FIBA World Cup 2019: Team USA ready to learn from, play for 'legend' Gregg Popovich

By Sports Desk August 29, 2019

Players for Team USA are well aware of the opportunity they have coming up in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Not just to represent their country, but to learn from coaching greats like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.

"I've really tried to kind of pick their brains," Team USA guard Donovan Mitchell said during training camp in Las Vegas earlier this month. "Picking everybody’s brain, coaches that have had such impact on this game, figuring out how to be a better overall player. Whether it's my approach to the game, whether it's a decision I make in the game defensively, offensively, whatever it may be."

Everyone wants to learn this year on Team USA. Mitchell said so on more than one occasion and plenty of players echoed the sentiment. Every single one of them talked about their excitement, specifically when it comes to playing for Popovich.

It's not hyperbole to call the San Antonio Spurs coach an NBA legend.

Popovich has won five NBA titles in San Antonio and three Coach of the Year awards. Only two coaches in the history of the league have more titles than him (Phil Jackson with 11 and Red Auerbach with nine) and two more have tied him in championships (Pat Riley, John Kundla).

He has as much respect as anyone in the NBA and his level of knowledge can be magnetic.

"We all grew up watching Pop, now we're playing against him," Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker said. "We know how much of a legend he is, he's just an unbelievable coach, so for me to get the opportunity to play for him, for him to pick me to be a part of this team, it's a blessing."

This isn't the first time Popovich has been in a situation to rub off on players from around the NBA. He also was an assistant for the national team in the early 2000s and was on the bench when Team USA earned a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics.

That was a tough moment for Popovich, even though he was only an assistant on Larry Brown's USA staff. The bronze medal broke a string of three straight golds for Team USA at the Olympics and it remains the only time the United States has earned less than gold in the last seven Games.

Mike Krzyzewski's decision to step down as Team USA head coach after the Rio Olympics opened up an opportunity for Popovich to take over, but he has his hands full in San Antonio and taking the head coaching job for a national team is a big decision. It was not guaranteed he would coach this team in 2019 at the FIBA World Cup in China but, eventually, he gave in.

"I thought about it," he said earlier this month, via ESPN. "I met with Mr. [Jerry] Colangelo [Team USA's managing director]. I took a little bit of time. We talked several times. I knew what I was getting into. It's your country. You say yes. You man up and try to surround yourself with as much brainpower as you can."

In a way, the role provides Popovich with a shot at redemption for his country. It's a tough shot as this FIBA roster was marred by withdrawals and injuries and goes into the World Cup lacking the usual star power of a USA team.

Team USA will have to figure some things out and has dealt with some challenges on the court already with a loss to Australia last week, which broke a 78-game winning streak in international play.

Kerr put the state of this team — and Popovich's foray back onto its coaching staff — into great perspective as the World Cup creeps closer.

"The whole game is trying to put the puzzle together," said Kerr, the Golden State Warriors head coach who is assisting Popovich.

It is a puzzle Popovich was willing to figure out and one his players are embracing alongside him as he shows them how to fit the pieces into place ahead of Sunday's tournament opener against the Czech Republic in Shanghai.

"Seeing him when you play against him, you don't get to see this side of Pop that those guys in San Antonio see," Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. "So being here and able to play for him, he's a fun guy, he jokes a lot, I didn't know he was a jokester like that.

"He jokes a lot, but he's about business … you know he's really good about making sure to have fun and just staying loose and get you right, (and) he's a guy you really want to have coach you."

Related items

  • FIBA World Cup 2019: MVP Rubio leads Spain to final glory FIBA World Cup 2019: MVP Rubio leads Spain to final glory

    Ricky Rubio played a starring role as Spain regained the FIBA World Cup by defeating Argentina 95-75 in the final in Beijing on Sunday.

    Phoenix Suns guard Rubio was named MVP after he combined 20 points with seven rebounds and three assists to lead Spain to the title for the first time since 2006.

    Sergio Llull added 15 off the bench for Sergio Scariolo's side, while NBA champion Marc Gasol had 14 points with seven rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals.

    Spain's success owed a lot to a stoic defensive display, with Argentina forward Luis Scola kept scoreless in the first half of the showpiece.

    Scola and Facundo Campazzo combined for three-of-21 shooting from the field, with Gabriel Deck's haul of 24 points insufficient to inspire Argentina to a late comeback.

    Spain started the first quarter with a 14-2 run and then began the second half by going 12-2 to open up a comfortable advantage they never looked like surrendering.

    France took third place for the second successive World Cup after coming from 15 points down in the second half to defeat Australia 67-59.

  • FIBA World Cup 2019: Popovich blasts critics after USA finish seventh, Serbia take fifth FIBA World Cup 2019: Popovich blasts critics after USA finish seventh, Serbia take fifth

    Gregg Popovich defended Team USA and hit out at a "ridiculous" lack of respect for other nations at the FIBA World Cup after the reigning champions ended their campaign with an 87-74 victory over Poland.

    A significantly weakened US squad - missing a host of star names but still packed with NBA experience - saw their title defence ended by France at the quarter-final stage earlier this week, before also losing to Serbia.

    That meant Saturday's triumph at Beijing's Wukesong Sport Arena, in which Donovan Mitchell starred with 16 points and 10 assists, was only enough to secure seventh place for the country that won gold at each of the last two World Cups.

    Popovich nevertheless said he was proud of his players' efforts as he firmly rejected some of the criticism that has come the USA's way.

    "Some people want to play the blame game, there's no blame to be placed anywhere," the veteran head coach was quoted as saying by ESPN. "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 that whoever thinks that doesn't respect all the other teams in the world and doesn't respect that these guys did the best they could.

    "Their effort was fantastic. You give people credit for what they did, and that's it. But it's not a blame and shame game, that's ridiculous."

    Mitchell was one of five players to put up a double-figure points tally in the USA's final game, along with Joe Harris (14), Khris Middleton (13), Derrick White (12) and Harrison Barnes (10). Middleton also contributed six rebounds and half a dozen assists.

    Poland, playing their first World Cup since 1967, were paced by Mateusz Ponitka (18 points), Adam Waczynski (17) and A.J. Slaughter (15).

    The outcome was decided early with Team USA scoring the game's first 10 points and stretching their lead to 14 by the end of the first quarter.

    They led 47-30 at half-time, aided by Poland's inability to hit from three-point range. The underdogs missed their first 13 shots from behind the arc before finally getting one to fall with a minute and 28 seconds to play before the interval.

    Poland did rally in the second half, getting as close as seven points with four minutes and seven seconds left in the third quarter, but the Americans responded with a 9-2 run and ran out comfortable winners.

    Serbia secured fifth spot with a 90-81 victory over Czech Republic later in the day, Bogdan Bogdanovic the star of the show with 31 points.

  • FIBA World Cup 2019: Popovich blasts critics after USA finish seventh FIBA World Cup 2019: Popovich blasts critics after USA finish seventh

    Gregg Popovich defended Team USA and hit out at a "ridiculous" lack of respect for other nations at the FIBA World Cup after the reigning champions ended their campaign with an 87-74 victory over Poland.

    A significantly weakened US squad - missing a host of star names but still packed with NBA experience - saw their title defence ended by France at the quarter-final stage earlier this week, before also losing to Serbia.

    That meant Saturday's triumph at Beijing's Wukesong Sport Arena, in which Donovan Mitchell starred with 16 points and 10 assists, was only enough to secure seventh place for the country that won gold at each of the last two World Cups.

    Popovich nevertheless said he was proud of his players' efforts as he firmly rejected some of the criticism that has come the USA's way.

    "Some people want to play the blame game, there's no blame to be placed anywhere," the veteran head coach was quoted as saying by ESPN. "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 that whoever thinks that doesn't respect all the other teams in the world and doesn't respect that these guys did the best they could.

    "Their effort was fantastic. You give people credit for what they did, and that's it. But it's not a blame and shame game, that's ridiculous."

    Mitchell was one of five players to put up a double-figure points tally in the USA's final game, along with Joe Harris (14), Khris Middleton (13), Derrick White (12) and Harrison Barnes (10). Middleton also contributed six rebounds and half a dozen assists.

    Poland, playing their first World Cup since 1967, were paced by Mateusz Ponitka (18 points), Adam Waczynski (17) and A.J. Slaughter (15).

    The outcome was decided early with Team USA scoring the game's first 10 points and stretching their lead to 14 by the end of the first quarter.

    They led 47-30 at half-time, aided by Poland's inability to hit from three-point range. The underdogs missed their first 13 shots from behind the arc before finally getting one to fall with a minute and 28 seconds to play before the interval.

    Poland did rally in the second half, getting as close as seven points with four minutes and seven seconds left in the third quarter, but the Americans responded with a 9-2 run and ran out comfortable winners.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.