place high in the cup.

Starting for the U.S. will most definitely be 2020 five-star recruits Evan Mobley and Jalen Green.

Mobley is a seven-footer at the center position and is the No. 1 recruit on ESPN’s Top 100 list while Green, who is a shooting guard, checks in at No. 3 on the top 100.

At the 2018 U17 World Cup, Green was named the World Cup MVP after averaging 15.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 steals and guiding the U.S. to a gold-medal finish. Mobley averaged 9.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.6 blocks at the cup.

Guard Kira Lewis Jr. will be another player likely to crack the starting lineup as he is the player with the most collegiate experience on the U.S. team. As a freshman at Alabama, Lewis Jr. averaged 13.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists while being named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.

The rest of the roster, including Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, will vie for the final two starting spots and the teams top bench spots.

In its first game, the U.S. will be facing a New Zealand squad which is fresh off of a second-place finish at the FIBA U18 Asian Championship. The Tall Blacks lost to Australia 72-63 in the championship game, but beat India 109-76, Iran 87-72 and China 87-82 to get the gold-medal game.

New Zealand’s Maxwell Darling will be the teams most experienced player entering the World Cup after playing for KK Vrijednosnice Osijek in Croatia.

The 6-foot-6 power forward averaged 4.1 points, four rebounds and shot 44.4% from the floor during Alpe-Adria Cup play while averaging 17.6 minutes a game. The Alpe-Adria Cup is a league which consists of some of the top teams from Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Going against the U.S. team, Darling will struggle to score inside with the length of players like Mobley.

Aside from Darling, the Tall Blacks also have Flynn Cameron, who was a freshman guard at DePaul last year and forward James Moors, who will be playing at Colorado State next year.

Outside of an offensive disaster of apocalyptic proportions, the U.S. will breeze past New Zealand, but will then face Lithuania, which is led by rising star Rokas Jokubaitis.

Jokubaitis is a 6-foot-4 point guard who plays for Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas in the EuroLeague which is Europe’s top competitive division.

In EuroLeague play, Jokubaitis averaged 2.6 points, 0.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game and shot 58.8% from the floor, but he only played six minutes per game and was the youngest player on the team’s roster.

Martynas Arlauskas will be another player who will try to bring a scoring punch for the Lithuanians behind Jokubaitis. Arlauskas is a forward and will be playing for Gonzaga next season.

The rest of the players on the roster are a part of various Lithuanian professional clubs including Zalgiris Kaunas’ lower league affiliate teams.

The U.S. will play New Zealand at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Lithuania at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, with all of the World Cup games being streamed by FIBA on Youtube.