Additional Quotes: USA Men's World Cup Qualifying Team 84, Cuba 48
Jeff Van Gundy, USA head coach
We’re happy with the win. We also know that there is much improvement to be made if we’re to compete against Puerto Rico. But, I was really happy for Xavier (Silas), he played outstanding basketball. In my short time with him, he’s a tremendous pro, gets himself ready to play and it shows.
On Puerto Rico, the USA’s next opponent:
They outplayed us (in the first meeting on Nov. 23, 2017). They dominated the game for the most part. We had some guys make some huge plays down the stretch. Xavier Munford, Reggie Hearn and Jameel Warney, they came up huge, but Angel Rodriguez dominated the game. They knew us better than we knew them and that was my fault. They had great continuity. They bring incredible passion and physicality to the game. So, the challenge is real and it’s going to be an electric atmosphere for our players and for their players. We’re going to have to play very, very well.
How much of an adjustment is it for you to have to work with a different team from November?
What’s interesting to me is that we had two guys come back, but only one who played because Larry Drew was hurt. So, Travis Wear was our returning guy and we’re happy that a lot of these guys who were on both the (USA) AmeriCup Team and the November qualifying team, they’ve improved their careers by getting called up to the NBA. We hope the same thing for our group this time. But it does present a challenge of trying to build a team that has chemistry that these other teams that play together for much longer have already established. That’s the challenge, but it’s a great challenge.
The thing we’re looking for with players, and Sean Ford does such a tremendous job with the player selection in that he finds people who are talented, but also who have high character. Because, you’re going to be tested mentally in these FIBA games. It’s a rough game. It’s much more intense than the average G League game. So, Sean’s put together a good roster and I enjoy working with the guys.
On having guys get called up and having to replace them for these games:
That’s unusual, right? So, we had Trey McKinney Jones get called up after our first meeting. We’re happy for him. And then Marcus Thornton just the other day, really happy for him. Not as happy for the circumstances there. I thought those circumstances, if everyone is saying that this is important, then we have to reevaluate losing guys a day before the competition. But I’m happy for Marcus, really happy, (he’s a) good player. But I do have ultimate respect for the G League coaches and the players. Because I don’t think mentally you know what they go through, how they keep hope and the grit and the perseverance it takes to continue on. Sometimes you think that you’re getting nowhere. That’s why I admire guys like Xavier (Silas), they’ve been in this for a long time. They’re good enough to be on an NBA roster. Why they’re not is anybody’s guess. It’s just a limited player pool. But I love his approach, I love his passion. He’s got every intangible characteristic that you need. And that’s what has drawn me to these guys. It’s really been a remarkable experience in that way for me.
What do you take away from this game and can you describe Cuba’s style of play?
Cuba, their front court, their center, power forward and small forward is the strength of their team. I thought we did as well as we could against (Javier) Justiz. He’s a load down there, he’s big and he’s skilled. We had good ball pressure and I thought that Devin Williams and Rashawn Thomas did an outstanding job. And it’s going to be a little bit different (on Monday). Puerto Rico plays a lot differently than that. That’s what you have to do in these games. You have to adapt and adjust to different styles. The one thing that you do know is that all the good FIBA teams are very, very physical. It tests you, because in the G League and in the NBA they have a thing called freedom of movement. That doesn’t go in FIBA basketball. You don’t have freedom to do anything.
Damion Lee (Santa Cruz Warriors)
On the game:
We came out, defended well, executed, passed the ball and came up with the victory.
What does it mean to you to play for USA Basketball?
It’s huge playing with USA across your chest. It has a deeper meaning. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.
On playing on his Santa Cruz Warriors home court:
I just wish the rims were a little more kind, not for me, but for all of us. But, it definitely felt like home, especially when they announced my name.
Xavier Silas (Northern Arizona Suns)
I think that we played hard, maybe not hard enough. I think that we had some mistakes that we can definitely fix before the next game. It’s all about being relentless. We didn’t do that the entire time, but I think there were some moments where we did and that’s a start. So, we’re looking to come Monday with a little bit more effort and lock in a little bit more.
On the defensive effort against Cuba and struggling from 3-point:
That’s just the name of the game. It’s way more defensive, there’s no three seconds in the lane so guys can pack it in. So, it’s a little tougher, but I think we did a good job. That’s been our focus since we’ve gotten together, defense. We did a pretty good job, but I think we can do a little bit better.
What’s the biggest adjustment you have to make with the FIBA rules?
I would say the three-second rule and the freedom of movement that coach was talking about. They can pack the paint, they can play zone and all that stuff, but in the NBA you can’t. Then, they can grab you and hold you when you’re trying to cut and in the NBA you can’t. So, it’s a lot more physical. It’s packed in there and it’s tougher to get to the rim. That’s why a lot of European teams and international teams can shoot well because that’s just the name of the game.
I think they played pretty well. It was one of those things where we missed some coverages that we should have done better with and they took advantage of it. Cuba’s a good team. They’re very athletic. But we were really prepared. We made sure we were prepared for them and what they did. We tried to take away their strengths and it worked out for us tonight.
Devin Williams (Maine Red Claws)
How do you feel playing for USA Basketball will benefit your career moving forward?
For the most part, just being able to be around NBA coaches on the staff. Definitely want to be an NBA player myself, and being able to go out there and actually hear from a coach who has been around some of the best players ever to play the game. Just uplift us and tell us what to expect and how to go about our businesses – it’s definitely a blessing. And, just being here, it’s definitely helped a lot. Just having the stamp of USA is good enough.
The team has a lot of chemistry in a short amount of time. What do you attribute that to?
Coming out and playing for the United States, realizing that what we are doing is bigger than us. And just realizing that this only comes by once in a lifetime, maybe twice, and just taking advantage of our opportunity and making the best of it.
On his performance:
I came out with a lot of intensity and just stuck with what the coaches were planning for the last seven, eight days. Just being who I am and the reason that I’m here, just continue to do that and take it to another level.