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Eight Coaches, 52 Players Team Up to Qualify United States for 2023 World Cup

  • Author:
    Kyle Leverone, USA Basketball Writing Program
  • Date:
    Mar 10, 2023

It doesn’t entirely matter what team it is. And the circumstances don’t entirely matter, either. They could be playing somewhere in the United States or halfway around the world. If you play for USA Basketball, there is only one thing fans want to know.

“The only question you get asked when you get home is, ‘Did you win?’” said Jim Boylen after serving as head coach of the U.S. Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team. “That’s the only question they’re going to ask you. ‘How’d it go? Did you guys win? Yes or no?’”

Boylen led the U.S. Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team through six qualifying windows which included 12 games over a 455 day period. The team went 9-3 to qualify the United States for the FIBA Men’s World Cup this August.

People aren’t interested in hearing about the circumstances. They’re deemed irrelevant. It all came back to that one question: Did you win?

But for Boylen, those outside details aren’t insignificant. Because, to him, “nothing worth anything has been easy.”

FIBA introduced the currently qualifying system leading into the 2019 tournament. For 2023, the six windows were held between November 2021 through February 2023. In each window, countries played two games against other pool teams. There was no singular location, as countries both hosted and visited, and, for the U.S., there was no set roster.

Boylen coached a combined 52 different players in six windows. 

Because the qualifying process happens largely during the NBA season, the Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team invites players from the NBA G League to represent the United States.

However, since the G League is also in season, players’ availability is erratic. So when trying to coach and teach a team through the different style of basketball that FIBA plays (40-minute games, 12-panel ball instead of eight, five fouls instead of six, less pick and roll, more physical, etc.) compared to American basketball, this ever-revolving door of players becomes quite the test.

“This is the most competitive situation I've ever been a part of,” Boylen said. "You pick the team in 10 days, coach them for five and play games that you have to win. That dynamic, that situation, if you're a competitive person, you love it, but it just can't be the coaches. It's got to be the guys you pick too. So, the 52 guys that we picked, their character in this was really important.”

Boylen preached simplicity and execution. Instinct replaced thought. Communication was protection. During preparation, he wanted his team to be “hearing it, seeing it, and doing it.”

The long road began in Mexico back on the last weekend of November in 2021. The United States beat Cuba by five on a Saturday but lost to Mexico by 11 a day later. A 1-1 start doesn’t exactly give an appropriate answer to that one question that looms above the team, but it was a quick turnaround during the second window about three months later.

“I came in during the second window…” said Langston Galloway, who played a critical role on the team for five of the six windows. “And that was the first window for me, the second window for the team so when we beat Puerto Rico and Mexico, it gave us the blueprint [for] how we have to play FIBA basketball.”

Including those two games in the second window, the team rattled off six consecutive wins over the span of six months to finish first in Group F and put itself in a solid position heading into the final two windows.

Along with 52 players, Boylen, Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford, and the team of assistant coaches (Ty Ellis, Othella Harrington, Mike Wells, Sydney Johnson, Corliss Williamson and Miles Simon) got the job done. They won, but the circumstances made it that much more impressive.

The road was long and arduous, and Boylen had to pretty much start at square one before every window, but in the end, Boylen was reminded of how special this all was each time his team stepped up on picture day.

“When you see these guys put on that USA uniform, the same uniform Kobe [Bryant], Tim Duncan, LeBron [James], and Carmelo [Anthony] wore,” Boylen said, “and you see the joy and how they have separated [themselves] from the basketball community to be on this team. I'm telling you, it's just tearful.”


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