USA Men Depart For China With Sights Set On Third Straight FIBA World Cup Title
After weeks of training and exhibition matches, the USA Men’s World Cup Team finally is ready to play for gold at the FIBA World Cup in China.
The two-time defending world champions wrapped up preparations in Sydney on Wednesday afternoon before departing for Shanghai that evening.
Center Myles Turner, who turned in two double-doubles in the four exhibitions and led the team with 8.3 rebounds per game in that span, said the warm-up battles taught the squad a lot about itself.
“We’re feeling great,” he said. “We learned a lot over these past couple weeks, learned a lot about each other, learned a lot about the competition.
“We’re getting to know each other better. As opposed to just running a whole bunch of plays, we’re reading each other, making plays off each other.”
The U.S. downed Spain 90-81 in Anaheim, California, on Aug. 16 before heading to Australia. There the team split two games with the host Australia Boomers, winning 102-86 on Aug. 22 in Melbourne before falling 98-94 there two nights later to break a 78-game winning streak that stretched back to 2006. The Americans then bounced back with a rugged 84-68 win over Canada on Aug. 26 in Sydney.
Guard Kemba Walker says the team has come a long way since the tip-off of the win over Spain.
“I think just confidence, the togetherness, we’re definitely a lot further along than when we played against Spain,” he says. “When we played against Spain we were just a new team, trying to figure things out, trying to make the team. Now we’re much better, especially being on this trip, these four games for us have been great.
“We’re just a better team overall now. Guys know their roles, know what they have to do to help this team win.”
Walker led the U.S. in scoring in two of the exhibition games and averaged a team-high 17.0 points per game during the four-game slate. But, he said these tune-up matches, especially the loss to Australia, proved it has to be more than a one-man show if the U.S. hopes to earn gold in China.
“A lot of us are primary scorers on our (NBA) teams, but right now, USA Basketball, it’s not about that. It’s about us sacrificing and understanding how we can help this team win games. That’s the only way we can do it. We’ve seen it in these games, especially in that loss against Australia. There were times where I would try to go one on one and make a home run play, or Donovan (Mitchell) or the next man would try it. It showed us no one man can do it himself.
“We have to move the basketball as much as we can. Sometimes we get into times where we try to do it individually. We’re not going to win like that. We have to get rid of the ball, trust in each other. Right now the best thing I’ve seen is the trust we have in each other, and we need that to win.”
In becoming a more cohesive playing group, Turner said the team has also used these games to prepare for the different style of basketball that comes with international competition.
“It’s more physical, fewer calls, it’s a shorter game, you don’t have time to lollygag,” the Indiana Pacers star said. “A lot of times in the NBA you sort of wait until the fourth quarter to turn it on. You have to turn it on from the jump here. And these teams, everybody wants to beat the USA. We’re the top dog, and everybody’s gunning for us night-in and night-out.”
After all the training, exhibition games and travel, Walker says he’s ready to get the show on the road.
“I’m ready to get things going. It’s been fun, getting this opportunity to be out here in Australia playing against Australia and Canada, Spain, it’s been an amazing experience. But now we’re ready to go to China, get this thing started, just looking forward to the challenge.”
The U.S. opens its Group E play at the World Cup with the Czech Republic at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 1, followed by Turkey at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 3 and Japan at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 5.
Following three preliminary round games for each team, the top two teams from each preliminary round group advance to second round groups and will play two more games. The top two teams from each of the four second round groups earn a berth into the quarterfinals on Sept. 10 or 11.
The USA’s final 12-man roster for the tournament includes Walker, Turner and Mitchell as well as Jayson Tatum, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Joe Harris, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart and Derrick White. The U.S. has won the last two World Cups and five overall. If the USA finishes the tournament as one of the top two teams from the Americas, it will qualify directly to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will lead the USA into the World Cup, his first major tournament leading the USA after taking over from Mike Krzyzewski after the 2016 Olympic Games. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and Villanova University men’s head coach Jay Wright are serving as USA assistants.