USA Men’s National Team Quotes - Aug. 20
Gregg Popovich (USA and San Antonio Spurs head coach)
Are you still experimenting with your lineup?
We are not exactly sure what the starting lineup will be. We just don’t know.
What sort of things do you assess during these preparation games?
More than anything, all the teams just want to get better. It’s always about execution. So, all the teams will play. I’m sure the next day all the teams are watching some film and trying to get their guys to understand how they want to play. So, who is going to start? Well, that kind of takes care of itself. But, you are still trying to improve as the tournament progresses.
How much of a threat do you see Australia as?
Huge, huge threat. They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt. I’m not saying that because I’m here. It’s just a fact. They’ve been close for several years, and they are hungry. They are talented. Coach Lemanis does a good job, and they are a team. They are together. They know what they are doing. They execute really well, so that’s what it takes. They have the toughness and physicality to go with it. I think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt.
Donovan Mitchell plays with Joe Ingles on the Utah Jazz. How will that go on the court?
Their friendship will continue no matter what happens, but on the court they’ll be devilishly relentless to beat each other, because they are competitors. Afterwards, they will be fine.
How have you found Melbourne?
I haven’t gotten chance to move around, as one might expect a lot of time is in the film room and on the court. But every evening is dinner and wine, and the choices are numerous and wonderful.
What has it been like to have a couple of veterans?
Veterans are important for every team. Everybody can’t be a youngster for sure. There has got to be some people who have been in the battle for a while, so to speak. So those guys are important for that.
How do you go about it when you tell them things like, ‘You belong here?’
They are people. They are not automatons, and they are not just workhorses, or something like that, that just play basketball. They are thinking beings. There are personalities that are different and confidence levels. Everybody grows up differently, everybody feels a certain way about themselves. It’s important to find the people that maybe need a little boost. Some people are just very, very humble or very introverted, and you’ve got to bring them out a little bit. So, that’s one of the fun things about coaching. Os and Xs are kind of boring. Everybody knows their Os and Xs and that kind of thing. But, all those other things are what makes a team and helps develop a player.
Did you foresee the growth Derrick White has made?
No. He’s had steady progress, but he is one of those guys, he started out in Division II and ended up playing on our G League team for a couple of years, and he just seemed to get better year-by-year, week-by-week. We brought him on the Select Team, just to scrimmage against the main team, and he played so well, that we moved him up. So, he’s a heck of a story.
On Marcus Smart:
He is looking pretty good. He scrimmaged a decent part of the practice today. He didn’t complete the whole practice, but he’s coming along.
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
What is it like to play for the U.S. team?
It’s pretty cool. It’s a blessing, of course. I take it very seriously to be able to represent not only your family and Boston but the country. We take it serious, and we come to play basketball.
What made you decide to play for the national team?
I thought that nothing you could be doing could be better than that. I took it extremely serious and just tried to come out and play basketball.
So, there was never a doubt on whether to play?
I’m young. I don’t have any kids, and my family understands the journey I’m on, so it was an easy decision for me.
What’s it been like playing for Popovich, and what’s it been like to have some Boston teammates with you as you play on this team?
It’s been great. I’ve been learning a lot about the guys, even guys that I’ve played with, I’ve been learning more about Marcus (Smart). I’ve been learning more about Jayson Tatum and getting to know Kemba (Walker). Even guys I’ve been playing with for two, three years now, I’m still even learning more about them, so it’s been a good experience.
Does that surprise you a bit, or does that say a lot about the quality of the experience?
When you’re outside (in) the world, and you’re outside your comfort zone halfway across the world, you see things come out in people that you would have never expected over a glass of wine and stuff like that. People are interesting. Everybody’s different. Everybody has their own swag, and it’s pretty cool being up close and seeing that.
What role do you see for yourself here?
Just being a utility guy, being aggressive. Of course, being aggressive and attacking, but also being a physical guy, being the guy that’s getting the rebounds, being the guy that’s diving on the floors for loose balls, being a guy that’s being physical, pushing guys around. But also, being aggressive. I feel like I can play the four, guard the fours with my strength and versatility, and it will be tough for a four to guard me. So, I’m just playing fast, playing hard, being physical, being smart, being a utility guy. Just get in where you fit.
Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
On playing Australia on Thursday:
We are trying to get better every day. So, whether it’s practice or games, we are going out to compete in a way where we are improving and we are getting better, and that is regardless of who we are playing against. It could be practice like today where we are playing against ourselves, but all of our focus is just trying to be the best Team USA that we can be and hoping that we can piece everything together. And then, you hope that the results follow if we are doing stuff the right way.
Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets)
You have played an Australian team before, what can you tell us about Australian basketball?
Well, obviously, I’ve only played the Perth team. But, how hard they play. The pride they take in their game. And they are very physical, too. They are not afraid of anybody. They don’t back down and they bring it.
On how the team’s practices are going:
We’ve had two good practices. I think everybody is still adjusting time-wise, but we feel good, ready to play a game.
Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics)
What’s it like wearing this USA colors and playing with a lot of Boston guys?
It feels good. It’s a blessing. It’s an opportunity that a lot of people wish they could have. To be amongst those 12 or 13 guys out here is a good feeling. And to do it with some of my fellow teammates is even better.
Did you have any doubts about playing when USA Basketball called?
No doubts. This is something that as a kid you dream of doing. Everybody has their reasons for why they didn’t play, but we can’t focus on that. My name was called, and I got to step up to the task.
Was it frustrating to have that calf problem early on?
Yeah, but I’m going into my sixth year, a little older, it’s time to be a little bit smarter now. I still have a season to play with the Celtics, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.
How have you felt the last few days being back in practice?
I felt amazing. Let the reins go a little bit, was able to go up and down, contact and things like that. It felt good, and it feels good to be out here.
Do you think your defense will translate to international basketball?
Of course. I’ve done it before in 16s, 17s and stuff like that. Defense is defense. No matter where you’re at, what level you’re at, it’s all about effort, and I pride myself on it.
How has it been playing for Coach Popovich, and has he taught you anything in particular yet?
Yeah. Pop is a great guy. He’s hilarious. He does a lot of things to really get you focused and plays with your mind to really get you ready. But for us, the things we are learning is unbelievable, because all our years we played for a certain coach. We not only have Pop here, but we have Steve Kerr, we got Jay Wright. We got all these guys out here, and we get to learn from each and every last one of them.