Additional Quotes: USA Men's World Cup Qualifying Team 83, Puerto Rico 75
Jeff Van Gundy, USA head coach
I’m very proud of our players. Obviously, we had a rough second half, but that was due to how good a team Puerto Rico is. We have the utmost respect for their coaches and players and how hard they play, their depth. I’m really happy for Larry (Drew). Larry’s been with us all three times we’ve been together: the AmeriCup, he was hurt in window one, but is back with us in window two. He’s a tremendous communicator and a guy who’s been at this professionally a long time now, and he really came through tonight down the stretch. So, I’m very proud of him.
Can you appreciate everything Puerto Rico has gone through to be here?
I live in Houston, so we went through hard, bad flooding. Actually, when we were with the AmeriCup Team and I was out of town and you see the devastation in Houston. And then you take it to a completely different level what Puerto Rico went through. I can’t even imagine what they went through and what they’re still going through. I think their basketball team is such a great representative of who they are as people. They are tough. They are resilient. And they are together. I have so much respect for that basketball team. You want to beat them, obviously. But that doesn’t mean you can’t respect how they go about their business and how they compete. I have the highest level of respect for Eddie Casiano, his staff and his team. They are a tremendous example of talent and toughness coming together to form a very, very good team.
As the lead chipped away, did your message in the huddles change?
I think what happens is, I think it’s subconscious, but you start to play the score instead of the game. You get up 22 and as a player you don’t try to let up, but it only took the end of that third quarter where they went from 17 to 12 and then we throw the ball away on the inbound pass and now it’s 10. So, we have a lot of missteps that I’m sure if we were going to be together for the rest of the year, we’d learn from. Obviously, we were disappointed with that stretch, but I was even prouder of how we responded down the stretch to make enough big plays, good plays, to finish the game against a team that … we have had two game against them and they both could have gone either way. We win one by seven and one by eight, but it could have gone either way.
You’ve now 4-0 and qualified for the second round, does that take some weight off of your shoulders for the next window of games?
The thing about the qualifiers is, we are onto the second round but the records don’t restart. So, every win is critical in trying to advance. There are, between our group and the group that we’re going to play in the second round, there are three teams that come out of that and there are five teams that most likely will be fighting for those three spots: Uruguay, Argentina, ourselves, Mexico and Puerto Rico. It’s going to be very hard to qualify. I think USA Basketball understands, but I don’t think one other person in our country understands how hard it is going to be for us to actually finish this and qualify. That’s why I’m so appreciative of players like Larry who have given so much effort, energy, emotion, because they do realize. They also realize that they’re not going to be the ones, if we get qualified, to get to play in it. Whereas Puerto Rico, they know that if they qualify, those guys are going. So, I have so much respect for he and the rest of the guys he’s played with because besides being terrific players and hopefully bettering their career, what they’re doing is an incredible sacrifice to try to get other players qualified. I just don’t think people recognize that component of it. That’s why my respect level for these guys is so high.
How were you able to get your rhythm back and hold Puerto Rico off to finish the game?
I’m not sure we ever got the rhythm back. I just think we made enough plays to withstand a furious rally and made enough free throws down the stretch. Devin Williams had two big ones, Rodney Purvis had a great loose ball play that got us a breakaway basket. Larry (Drew) had a 3. So, I think we made just enough plays and it was tough though. It was very, very hard.
Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
I want to thank USA Basketball for giving me this opportunity to go out there and represent my country. I thought we played hard, gave a lot of energy and, like coach said, big ups to Puerto Rico. They’re a great team. They fought their way back into the game, which I knew was probably going to happen at some point. You don’t just bury a team like Puerto Rico, as much pride as they have in their country and everything they’re fighting for and going through. I also want to thank them for bringing out the best in us. I’m glad that we were able to get the win and keep advancing and keep qualifying.
Describe the process of building chemistry with these teams:
It was a little bit interesting, this window. Obviously we all know each other to an extent, playing against each other, competing against each other. Anytime you bring in a group of guys who have never played with each other, it’s always a challenge. I say it was a little bit strange in this window because we started off in LA during All-Star Weekend and there was a lot going on, there were a lot of extracurricular activities and what not. But I take my hat off to the coaching staff for getting us ready and my teammates for all buying in and not letting the outside distract us from the task at hand. I think that we all bought in and did a good job.
This is the third team for you in the past month, how much of an adjustment is that for you, going from team to team?
It’s definitely a challenge, but I embraced it. I like to think of myself as someone who … I adapt no matter where I go. I’ve been fortunate enough to play for four teams and four organizations who recognize my skill-set and my strengths. They all want me to go out there and play to my strengths. Like coach said, I just try to go out there and be a leader, try to communicate, try to be vocal, try to be positive, run the team the best way I can and knock down open jumpers when I can. Play defense. They don’t really ask too much from me, it’s what I’ve been doing all my life playing basketball. I’m just glad to be getting these opportunities to be out here and showcase myself.
On the game:
It was a great game. They are a good team, so we knew they were going to make a run. So, we just had to stay mentally tough and figure out how to win. So, that’s what we did.
I think our will showed up. Coach talked about being relentless all 10 days that we were together, so I think we were all definitely relentless at the end of the day. Everyone stepped up and made big plays.
On the experience:
It was amazing. I hope I get invited back. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in basketball in a really long time, and I really enjoyed it. Just the camaraderie that was built between the guys, and coach really pushed us a lot, it was refreshing.
On the experience:
It was amazing to learn from coach Van Gundy, be with these guys for the last four or five days and learn and grow. We played for our country, so it’s huge.
On the game:
Down the stretch, we really just came together. We made a lot of effort plays. We sort of hit them first, and it was just a matter of time until they were going to make their run, and they made it in the middle-end of the third quarter, early fourth. They made their push, but we had to withstand it. I think that really shows how much coach has influenced us, and it is a testament to the kind of guys that we have that aren’t willing to back down.
Eddie Casiano, Puerto Rico head coach
We’ve got a very young team. We were more emotional in the beginning of the game, we couldn’t get our emotions together. We weren’t focused and they took good advantage of it. We had 18 points in the first half. In the second half we were a different team. We had more intensity. We had more communication. I had them match-up with athletes in the court, they are very athletic, they are very big in every position, you know I’m talking about the United States.
We matched up in intensity and we had an opportunity at the end of the game. It was a great effort for this young, young, very young team of Puerto Rico. We had a great second half and we fell short, but at the end of the day it was a great experience for them to go through this when we’re trying to build up a new program. We have new athletes and new … we want to build on for the future. We want to be in the top 10 in the world, so we have to go through these games like that so they can take this like a learning experience.
But at the end of the day we came up short. That’s good experience for them and we’re going to get better after these games. We’ve played two game against them. We had the opportunity to win, we couldn’t go with that. But our victory against Mexico was the most important victory we were trying to get because at the end of the day we’re trying to qualify for the world games.
Gian Clavell (Puerto Rico/Sakarya BB, Turkey/Colorado State)
I’m just proud of our guys, the way we competed in the second half. Coach asked us to compete and I felt like we responded real well to that, and I’m really proud of them. We just couldn’t get it done out there. We have young players … I’m very proud of our guys the way we competed in the second half.