Jim Boylen Excited for ‘Coveted’ Opportunity with USA Basketball
The longtime NBA coach will oversee the November 2021 USA Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team.
When Jim Boylen got a call asking if he was interested in coaching the November 2021 USA Basketball World Cup Qualifying Team, his immediate response showed his level of excitement.
“I’ll swim there!” he answered.
Coaching for his country has been a goal of Boylen’s for a long time, and this month’s World Cup qualifying window in Chihuahua, Mexico, presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It means the world to me to have that ‘USA’ across your chest,” Boylen said. “It’s humbling to think that you represent our country in a competitive thing you love doing. You love basketball, you’re coaching basketball, and now you get to represent your country doing it. All the competitive things in your life come together. If you’re a competitive person, there’s no better situation.”
Boylen’s career has included assistant coaching stints under Rudy Tomjanovich with the Houston Rockets, where he helped the team win NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, and under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, where he contributed to another championship in 2014. He also was an assistant coach on Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State University.
Perhaps not coincidentally, in all three of those roles, Boylen worked under head coaches who have ties to USA Basketball. He couldn’t say for sure whether those legendary coaches had been contacted as part of the vetting process for this position, but he acknowledged that, “USA Basketball definitely does their homework.”
“This is an opportunity that’s coveted,” Boylen continued. “That’s what I’m most thankful for. I think that speaks to those people I’ve worked for. They’re all high character guys. Rudy T’s the best, Pop’s the best, and Izzo too.”
Boylen’s experience as a head coach includes a four-season run at the University of Utah and, most recently, a two-year stint leading the Chicago Bulls.
He anticipates relying on both his college and professional experience as part of this whirlwind process. After all, the roster is still being formed — Boylen estimates that two-thirds of the team is set — and training camp takes place Nov. 20 to 25 in Houston before the team travels to Mexico for games on Nov. 28 and 29.
“The training camp experience is like the pros,” Boylen said, noting how NBA teams often play their first preseason game just four or five days into camp. “So, you have to have your basic stuff in. I think (my NBA experience) will be helpful in that sense. But then there’s the college energy and excitement. We’ve got a 10-day sprint. We’ve got to get our team ready to play and we’ve got to bring the energy.
“But the number one thing for me, I feel like I’m a teacher and we’re going to have to teach quickly and succinctly and try to get all of our guys on the same page. We need to install it correctly and be organized, and I think the combination of college and pro experience helps you do all that.”
Boylen could not discuss which players have already committed to the team — it’s expected to be mostly NBA G League players — but he was comfortable speaking generally about the type of guys the squad will be built around.
“As a staff, we focused on a few things: character is important, energy, having a motor,” he began. “Past experience in this style of play, international basketball, was important. Past experience with USA Basketball was important. We like a versatile, mobile, athletic roster. We’d like to be able to play fast and to play aggressively. That’s always been my style — to run, to drive the ball, and to play aggressively at both ends. Our roster will help us with that.”
Boylen has been preparing by watching tapes of USA Basketball practices, by studying USA hoops practice plans and by speaking with former USA coaches such as Mike Fratello, Joe Prunty and Jeff Van Gundy.
“There’s been a lot of preparing, a lot of studying, a lot of phone conversations,” he said.
And, of course, Boylen has been involved in constructing the team. His pitch to the players has centered around the importance of putting egos aside to play for one central cause: their country.
“Nobody will ever ask how much you played or how much you won by,” Boylen said. “All they’ll ask is if you won or not.
“We’re just trying to represent USA Basketball and the country the best we can,” he added. “We have an obligation to compete, and to represent our country, and to battle. And I love that part of it. We’ve got to come together — and I think we will. We’ll do the best possible job we can in this moment, and then we’ll see where this goes.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.