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Stars take the court in Olympic basketball

The basketball tournament at the London Olympics features some of the most famous stars at the games. Here is a breakdown of this summer's medal contenders.

Basketball in air over hoop - if you want to win then you 'll have to sky the limit © Jof - Fotolia.com

Symbolbild Sport Basketball

Spain

Spain's Marc Gasol, right, challenges for the ball with France's Florent Pietrus, during their EuroBasket European Basketball Championship gold medal match in Kaunas, Lithuania

Marc Gasol helped Spain win EuroBasket 2011 last summer

Runners-up in 2008, Spain have a strong shot at medaling in London. Spain are bringing all of their stars, including Pau Gasol. They are the favorites to unseat current gold medal holders the United States.

Most of the players have NBA experience. The roster boasts size in the form of brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, and speed in guards Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro. Combo players like Rudy Fernandez mean the Spanish are strong at every position. A knee injury to popular young point guard Ricky Rubio, a standout in 2008, will keep him out of the Olympics.

Another trip to the final is expected of a team as talented and seasoned as this one.

France

The French team has usually always had talent, but too often they have come up short at major tournaments. This time France enter the Olympics with momentum, coming off the back of a runners-up performance at last summer's EuroBasket tournament in Lithuania.

France's Tony Parker, right, challenges for the ball with Greece's Nick Calathes, during their quarter final EuroBasket European Basketball Championship match in Kaunas, Lithuania, Thursday Sept. 15, 2011.

Tony Parker is the key player on the French team

France return most of their roster from that competition, including NBA forwards Nicolas Batum, Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw. Young Washington Wizards center Kevin Saraphin and former Seattle Sonics swingman Mickael Gelabale are also talented players to watch. Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah will miss the tournament with an ankle injury.

Most importantly, San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker has been cleared to play after suffering an eye injury. A piece of shattered glass punctured his eye during a New York City nightclub brawl that included rap stars Chris Brown and Drake. The four-time NBA All Star will be expected to ignite the offense for the French team.

The United States

USA Basketball has rebuilt itself after suffering a low point ten years ago. A sixth place finish at the 2002 FIBA World Championship on home soil followed by a Bronze Medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens meant it was time for a change.

USA's Kevin Durant dunks the ball during the preliminary round of the World Basketball Championship against Slovenia, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Kevin Durant won the FIBA World Championship with the US last summer in Turkey

Legendary Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski was hired to revamp the program in 2005. After falling short at the 2006 World Championship, the United States have yet to lose a game, winning gold at the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Championship.

Coming into the tournament, Team USA are undoubtedly the favorites. Five players return from the 2008 Olympic team, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony. A further five were members of the 2010 World Championship team.

Despite injury concerns, the United States have built an athletic roster that teams will struggle to defend against. Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the team, but the versatility of James and Anthony means larger players Kevin Love and Anthony Davis can also be used at the five position.

Argentina

London might just be the last go-around for Argentina's aging "golden generation." Since 2001, the Argentine team have won six regional tournaments and an Olympic gold medal.

Argentina's Manu Ginobili, left, dribbles past Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo during a FIBA Americas Championship basketball game in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. The top two finishers of the tournament get an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics and the next three advance to the last-chance Olympic qualifier to be held in July 2012.

Manu Ginobili led Argentina to gold in 2004

Argentina's stars over the last ten years - Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, and Andres Nocioni - are all over thirty. The youngest member of the golden generation, Carlos Delfino, is 29. But with age comes experience.

Ginobili is the key player within the Argentine team. The 35-year-old guard has a knack for coming up big in important games, and the aging star will view London as an enormous stage in what will no doubt be his final Olympics.

Lithuania

After the 1989 ruling that allowed professionals to compete at the Olympics, the Baltic state of Lithuania won three straight bronze medals. They finished fourth in Athens and Beijing. A bronze medal at the 2010 World Championship means that this latest Lithuania team must be included in the medal discussion.

Toronto Raptors forward Linus Kleiza is the star of the team. He averaged more than 19 points per game at the qualifying tournament in Venezuela earlier this month, earning his country its sixth consecutive Olympic berth.

Brazil

Brazil's Tiago Splitter, drives to the basket as Iran's Hamed Ehadadi guards during their World Basketball Championship preliminary round match in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday Aug. 28, 2010.

Tiago Splitter gives Brazil depth center

Though they haven't medaled in almost fifty years, the Brazilian team of 2012 has a talented front court that will give other teams problems. Brazil will look to build on the success that saw them finish runners up to Argentina at the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship.

Their roster includes four players from the NBA, two based in Spain, and another two with previous NBA experience. Anderson Varejao, Tiago Splitter, and Nene provide Brazil with a strong defensive presence in the frontcourt, and the ability to score on the offensive end. Small forward Marcus Vinicius can score in bunches in international play, and Indiana Pacers guard Leandro Barbosa will be one of the quickest players at the tournament.

Great Britain

Olympics - London 2012 Olympics - Basketball - Team GB Training Session - Loughborough University. Great Britain Basketball team with Head coach Chris Finch during the training session at Loughborough University, Loughborough. Picture date: Thursday July 4, 2012. See PA story OLYMPICS Basketball. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. URN:13972170

Team GB will need to give Deng some support

The hosts qualified automatically for the tournament. Their only previous appearance at the Olympics was in 1948, where they did not win a game. In a tough group B, qualifying for the knockout stages might be difficult, but they will have the advantage of strong home support.

Forward Luol Deng (pictured at top of article) is the star of the team. The 27-year-old is coming of a career season with the Chicago Bulls, making both the All Star and All Defensive Teams. He usually always plays well for Team GB, but he will need a lot of help from his supporting cast.

Russia

Russia have too often underwhelmed over the past decade. Outside of a EuroBasket championship in 2007, they have no medals to their name, despite almost always boasting a talented roster.

This summer's team will look to change that, and a strong team led by former Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko have a shot at medaling. The versatile Russian will be one of the best defenders at the Olympics. Two other players to watch out for are Denver Nuggets seven-footer Timofey Mozgov, and CSKA Moscow forward Viktor Khryapa.

Author: David Raish
Editor: Matt Zuvela