USA Men’s National Team Set to Face Australia in Two Exhibitions Down Under
With 13 players remaining on an eventual 12-member roster and just 10 days until the start of the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, the USA Men’s National Team’s next challenges are two exhibition games against Australia at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.
The soonest Australia and the USA could meet at the 2019 FIBA World Cup would be the quarterfinals, and both teams are viewed as podium contenders. The Aug. 22 and 24 exhibitions are sure to be hard-fought, despite the games being for temporary bragging rights only.
“They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt,” said USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “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.”
The USA, meanwhile, still is refining its identity, and every opportunity is one the athletes and coaches are looking to capitalize on.
“We are trying to get better every day,” said USA guard Joe Harris. “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.”
Several of the Australian team members should be familiar to U.S. basketball fans, as well as the U.S. team members and coaching staff due to their time in the NBA. Certainly, Donovan Mitchell should be able to offer some insight into his Utah Jazz teammate, Joe Ingles; while Popovich is the long-time coach of Australia’s Patty Mills; U.S. guard Derrick White played alongside Mills in the 2018-19 season; and USA assistant coach and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr had Australian star Andrew Bogut on his roster at the end of this past season.
“We joke a lot and goof off in practice and compete,” Mitchell said of Ingles. “I’m expecting a lot of trash talking from him, and I’m excited about it. I think we’ve been looking forward to this ever since I told him I was playing for the U.S. team, so I’m excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Like I said, just go out and challenge each other and make each other better.”
Over the years many other players have met either on an NBA floor or at a FIBA competition, such as at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Cup for Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics). Not only did Tatum help the USA battle back from an early 10-point deficit to earn a 99-92 gold medal game victory over Australia then, he also played withAustralia’s Aron Baynes for two years in Boston.
“Very tough,” Tatum said when asked what he expected out of Australia in the two friendless. “I played with Aron Baynes for two years with the Celtics, and he is one of my favorite guys to play with, favorite people. So, I’m excited to play against him for a change.”
Certainly with more than 45,000 fans expected to attend each game, the atmosphere should be high-energy. To help adapt Marvel Stadium, which primarily hosts Australian Rules Football, rugby and soccer events, for a basketball game, a basketball floor was brought in and additional big video screens were added.
“This definitely will be the most amount of people I’ve ever played in front of,” said USA forward Khris Middleton. “So, I’m excited about it. I’ve seen (the stadium) on TV. We are the road team, which is always fun to be playing on the road like that, with a crowd like it is going to be.”
Tip-off for the Aug. 22 game is 7:30 p.m. Melbourne time (5:30 a.m. EDT), and the Aug. 24 game tips at 2 p.m. in Melbourne (12 midnight EDT).
Fans back in the United States can watch the USA’s three remaining exhibition games on NBA TV and on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/nba. Following each live broadcast, content also will be available on Twitch for fans to view on-demand.
“Right now, we are just focused on getting our stuff down pat: the things we work on in practice, our plays, our defensive schemes, rotations, things like that,” said USA guard Kemba Walker. “We’re trying to clean those things up, get better with those things. Of course, we want to win. Both teams want to win, I’m sure. We’ll go out there and battle as much as we can, but the main goal right now is to get better game-by-game, day-by-day, practice-by-practice, leading up to China.”