USA Men’s World Cup Team Hopefuls Hit the Ground Running in Vegas
Day one featured scrimmages and hard-fought battles as head coach Gregg Popovich put the players through their paces.
- Day 1 Coach and Player Quotes
- Video Highlights - USA Men's National Team World Cup Training Day 1
- Photo Gallery
As the 15 members of the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team World Cup training camp roster and the 14 members of the USA Select Team training camp roster arrived at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the competition was as hot and fierce as the scorching, triple-digit desert heat outside.
The National Team guys practiced in Mendenhall Center with head coach Gregg Popovich, while the Select Team held practice at the Cox Pavilion with head coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Sporting a cast on his wrist, Kyle Lowry sat out practice, so De’Aaron Fox and Joe Harris of the Select Team roster participated in practice with the National Team roster, helping the guard depth.
Similar to last year’s minicamp, the participants in Mendenhall Center were separated into two teams of gray and navy blue. Jayson Tatum, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Kyle Kuzma, Marcus Smart, Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker and Brook Lopez represented the blue jerseys. In gray, Fox, Harris, Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Bam Adebayo, P.J. Tucker, Donovan Mitchell and Miles Plumlee repped the blue.
Assistant coaches Steve Kerr and Lloyd Pierce led half of the players on one side of half court, while Popovich and assistant coach Jay Wright manned the remaining players on the adjacent half court. An assortment of penetrate-and-kick sets were run by Kerr and Pierce, while Popovich extensively coached his group on how to defend the pick and roll. At different points during these five-minute drills, some players would focus on hitting open free throws at other baskets.
After the players switched up, and participated in all the different drills, a scrimmage between the blue and white team transpired. Both sides were raining 3s, as Fox showed his signature hot wheels as he glided to the rack for silky finishes. The gray team managed to pull out a 20-19 victory with competitive juices going back and forth.
As advertised, Smart played all out, jamming his finger at one point, and then attempting to take a charge, only to take hit to the groin.
“I’m feeling alright, my stomach’s still hurting a bit from the groin shot. And I just jammed my pinky finger, nothing crazy, the usual,” Smart said with a smirk. “It comes with it, when you out here working — we’ve got a good training staff, hit up those guys and make sure our bodies are right.”
After the loss, the blue team lined up on the sidelines, while Middleton drilled two free throws to avoid running suicides for the rest of his blue team.
More five-minute drills occurred after the initial scrimmage — with different players popping out for a corner 3, or running to the corner for a catch and shoot. Kerr and Pierce held inbound drills from the baseline for either a slasher going to the cup or a pass to the weak side for a corner three. A five-on-five drill where defensive players were forced to switch on screens decisively helped the mobility of big foot players like Lopez and Plumlee.
Practice ran longer than originally anticipated as they decided to run one more scrimmage to wrap up the first day of practice.
This second scrum felt more intense and physical. Both sides were pushing the pace, diving for the ball, and tussling for rebounds. The most noteworthy play was when Turner made an off-balance jumper from the right corner tying the game at 21, with a free throw to go ahead. After Turner nailed the free throw, Popovich jumped in and stopped the scrimmage. The future Hall of Famer coached up guys boxing out for rebounds. It was easy to imagine moments like these having a lasting effect on the cohesiveness of the team.
Middleton summed up that instance best.
“It’s all about coaching,” he said. “It’s a whole different set of (FIBA) rules he’s trying to explain to us. That’s what it’s all about. Everyone respects Pop as a coach. He’s one of the greatest of all time, so every time he opens his mouth, we all want to listen.”
Despite the blue team rallying, the white team again managed to win 30-27 to wrap up the first practice of training camp.
The only holdovers from last year’s participants in 2018 mini-camp are Barnes, Walker, Lowry, Turner, and Middleton.
From what stayed with him from last summer’s mini-camp, Middleton thought it was vital to not compete against one another, but instead compete as a group.
“Just knowing what to expect, about how it’s not about your NBA selfish lives — welcome everyone here. We’re all on the same team now, we’re all competing for one goal.”
After numerous players decided to forego their invites and focus on their respective NBA seasons, this year’s training camp roster has 10 new faces.
From the Select Team, Jarrett Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Jalen Brunson, Fox, Jonathan Isaac, Derrick White and Trae Young have prior USA Basketball experience.
“Our goal is to get better every single day and take advantage of every practice and every minute we’re together to form a good group,” Popovich said. “With so many teams that have played together for so long and with us not having played together, we have to take advantage of every practice. So, it’s just a matter of trying to get better every day and hopefully that will serve us well.
Training camp resumes tomorrow for day two, in which the Select Team will be joining the National Team roster for practice.