USA Men’s National Team Finally Gets To Test Itself Against Different Colored Jerseys With Exhibition Against Spain
NBA TV Will Televise the USA Versus Spain Exhibition and the Game Will Also be Streamed Live on Twitch
The USA Basketball Men’s National Team is hardly easing into its final preparations for the FIBA World Cup.
Following a week of training camp in Las Vegas and three more days of ramping up in Southern California, the U.S. — ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA — will take on second-ranked Spain on Friday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Tipoff is at 10 p.m. EDT and can be seen on NBA TV. For USA versus Spain game ticket information visit usab.com/mnttickets.
“We just want to get better,” USA coach Gregg Popovich said Thursday. “We are trying to form a basketball team. You know familiarity and camaraderie is important, understanding who they are playing with and what each other does on the court. That’s all new to our guys.”
Friday’s exhibition will be the first time this group of Americans will be facing international competition. The U.S. and Spain are the top two teams in the field of 32 that will compete in the World Cup from Aug. 31-Sept. 15 in China. The United States, two-time defending World Cup champion, was drawn into Group E and will play its first-round games in Shanghai. The U.S. faces the Czech Republic in its first Group E game Sept. 1 in Shanghai, while Spain takes on Tunisia on Aug. 31 in Guangzhou in Group C. The USA will also Turkey on Sept. 3 and Japan on Sept. 5.
The game in Anaheim could be a preview of a potential World Cup championship game, but it will be more of a testing ground to see how each team fares just two weeks ahead of the event that will qualify seven teams for next year’s Olympic Games. Among the notable players on the Spain roster are center Marc Gasol (Toronto Raptors), guard Ricky Rubio (Phoenix Suns) and brothers Willy (Charlotte Hornets) and Juan Hernangomez (Denver Nuggets).
“It is kind of like the beginning of the NBA season where you’ve been in training camp, you’ve been scrimmaging for a month and you’ve been beating each other up,” USA center Brook Lopez said. “So it is finally time to play against someone else and it’s definitely exciting and I think our guys are ready for it.”
Following the Spain game, the U.S. will head to Australia to continue training and for three more exhibitions, two against Australia in Melbroune and one against Canada in Sydney. The roster currently stands at 15 players, with guard Marcus Smart recovering from a calf strain. He had limited participation in practice Thursday after taking part in only a shooting drill Wednesday. Center Mason Plumlee, who won a gold medal with the 2014 USA World Cup Team,left Thursday’s practice after his mouth was bloodied.
Popovich has been generally pleased with the team’s performance, even going so far as to say the players are trying to be too unselfish as they adapt to the talent around them.
“Honestly, I swear all these guys are better than I realized,” U.S. forward P.J. Tucker said. “It is crazy, playing against people a couple times a year is one thing but when you get here and you’re working every day, or you see how these guys work. All these young guys like De’Aaron Fox is amazing, he is way better than I thought he was, not saying I didn’t think he was good, but he is really, really good. I play Donovan (Mitchell) all the time with Utah so I know how good he is, but he’s been really great. Jayson Tatum is great. All these guys, I’m serious, top to bottom, all these guys are really good, and they are really going to be great in their individual careers.”
The U.S. is not expected to make its final cut to 12 players until it needs to just before the World Cup.
“When you cut people from your regular NBA team, it’s difficult,” Popovich said. “We’re going to have to do that and it’s going to be even more so. So, I’m dreading having to do that. But it’s got to get done.”
But the main goal for the Spain game is to see how the team comes together with what it has learned the last two weeks together.
“We’re still trying to figure stuff out here and there,” U.S. guard Joe Harris said. “We’re putting in a little bit more stuff from more of a tactical perspective. We’re changing up the offense a little bit, some of the sets that we’re doing. A lot of the stuff that we did last week was pretty rudimentary and basic. So, we’re trying to implement a lot of things on the go. We’re not putting in a ton of stuff, but it’s enough in a short amount of time where you’re really having to focus on it.”
One thing that does seem evident is that there appears to be good chemistry among the players.
“We’re feeling great,” Lopez said. “You know, spirits are definitely at a high. What I think is important is, regardless of X’s and O’s on the court and everything like that, the team is getting along so well and that is going to be so important coming into these games obviously here in Anaheim and then Australia and China. It is a great group, and everyone gets along, and we have a great team dynamic.”
NBA TV will televise the USA versus Spain exhibition and the game will also be streamed live on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/nba.