Veteran Leadership Carries the Tradition of Success for U.S. Men’s Team
Langston Galloway stood near the halfcourt line, hands on his knees.
It wasn’t a moment during a hard practice for the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team. Instead, the 30-year-old was taking in the training session alongside head coach Jim Boylen on Wednesday, one day before the Americans took on Uruguay in Las Vegas in their opening game of the second round of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
In the moment, Galloway was acting more of an assistant coach, with Boylen conferring with the NBA veteran of eight seasons if the play was being executed correctly. This is, after all, the fourth time in four 2023 qualifying windows Galloway has been selected to play for the team in U.S.’s quest to qualify for the World Cup.
“Coach has me (as) a guy to mentor the young guys,” Galloway said. “A guy that has been through this and through the battles. The opportunity for me to play with Coach Boylen and USA Basketball has been great. He knows I know what to do and what to expect. He puts a lot of trust in me.”
Galloway is one of six on the 12-player roster who have made multiple appearances for the U.S. in this World Cup cycle. David Stockton, DaQuan Jeffries and John Jenkins are each in their third window, while Erik Mika and Michael Frazier II are in their second. A seventh player, Will Davis, played in the previous three windows, but he is instead on the AmeriCup team that is training in Las Vegas preparing for that tournament, which begins Sept. 2.
Behind that veteran leadership, the U.S. beat Uruguay 105-71 on Thursday to improve to 6-1. The Americans now sit alone atop Group F entering Monday’s game at Colombia (3-4) in Barranquilla, Colombia.
The leadership structure has created a formula for success for the U.S. team.
While most of the World Cup qualifying windows happen during the NBA season — the next two are in November and February — and players from that league aren’t generally available, the U.S. depends on those from the NBA G League to make up the roster. However, a good chunk of the U.S. roster changes in each two-game window as some players are called up by an NBA team or are injured. Stockton and Jeffries are two examples. Stockton was in camp during the last window, but he picked up an injury and couldn’t play in the games. Jeffries was invited to play in the first window but also couldn’t participate due to an injury.
“I love it,” said Jenkins, a first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft who has played in China, Israel and France since his last NBA game in the 2018-19 season. “I’ve done it since I was in college. I just love what (USA Basketball Men’s National Team director) Sean Ford has provided me with opportunity-wise and I love playing for my country.”
That is a universal sentiment among players regardless of whether this is their first set of games or if they have played for multiple USA Basketball teams over the years.
Having players who have gone through a previous World Cup qualifying window helps get the new players up to speed, as there is quite a difference between pro ball in the U.S. and FIBA-style international play.
“It’s mostly where they’re learning each and every day,” said Jeffries, who typically will talk with a newcomer on the side in practice. “Things were kind of sluggish the first two days. It’s always like that. But they’re learning every day.”
The repeat performance also extends to the coaching staff. In all four windows, Boylen has been helped by Ty Ellis and Othella Harrington as assistants. So Boylen, who hopes to return for the final two windows if he doesn’t land another NBA job, not only knows what to expect from the international teams, but how to quickly prepare his players. The U.S. team usually comes together less than a week before its first game, so offensive and defensive schemes need to be conveyed clearly.
“I tell our staff this is a circumstance where we have to keep it simple,” said Boylen, the former Chicago Bulls coach. “We have to hopefully get our guys to play where instinct replaces thought. You really can’t put too many things in. You have to make it where they can pick up the stuff quickly and, hopefully, in a short amount of time it becomes a habit, which is hard. ... So it’s a real challenge. I love it.”
Of course, there is the basketball. The players get to perform on the international stage in meaningful games, and the added exposure could help land them an NBA training camp invite or a contract in the NBA G League.
“I love it,” said Galloway, who has played for seven NBA teams. “It’s a great experience for me to play. A great foundation for me, especially going into the season and then just the opportunity to play against teams that you don’t normally play against, guys that you normally don’t get a chance to play against.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com.