Wolves center Dieng has strong showing at FIBA World Cup

After a strong showing in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the next step for Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng is proving his longevity back in America.

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In the floodplain of the Guadalquivir, Spain’s second-longest river, Gorgui Dieng continued his basketball ascent. This time, it came on the international stage.

Dieng and his Senegalese countrymen’s run at the 2014 FIBA World Cup ended Saturday with an 89-56 lost to Timberwolves teammate Ricky Rubio and the host nation in the first round of bracketed tournament play. It was far from the 6-foot-11 center’s best outing, as Dieng went 1 for 9 from the floor and scored six points.

But along the way, Minnesota’s big man of the future — and, to a lesser but significant extent, the present — led a low-rated group to the world championships’ knockout round for the first time since the tourney moved to a single group stage. It was Senegal’s fourth appearance in the event and first since 2006.

"I am very happy for my teammates and what they have accomplished in the World Cup #TeamSenegal," Dieng tweeted after the loss.

His supporters back in the United States ought to have similar sentiments toward Dieng.

Now less than a month from his second NBA training camp, the 2013-14 all-rookie second-team selection led Senegal with 16 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. His best performance came in a 77-75 upset victory over Croatia, a club featuring 76ers draft pick Dario Saric and Nets wing Bojan Bogdanovic.

Dieng made 8 of 14 field-goal attempts, 11 of 12 free-throw tries and had 27 points, eight boards, two blocks and a steal for Senegal, the third-worst-ranked team in FIBA’s pre-worlds rankings.

The next step for Dieng is proving his longevity on the home front. He came on only late last season after veteran centers Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf both went down with injuries.

Dieng spent much of the offseason working out at the University of Minnesota. At the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, he led the Wolves with 10.2 rebounds a game and scored 11.5 points an outing.

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His first bout of major international play concluded against Spain and Rubio, who has some questions of his own to answer in the upcoming NBA season. Heading into Wednesday’s semifinal matchup with France, Rubio averages 5.7 points and a team-high 5.8 assists and 3.7 steals per game. The poor shooting that’s plagued each of his first three years in the NBA remains suspect, though, as he’s made just 9 shots on 24 attempts in six games (37.5 percent).

Yet with the Gasol brothers and the rest of the gang performing up to par, Spain appears on a collision course to meet James Harden, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Team USA in Sunday’s championship game. The favored Americans rocked Mexico 86-63 on Saturday and face Slovenia in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

One more Wolves connection’s country remains alive in what used to be known as the FIBA World Championship, but it may not be an immediately recognizable name. Forward Nemanja Bjelica and Serbia bested Greece on Sunday and play Brazil in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Bjelica, currently playing in the Turkish Basketball League, was selected by Washington in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft. His draft rights were then dealt to the Timberwolves.

In six games, the 6-10, 26-year-old Bjelica leads Serbia with 7.3 boards per game and is second on the team with 11.8 points per game.

Wolves guard J.J. Barea and Puerto Rico’s World Cup is over. Winning just one game in Group B play — including a loss to Dieng and Senegal — the Puerto Ricans failed to advance to the knockout round. Barea led Puerto Rico in scoring (22 points per game) and assists (3.2).

The U.S. and Slovenia match up at 2 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN3. Games featuring Serbia and Brazil (11 a.m.) and France and Spain (3 p.m.) will both be shown on ESPN2.

Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter