A shifting of the guard: How Grant Hill values the program’s exhibitions prior to the 2023 Men’s World Cup
In an eight-day span prior to the Tokyo Games, Gregg Popovich’s squad would play four exhibition contests in Las Vegas, one of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s most coveted training sites of the past 17 years. With player fluctuations, NBA availability conflicts, and a differing style of play and set of rules utilized overseas, these matches provide the group an outlet to showcase their athleticism and develop camaraderie on and off the hardwood.
Now, roughly two years later, the 2023 Men’s National Team will look to renew its exhibition success with games in Spain and the United Arab Emirates. The international portion of the USA Basketball Showcase begins with matchups against Slovenia (Aug. 12) and Spain (Aug. 13) in Malaga, Spain. Then, on Aug. 18 and Aug. 20, the program is slated to host exhibitions against both Greece and Germany, respectively, in Abu Dhabi in the days prior to the 2023 FIBA Men’s World Cup.
Given USA Basketball’s expectation to consistently reach the apex of international competition, the USA Basketball Showcase proves all the more valuable.
Grant Hill, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and current managing director of the USA Men’s National Team, acknowledged the merit of these exhibitions. A member of five USA Basketball teams, the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee emphasized the significance of the games in Malaga and Abu Dhabi.
“The opportunity… for us, just to give us a chance to have some solid competition in anticipation of our World Cup experience is exciting,” said Hill. “ Typically, we’ve had a game or two in the [United States], and then on our way to the World Cup site or the Olympic site–having those games is important for us.”
The announcement of the USA Basketball Showcase comes two weeks after the U.S. Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team conquered Uruguay to secure a bid to the 32-team 2023 FIBA World Cup from Aug. 25-Sept. 10.
Hill highlighted how thrilled hoops fanatics in Abu Dhabi appeared during his time at the NBA Global Games in October.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Hill. “The city was incredible… but the excitement for basketball certainly exceeded my expectations. They are starving for the game…there was just great excitement and anticipation at the thought of USA Basketball and the Men’s National Team playing there this summer. Now that that’s been finalized, I just can’t wait.”
As basketball continues to balloon into an international enterprise, credited in part to what the 1992 Olympic Dream Team did in Barcelona, the 2023 Men’s National Team will spread its influence throughout parts of the world eager to witness slam dunks, fastbreaks and marksmanship from beyond the arc.
“We look forward to bringing our presence, our team and our preparation for the World Cup into a new market that is craving, and I think, very excited about basketball, particularly USA Basketball and the NBA,” said Hill. “Basketball is really a global game. For us to enter into a market in the Middle East, it’s fun.”
Hill also spoke about the pair of games in Malaga, preceding the Abu Dhabi contests. With the Spanish National Team recently leapfrogging the USA to secure the No. 1 spot in the FIBA world ranking, the former Duke University Blue Devil welcomed the possibility of renewing a friendly, international feud.
“We have the utmost respect for the Spanish Basketball Federation,” said Hill. “Spain has had a good run and [is] certainly deserving of that, and we have our work cut out for us…we also know they’re kind of rivals of ours.”
Notwithstanding infamous gold medal duels featuring Kobe Bryant and LeBron James against Pau and Marc Gasol on the Olympic stage, the Spanish National Team has a lot of respect as one of the world’s best. Still, Hill remains optimistic and welcomes the challenge before the National Team ventures to Manila for the World Cup.
As Hill navigates his new role as managing director of the USA Men’s National Team, succeeding the legendary Jerry Colangelo, the expectations remain.
“I understood when taking this job that it would be challenging, and certainly not ceremonial at all,” said Hill. “The expectations are tremendous. Anything else than gold is looked upon as failure. I’m aware of that.”
And the exhibition bouts scheduled in both Malaga and Abu Dhabi are an important part of the red, white and blue’s quest for the gold. Hill, a competitor at heart, certainly understands.