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FIBA hopes to lure NBA stars to WCup qualifiers

GENEVA (AP) Basketball's governing body will try to lure NBA stars to play in some World Cup qualifiers after creating a new format with more matches in their home countries.

The path to the revamped 2019 World Cup includes round-robin qualifying groups played in six separate fixture windows over a 14-month span starting November 2017.

"Having the home and away games brings basketball back to the countries themselves," FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told The Associated Press in an interview. "Eventually this will benefit the whole sport around the world."

The U.S., which has not played competitively at home since the 2002 worlds hosted in Indianapolis, will be guaranteed six home qualifiers in each World Cup cycle.

Baumann acknowledged that having NBA stars regularly on national team duty was "something we would love," but that players will decide how much time to commit.

World Cup qualifiers in June and September 2018 would be most attractive to top players, he said. FIBA aims to schedule matches in late-June to avoid clashing with NBA playoffs.

Baumann said the governing body has good relations with the NBA, and kept the league and franchise owners informed "since day 1" of a two-year project to improve the existing calendar.

FIBA agreed a new competition schedule at the weekend that removed some continental events from a packed four-year tournament cycle.

"NBA owners were making it relatively clear that it was not a situation they would continue to support," Baumann said by telephone from Shanghai. "We were really filling the calendar so much that we felt players were either not at the top (of their form) or had to choose which summer to play."

During Spain's rise as top challenger to the United States, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was selected to an Olympic Games, world or European championship every NBA offseason since 2006.

Spain will host the next worlds in 2014 as a 24-team event, before the rebranded World Cup is introduced with 32 countries in September 2019.

Baumann said skipping a year meant "getting out of the shadow" of soccer, which will host the World Cup in June-July of 2018.

"Countries like Greece and Russia have never seen their national team play in the last decade at home," Baumann said.

FIBA hopes increased exposure will help countries develop more players rather than relying on its one or two with NBA experience to carry the load.

"It is about growing new talent, which is as good as the NBA talent," said Baumann who is an International Olympic Committee member. The new World Cup will be the main route to the 2020 Summer Games, sending seven of the likely 12-team Olympic lineup.

Baumann also believes that the World Cup can create new rivals to test the U.S., as Spain has pushed the "Dream Team" at the Beijing and London Games.

"For FIBA, the best way to make sure that the best players play in our competitions is to ensure that the rest of the world can measure against them (the U.S.), " he said: "And hopefully improve and at some point beat them."

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