Quotes: USA Men's World Cup Team 87, Poland 74
USA head coach Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
Tokyo (Olympics) is about 10 months away. What do you think USA Basketball needs to focus on during that span?
This really isn’t even the time to think about that. As you said it is 10 months away.
You said after the France game it wouldn’t be fair to your team or them to talk about who wasn’t here. Staying with that and focusing on what you’ve gone through now what are your takeaways from what happened in this tournament and what have you learned about international basketball?
It’s exactly what I knew it to be, because I’ve been involved with it before, and in this day and age basketball in other countries is not a secret. So, it’s not like there’s an epiphany or revelation to be made. There wonderful teams and wonderful coaches all over the world, so there’s no surprise in any of that. You go compete, and you know the best teams win. I was thrilled with the group of guys that we were able to coach. They made the sacrifice. They worked hard. They let us coach them, and we got them to a certain point in a short period of time. I wish I could have gotten them closer, but it didn’t happen. It’s not about deciding what happened. Better teams got to the finals, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, because there are a lot of great teams in the world. It’s not written in stone that the United States is supposed to walk to a championship. That’s pretty old school thinking. But, even the teams that have won in the past had a lot of close calls against several teams. It’s never been a cake walk, it’s not like the Dream Team, or whatever. In my view, to win this thing it’s even more powerful and more meaningful than it ever has been, because teams are so good and have improved so much, and the coaching is so good. So, I’m not sure what satisfaction there is in beating everybody by 30 as in the past, way back. I don’t see the joy, or the glory, or the satisfaction in any of that. We got great satisfaction in playing every single game. In the France game, we were up seven with five minutes to go, and they played down the stretch better than we did. So, they get credit for that. They win, and we lose, and you move on. But, it’s not like there’s an epiphany or you need to solve this and this, and this and this, you go and compete, and I think I said in the beginning, there were five, six, seven teams that can win this thing, and I think it will be like that all the time.
You often talk about appreciating people and appreciating experiences. Forgetting the basketball part what did you enjoy the most of these 42, 45 whatever days it was with your staff and these guys?
I think it was mostly the relationships you built up with players you never coached and coaches that you don’t coach with usually. Steve played for me, but those relationships grow, and everybody knows that when you’re in a tough situation and you’re in a competitive situation, you learn about people. You grow closer. So, having the diners, the practices and the practice planning and all of that was fun. Getting to know the players that you just play against, but you get to know their senses of humor, what makes them tick, how you approach them is totally different than during the regular season. That to me was the real joy of the whole tournament. You know, you enjoy the competitiveness, but beyond that the people are what make it really special.
You told us in (Las) Vegas at this point in your life you ignore how smart or dumb we say you are, but your players are not as seasoned as you. What has been your message to them about dealing with the noise surrounding this tournament?
The noise doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have anything to do with you all. We play for our country. We play for each other, play for our teammates, play for our families, and you move on. I think if you don’t win, some people want to play the blame game. There’s no blame to be placed anywhere. They want to play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature, it’s arrogant, and it shows whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect the fact that these guys did the best that they could. Their effort was fantastic, and as I said they allowed us to coach them. We got better and better, but we didn’t get to the point where we were able to win it. So you move on, you give people credit for what they did, and that’s it. It’s not a blame and shame game, that ridiculous.
I have a question about your sports family who are shining brightly here in Beijing like Patty Mills, Boris Diow, Manu Ginobli is not on the team but he is number one fan of Argentina. How happy are you seeing them succeed here?
I’m very happy for them. It’s a wonderful part of my life that I can have those kinds of guys that I’ve been privileged to work with go on and do what they’ve done. It’s very satisfying, very enjoyable.
Do you think that the fact 32 players denied to play on this team…Do you feel betrayed by the biggest stars of the NBA?
I don’t fault anybody that decided not to come. Everybody’s got a life. Things happen in people’s families. People have things going on. It could be injuries. It could be personal commitments that they have. I don’t fault anybody. Whoever came, came. This group, as I said, I couldn’t have been happier with any other group. No matter who might have come, they wouldn’t work any harder than this group did, so I don’t even think about the people who didn’t come. Someone asked earlier what does USA Basketball have to do? Continue and keep going, and we coach and they play, and we do our best. That’s what USA Basketball does. It’s not like something has to be changed or do this O- and X-wise, or do this strategy-wise and all that type of thing. It’s a tough competition. You do the best you can with whoever comes, and that’s it. Everybody else, all the other countries, have some guys that didn’t come. I honestly don’t and never have thought about it. The guys that came have been absolutely wonderful.
Today you played against a Polish team without any NBA players. Do you think any of these players have NBA talent?
I don’t know what their situations are, and you get fined in the NBA for talking about players and what you want to do with them, so I’m not going to even think about that. But I’m glad you asked that, because I think Coach Taylor is amazing. That team executes really well. They were gritty. They were hard working But their execution was really impressive, and they’re to be commended. He does a fantastic job.
Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings)
Does the loss to France still sting?
Absolutely, but at the end of the day, we come out of this thing with no regrets. You compete, you try to win, didn’t work out for us. But, I’m proud of what we accomplished in a short amount of time.
Do you know what the future holds for USA Basketball as far as next year?
USA Basketball is going to be fine. There is never a shortage of people who want to play, who are interested in playing. All of us in this locker room are honored to have been a part of this, and I’m sure would accept the opportunity again if it’s presented.
Does France losing to Argentina change your perspective at all from that game the other day (with the USA)?
No. It just shows that in FIBA, everyone is really good, and it’s just about who is the better team that day. That’s what ultimately it boils down to. Coming into the tournament, would anyone have guessed it would have been Spain and Argentina for the final? Probably not, but that’s just the game of basketball and why you compete, and you go out there and play. That’s what you get with single-elimination.
You see it as anything can happen on any given night rather than you fell short in one particular area?
You can go back in that game, and there are lot of things that we could have cleaned up.
Just overall, not just that game. In six weeks of playing, you probably came up short in regard to doing what?
Executing on the offensive end. I think when you look at a lot of these teams and how they played, they’re able to fall back on their system. They’re able to fall back on things that they know, things that they’ve run, guys that have been playing together for five, six, seven years. For us, we had to put our hat on defense. That’s what we kind of made our calling card, and offensively we knew we weren’t ever going to get to that place when we could just, ‘ok, here are two or three quick hitters.’ But, we did the best that we could.
Does that say anything about the development of American players in their youth as far as how they’re developed versus how players are developed in other countries?
I wouldn’t say that. When you look at the competition of USA Basketball teams over the past four or five tournaments, there has been quite a bit of turnover in roster, as opposed to if you look at Spain, you look at Argentina, you look at France, Serbia, you look at the teams where year after year it’s the same core group of guys that continue to grow and continue to develop together. I think with anything, championship teams in the NBA, championship teams overseas, that camaraderie bodes well. So, when you have five, six, seven, eight years versus three or four weeks, it’s a little bit more difficult.
Kobe Bryant said that the days of Dream Team are over. What do you think of that statement?
I don’t think they were the self-proclaimed dream teams. That was something that was come up with by the media. I think that the game of basketball is growing around the world. Teams are developing and becoming good. This wasn’t the USA’s best showing, but I’m confident in what we have moving forward.
Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)
How important was it to end this tournament the right way?
Extremely important. After our loss to France, we obviously were pretty down just overall, kind of across the board. For us to have two more games, we wanted to certainly finish on a higher note than we displayed the other night against Serbia. Serbia is obviously an incredible team, but the way we started that game was not how we wanted to finish. Obviously, battling back is a sign of the class and resilience that we have. Tonight, it was important for us to come out play the right way, play unselfishly and finish on a good note.
What’s the biggest takeaway for you from these 40+ days?
Honestly, I’m going to look back on it and just have unbelievable memories. These are the sort of friendships that are very unique. In a way we formed a special bond with one another, just going through what we did together. To be on this sort of a grind for 40-plus days, to face the sort of adversity that we faced in our loss to France. Even up to that point, some of these guys that we might not have got a chance to know otherwise are now some of our closest friends. It’s unique in that way. I think USA Basketball in the past has shown that a lot with different guys being able to play together and form unique bonds. That’s what’s going to be the biggest takeaway from me – those sort of memories and the friendships that we’re going to take from this.
If USA Basketball called again, would you answer it?
Oh, 100 percent. I’m honored to be out here competing, representing my country. This is something that you can’t take for granted. I will go through it all again. Like I said, obviously tough for us, given the circumstances with everything that happened, but I would go back, and I have no regrets with this experience, everything that has gone on. I would go back and do it over 100 percent.
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
What was your biggest takeaway from the tournament?
A lot of countries getting better at the sport.
What do you think USA Basketball needs to do in the next 10 months to have a different result next summer?
Just get better, it’s as simple as that. We had a tough game against France with a lead in the fourth quarter that we lost. That’s all you can do is move on from that game and get better.
If this team makes no changes, how far away do you think you are from being the best?
I think we’re right there in the gold medal game. We had a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost it.
Do you feel bad going home with your name connected to this failure?
Nah. It’s not the result we wanted, but I don’t consider anybody in that locker room a failure. I don’t consider myself a failure at all.
What was it like to play for Pop? Was it different than you thought it might be?
Nah. What I saw is exactly what I got from a distance I would say. He’s a great coach, great person.
What was most different about FIBA for you and your team?
Just the different style of play. It’s totally different from the NBA You have to have a lot more movement out there. I think that was the biggest change that I saw.
Would you make the same decision to play for the USA if you had to do it again?
If I had it back, for sure I would do it again. I wouldn’t pass up on it.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)
General comments on the game?
First off, I just want to thank everybody on USA Basketball from the players to the coaches, Sean Ford, Mr. Colangelo, and anybody I forgot. I just want to say thank you for the opportunity. You know, obviously, we didn’t get the result that we had wanted, but to be able to go to war with a bunch of guys who really sacrificed not only their time, their bodies, there’s not a lot more you can ask for. I’ve never been a part of USA Basketball, and this was an incredible experience. Obviously, with the game today we showed a lot of character, because even after losing some teams can go the other way and say whatever, and that wasn’t the case with these guys. I’m really happy and blessed to have this opportunity.
I know coming away with a media is always a goal, but this has been a really strong tournament for you. Can you talk about what your big takeaways are from this and what it was like to be part of this USA Team?
Coming into this I didn’t know what to expect. I just came out there trying to do everything I knew how, try to improve in certain areas. I knew Coach Pop having had Coach Quin (Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder) on his staff. I knew what to expect as far as the defensive end. That’s one thing I really wanted to work on, and I think I’ve gotten better at that. Becoming a leader I think is one thing for sure that I’ve tried to work on as much as I can. Obviously, like Coach Pop said, building a relationship with guys throughout the league, just getting to know how guys approach the game of basketball, how they approach big games. One guy I really took a lot away from was Harrison Barnes. Just the way he approaches every moment, not just the game, but life. Coming in with a positive mindset. One thing that really impressed me was even after we lost, he was the first one in there getting treatment, first one in there taking care of his body. And that’s one thing you can takeaway outside of playing on the basketball court but sustaining this for a long time, and that’s something I pride myself on doing, trying to stay in this league as much as I possibly can. Just trying to takeaway everything I can, whether it’s little things from film, on the court, off the court, whatever it may be.
I have two questions for you. What kind of comeback can people expect from Team USA , and considering everything do you think answering the call this year was worth it?
I’ll answer the second one first. Of course, I’d do it again. I love this group. First of all, I love the game of basketball, so if you would have told me three years ago before I got into the NBA that I get to play under Coach Pop, Coach Kerr, Jay Wright and Lloyd Pierce, and play with the guys in the locker room that I’m playing with against some of the greatest players across the world, I wouldn’t believe you. So for me, this is an amazing experience. Everybody likes to look at the end goal, but when you sit back and reflect, I played for Team USA. That’s incredible to me, and that in itself is amazing. So yes, it was definitely worth it.
If you look at the past two games, the way us 12 played, being down what we were down … I’ve been on teams when I was younger where it gets to that point, it’s like, ‘okay guys that it.’ So, that comeback shows one, what we’re made of and what everybody else is made of. I played against a lot of guys in this league. Teams have had bad seasons. Teams have gotten swept in the playoffs. We had an alright playoffs series this past year, and I know guys in this league whoever gets chosen to go to Tokyo what they expect, because yeah, obviously we want to win, and we take it personally. So, next year guys are going to back and be ready. Not that we weren’t ready this year, but guys are going to ready and locked in. So, I’m excited about it. I’m blessed to have done this. I’d love to do it again given the opportunity, but I think guys will be ready.
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)
What is your take on the USA’s 7th place?
We came out here, and we checked a couple boxes, but we didn’t get everything accomplished. We qualified this team for the Olympics coming up, but we didn’t get that gold medal – something that is going to stick with us for a very long, shoot, the rest of our lives. And, you know, it hurts a little bit, but we came out here, and I think we did the best we could, given the circumstances.
Is there something specific the team could have done better?
Maybe better execution, I think. You can’t knock our effort. I feel like the entire time we were here, every game we were in, we gave it our all. You got to tip your cap to the world, man, it’s international basketball. It’s not just … we don’t live in an era anymore where the USA is just the best team, or they have the most talented group in the world anymore. We’re, don’t get me wrong, we’re talented, but these teams are starting to catch up now, and some of them have caught up. So, the days of us going out there and blowing teams out are over.
France beat the USA and the lost to Argentina. Did that change your perspective on the USA’s loss to France?
Not necessarily. France went out there and gave us their best shot. I guess they didn’t have enough against Argentina. It happens. It’s a tough game. It happens to anybody.
Do you want to come back and play for USA Basketball again?
Of course. I think this is something that winning a gold medal next summer would kind of flush out some of the toxins of being here. But, this is something that is always going to stick with me. It is what it is.
But, you don’t know what will happen in the future with this roster, right?
No, man. It just ended. I have no idea. Hopefully, I’ll be able to be a part of something special, but we’ll see.
Did you feel during the tournament it was the USA vs. the World?
Yeah, everywhere you go. Hostile crowds everywhere we go. Everybody wants us to lose. Sometimes, I’m not blaming the refs, sometimes even the refs is against us. Everybody wants to see us lose. We are Team USA. We have a winning tradition, and everybody wants to take down the top dog. So, it seems like, yeah, it is you against the world, but it’s just your four brothers on the floor. That’s who you got to play for.
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)
On the experience:
I’ve gained some lifelong friends, some lifelong memories, and feel good about how we competed. But, yeah, it was a great tournament.
Are you looking forward to returning to USA Basketball next year?
Redemption? I guess. I would love to get the opportunity to try and win a gold medal. I would love to participate again, for sure.
What was the biggest problem for the U.S. team?
I thought we adjusted well. I thought we adjusted really well. You know, the game against France, they got the best of us. We just didn’t play well consistently the whole game. But as far as the adjustment, I thought we did pretty well, especially for us not being together for so long. I thought we played well. I thought we did well the whole tournament.
Do you think you’ll get that chance next summer?
There’s no telling. It’s not up to me. Like I said, I would love to. It was really fun to be a part of. Like I said, I would love to do it again.
What have the last few days been like for you guys as a group?
It’s been great. It’s been great. Obviously, when we lost, we were pretty down, still having to play two extra games. You know, it just shows the character of the guys that’s been there. That’s how it’s been from day one. Just being able to have the chance to get around a great group of guys, it just made the trip that much more special.
So, you just chalk that up to the team having one bad night against France?
I mean, France played really well. I’m not trying to, I don’t want to downplay how great they played and how great of a team they have. They did well. They made it tough on us. They are the reason we didn’t play that well, I guess. But, you know, it happens, you know? Like I said, we would have loved to win the gold, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have a great night.
Does them losing to Argentina two nights later change your perspective?
No. It’s the game of basketball, man. Anything can happen on any given night. It’s not like France doesn’t have a bunch of great players. They have really great players. They play well together. Argentina as well. They’ve been winning games throughout this whole tournament. They’ve been playing well. Another team who has been playing together for a very long time. So, it doesn’t change anything. On that given night, us against France, they were the better team. France against Argentina, Argentina was the better team. That’s just the way this game goes.
Did anything surprise you in this tournament?
Why? No. No surprised at all. We have so many international guys in the NBA now at this point. International basketball players are really good. There’s no surprises at all. I mean, the slogan for the tournament is, “The World’s Got Game,” and it just is what it is.
Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs)
On the game:
It was a good win here today. We wanted to go out winning. I mean, obviously, we fell short of our goal, but overall I think it was special to play with these guys in the locker room, and we had a great group of guys. I think we all learned a lot from it.
Was there something missing?
Obviously, that France game sticks in our mind, plays that we want back. But, we can learn from and build off it.
The bond between the players was the most significant thing for you?
Definitely. I think we all got along. We have a great group in there. We all spent a lot of time together these past 40-something days. So, I’m going to really enjoy the experience I had with all of the guys in the locker room.
How different are NBA and FIBA basketball?
It’s a completely different game. NBA, FIBA, the floor, the spacing, the ball, it’s all different. So, it took a little bit to get used to and adjusted to.
Next year do you want to play for USA Basketball?
I don’t know. We will see. Right now, I’m focusing on the season, and we’ll see from there.