AEK became the first team to reach three figures in this season's FIBA Champions League when they beat EB Pau-Lacq-Orthez 102-82 in their Group B opener, while Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem showed their teeth on the road.

Keith Langford starred for the Athens outfit, amassing 27 points as Jonas Maciulis weighed in with 17. Matt Mobley's 25, including four of seven from three-point shooting, was in vain for EB Pau-Lacq-Orthez.

A third-quarter burst of 18-8 proved pivotal for Hapoel against Teksut Bandirma in Turkey and they hung on to win 73-69 as the hosts battled back in a thrilling finish.

Dyshawn Pierre was Dinamo Sassari's hero as he sunk two free-throws with 2.9 seconds remaining to seal a 79-78 win against Lietkabelis. It meant Pierre capped a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds in style.

San Pablo Burgos were 11 points adrift at one stage before turning their game against Antwerp Giants on its head.

Goran Huskic led the way with 19 points for the Spanish newcomers, who were better to the tune of 21 during the third and four quarters to win 90-76.

Telekom Baskets Bonn followed their domestic win over Bayern Munich by beating Casademont Zaragoza 85-71, while Ryan Toolson starred in the closing stages for Manresa to see off Torun 85-81.

There were comfortable wins for Nymburk and Dijon over Bamberg and tournament debutants Falco Szombathely respectively.

Brazil international Marcelinho Huertas and Giorgi Shermadini helped Tenerife make a winning start to the FIBA Champions League campaign as they beat Nizhny Novgorod 81-67.

Tenerife, who were beaten by Bologna in last season's final, were too good for their Russian opponents as Huertas scored 13 points and Shermadini contributed 24 along with nine total rebounds.

Newcomers Peristeri also got up and running with a 70-64 success over Gaziantep in their maiden Champions League match, having overcome a rotten start where they fell 20-4 behind.

Steven Gray, Scoochie Smith and Christos Saloustros all reached double figures for the victorious Greek side.

No team scored more points on Tuesday than Rasta Vechta, who enjoyed an 89-76 success over Anwil Wloclawek, as Trevis Simpson sunk six shots from beyond the arc in a 30-point contribution.

Elsewhere, there were wins for VEF Riga, Neptunas Klaipeda, Besiktas, Turk Telekom and Strasbourg.

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.

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.

Argentina, looking to win their first FIBA World Cup since the inaugural edition in 1950, will contest the final on Sunday against a Spain side that needed double overtime to progress from the last four. 

Spain advanced to the title game with a pulsating 95-88 victory over Australia, erasing a double-digit deficit in regulation to hand the stunned Boomers their first loss of the tournament.

Marc Gasol fuelled Spain's win in the first World Cup elimination game to go to double overtime by scoring 33 points with six rebounds and four assists. Ricky Rubio added 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds as Spain outlasted a Patty Mills-inspired Australia.

Mills poured in 32 points and Nic Kay came off the bench to score 16 points and grab 11 rebounds for the Boomers.

Gasol, who won an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors in June, has a chance become only the second person to add a World Cup crown to an NBA championship in the same year.

Lamar Odom did the double in 2010 with United States and the Los Angeles Lakers. After the Lakers bested the Boston Celtics in seven games that year, Odom stood atop the podium three months later in Istanbul with his USA team-mates hoisting the Naismith Trophy.

"I just cherish every moment for what it is. I don't try to double up. I want to give the maximum for every occasion. It is two completely different situations. I'm going to give my best to win a World Cup for Spain," Gasol told FIBA basketball.

Argentina, having stunned Serbia in the quarter-finals, continued their incredible run in China with an 80-66 victory against France in Friday's other semi-final, with seemingly ageless Luis Scola, 39, and Facundo Campazzo leading the way. Argentina last played in the final in 2002, coming up short against Yugoslavia.

"They were just the better team tonight," France's Rudy Gobert said. "From the first to the last minute, they were more aggressive and played more as a team... It was complete domination."

Spain have a chance to join the United States, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Brazil as only the fifth country to win multiple FIBA World Cup trophies.

Patty Mills starred as Australia beat Czech Republic 82-70 in Shanghai to reach the FIBA World Cup semi-finals for the first time.

The Boomers sealed a sixth consecutive victory in the tournament to make history at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center on Wednesday.

Australia took charge in the third quarter, outscoring the Czechs by 30 points to 18 to seize control and went on to set up a last-four showdown with Spain in Beijing on Friday.

Mills, Chris Goulding and Andrew Bogut played key roles for Andrej Lemanis' side, scoring 48 points between them to ensure a brilliant performance from Tomas Satoransky was in vain.

Satoransky sunk 13 points, laid on 12 assists and claimed nine rebounds, while Patrik Auda racked up 21 points in defeat for the Czechs.

Point guard Mills shot nine of 15 from the field as he bagged a game-high 24 points, grabbing four rebounds and providing six assists in an influential display.

Goulding and Bogut – on court for just over 12 minutes – finished with 14 and 10 points respectively.

Rudy Gobert starred as France ended the United States' title bid with a 89-79 shock victory in the FIBA World Cup quarter-finals.

Defending champions USA lost their first game in the tournament since 2006 as their star-studded line-up failed to deliver and France advanced to the last four.

Gobert was the main man for France, with the Utah Jazz center netting 21 points and amassing 16 rebounds, along with two assists, while making a superb block with just under a minute to play.

France spoiled an impressive performance from Donovan Mitchell, Gobert's NBA team-mate, who led Team USA with 29 points.

Only two other Americans scored in double figures as Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker finished with 11 and 10 points respectively.

Both teams had similar shooting numbers, but France dominated on the boards and won the rebound battle 44-28, while also shooting 17 more free throws.

Spain put in a dominant performance against heavy hitters Serbia to set up a clash with Poland in the quarter-finals of the FIBA World Cup.

Serbia had the best offense of the tournament heading into Sunday's encounter, but Spain held firm in Wuhan to secure an 81-69 victory and top spot in Group J.

Poland finished second behind Argentina in Group I following a 91-65 defeat to the South Americans, while Russia beat Venezuela 69-60 in the same pool.

Meanwhile, Italy ended their campaign with an impressive comeback against Puerto Rico, Tunisia came out on top by just two points against Angola and South Korea got the better of Ivory Coast.

RUBIO RUNS THE SHOW AS SPAIN STALL SERBIA

Ricky Rubio was in scintillating form as he scored 19 points and added four assists to lead Spain to victory over Serbia, who suffered their first defeat since February.

Rubio was backed up admirably by Marc Gasol and Victor Claver, as Spain earned a fifth successive win.

It was the first time Serbia failed to score 70 points or more in a World Cup match, even though Bogdan Bogdanovic grabbed 26 points in a supreme individual display.

While Spain will face Poland in the last eight, Serbia must rally for a tough test against Argentina.

NIGERIA BOOK OLYMPIC SPOT

Hosts China slipped to an 86-73 defeat in Guangzhou, as Nigeria grasped a place at the 2020 Olympics.

Josh Okogie helped himself to 19 points for Nigeria, with 11 coming in the final quarter. Jianlian Yi was the start of the show with 27 points, but his performance was not enough to secure a Chinese victory.

Nigeria's NBA forward Al-Farouq Aminu said on the FIBA website: "I remember when I joined the team in 2012 we said we did not want to miss an Olympics. It's a beautiful feeling. It's amazing."

China are in danger of missing out on direct qualification for the Olympics, with Iran going above them in the race for Tokyo thanks to their 95-75 win over Philippines.

AZZURRI FIGHT BACK TO OVERCOME PUERTO RICO

Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari inspired Italy to overcome a 26-point deficit as the Azzurri triumphed 94-89 in overtime against Puerto Rico to end a frustrating campaign on a positive note.

Italy had never previously won a World Cup match in which they trailed by 15 points or more at half-time, but Belinelli and Gallinari rallied their team-mates after a timeout taken when 59-33 behind midway through the third quarter.

Belinelli converted a game-high 27 points, while Gallinari became the first Italy player to accumulate more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a World Cup game since 1994.

"It was a very bad game for us in the beginning. We did not show up," Gallinari said. "We knew that we had to come out with a different attitude and different intensity in the second half and I think that we did a great job."

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Serbia impressed once more as one half of the second-round FIBA World Cup draw was confirmed on Wednesday.

Serbia were among a number of sides already through to the next stage but there was no let-up in their performance level as they swept aside Italy in their third Group D match.

There was far more on the line, meanwhile, in matches between China and Venezuela, and Puerto Rico and Tunisia.

The sides were bidding to join Poland, Argentina, Russia and Spain in the second round.
 

BOGDANOVIC BRILLIANT AGAIN

Serbia had already swatted aside the Philippines and Angola to secure their progress, but a tougher test was expected in their final first-round clash with Italy.

However, Bogdanovic's continued outstanding form meant his side again ran out comfortable winners, 92-77 with 31 points from the Sacramento Kings star - a Serbian World Cup record - as well as five assists and five steals.

These superb displays have meant Nikola Jokic has only been required from the bench, scoring 15 on this occasion, while Nemanja Bjelica emerged to contribute nine assists and seven rebounds.

Elsewhere in the pool, an 84-81 overtime victory over the Philippines ensured Angola did not go away empty-handed.
 

VENEZUELA TOO STRONG FOR CHINA

Hosts China saw their chances of reaching the second round ended as they failed to recover from a slow start in a 72-59 defeat to Venezuela.

It was winner takes all for the two sides, but China were outscored 18-10 in the first period and the South American side were able to see out victory with relative ease from there.

Poland finished Group A with a flawless 3-0 record, meanwhile, defeating Ivory Coast 80-63.
 

PUERTO RICO COME THROUGH ANOTHER DRAMATIC FINISH

Puerto Rico's dramatic victory over Iran in their opener saw a ludicrous final minute, with apparent match-winning interventions at either end, and they left it late again against Tunisia.

Needing another win to advance, a dismal third quarter put Puerto Rico three points behind heading into the final period, yet they rallied once again for a 67-64 triumph.

Gary Browne sunk a three-pointer with five seconds remaining and a last-gasp Makram Ben Romdhane air ball saw Tunisia out.

Juan Hernangomez contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds as Spain defeated Iran 73-65 to top Group C.

Luis Scola (13 points, nine rebounds) and Facundo Campazzo (21 points, seven assists, six rebounds) led Argentina past Russia in a 69-61 triumph in Group B, while Nigeria thrashed Korea 108-66 in the same pool.

Gregg Popovich's United States team survived an almighty fright in the FIBA World Cup as they claimed a 93-92 overtime victory over Turkey in Shanghai.

Turkey had a chance to hand USA their first preliminary round loss in the competition since 1998 and were one point up in the final 10 seconds.

However, they missed four free throws in the dying embers and Khris Middleton made no mistake with his pair of tries to spare USA's blushes and send them into the second round.

Elsewhere, Joe Ingles' statline of 17-10-9 ensured Australia made it two wins from two in a 81-68 victory over Senegal while Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks team-mate Giannis Antetokounmpo's fouled out in Greece's 79-78 loss to Brazil.

USA SURVIVE UPSET SCARE

Even a depleted USA roster was expected to have few issues in the early stages of the tournament, but Turkey came close to pulling off a huge upset against the defending champions.

Popovich's team were five points up in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, yet a 7-0 run from Turkey meant the game went down to the wire. 

A foul on Jayson Tatum at the buzzer gave him three free throws, and USA would have won in regulation had he made them all - but he could only drain two.

Turkey had a five-point advantage in the additional period and twice had an opportunity to go three points up with nine seconds remaining only for Douglas Balbay and Cedi Osman to fluff their lines from the free-throw line.

Middleton kept his cool as USA survived a scare on the court, though Boston Celtics star Tatum appeared to pick up a worrying looking ankle injury at the end.

GIANNIS' GREECE GO DOWN

The NBA's reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had a day to forget as Greece suffered a narrow loss to Brazil that mean the South Americans booked their spot in the second round.

Antetokounmpo had fouled out by the time Greece tried to tie the game up late on and force overtime, but Kostas Sloukas could only make two of his three free-throws with two seconds remaining as Brazil claimed a one-point success.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors center Anderson Varejao led all scorers with 22 points while Antetokounmpo had just 13 in his 28 minutes on court.

Elsewhere in Group F, New Zealand beat Montenegro 93-83.

INGLES COMES CLOSE TO HISTORY AS BOOMERS WIN AGAIN

There has never been a triple-double in a FIBA World Cup but Ingles came close to a slice of history as Australia eased past Senegal.

Ingles was one assist away from a triple-double, contributing nine of their 28 assists as the Boomers warmed up for their clash with Lithuania, who joined them in the second round with a 92-69 triumph.

In Group G, France also moved to 2-0 with a 103-64 thrashing of Jordan, while Dominican Republic kept their unbeaten start intact by beating Germany 70-68.

The day's other game saw Czech Republic defeat Japan 89-76.

Poland progressed into the second round of the FIBA World Cup after securing a 79-76 overtime victory over tournament hosts China.

Yi Jianlian missed a three-pointer in the final seconds in Beijing, and China's hopes now hang in the balance as they head into their final group game against Venezuela, who beat Ivory Coast 87-71.

Serbia amassed a huge haul of 126 points as they demolished the Philippines in Foshan, where Italy had beaten Angola 92-61 earlier on Monday.

In Group B there were wins for Argentina and Russia, while Tunisia overcame Iran and Spain got the better of Puerto Rico.

HOSTS DOWNED IN BEIJING THRILLER

Poland clinched their progression from Group A with a dramatic triumph over China in a thrilling encounter.

Mateusz Ponitka became the first player to score 10 or more free throws in the World Cup as he and AJ Slaughter led the way for Poland, who were a point behind with 4.2 seconds remaining.

Ponitka made no mistake with one of the free throws, and after Damian Kulig nudged Poland ahead in overtime, the Zenit man converted another point, which ultimately proved decisive when Yi squandered a three-pointer at the death.

In Group A's other match, Heissler Guillent put in an inspired performance to lead Venezuela to victory over Ivory Coast.

SERBIA STORM INTO ROUND TWO

Seven players got into double figures as Serbia marched into the second round with a demolition of the Philippines.

Nemanja Bjelica missed Serbia's opener against Angola, but came off the bench to steal the show, scoring all seven of his field-goal attempts.

Bjelica sunk a hat-trick of three-pointers as he finished off with a game-high 20 points in 16 minutes.

Serbia will be joined in round two by Group D rivals Italy - who they face next - after their 92-61 victory over Angola.

ARGENTINA REACH MILESTONE VICTORY

Another side into the next round are Argentina after they claimed a 94-81 win over Nigeria.

Nigeria clawed themselves back into contention with a late rally, but an early charge from Argentina proved enough to secure their second win in Group B, and a 60th overall in the World Cup.

Luis Scola was key to the victory with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and he is now the second all-time highest scorer in World Cup history with 611 points.

Russia, meanwhile, were 87-73 winners over South Korea.

Serbia got the 2019 FIBA World Cup started with a comprehensive victory over Angola in China on Saturday.

NBA stars Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Jokic led their side to an opening win, before Spain and Italy also got up and running on the first day of the tournament.

A World Cup veteran starred for Argentina, while hosts China also began with a victory.
 

BIG NAMES SECURE BIG WIN

Serbia's stars made a strong start against Angola, who were completely overmatched in a 105-59 defeat.

Sacramento Kings guard Bogdanovic stole the show as he finished with 24 points, although Denver Nuggets superstar Jokic also contributed handily from the bench, adding 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Serbia, among the contenders in China, will face far sterner tests but enjoyed their first victory.

Head coach Sasha Djordjevic said: "Everyone talks about the first game, about a little bit of pressure, but in this one we really had a great game, a great opener - defensively and offensively."

Group D also saw Italy enjoy their greatest ever margin of victory at a World Cup, beating Philippines 108-62 after tying the all-time tournament record of 37 points in the first quarter.
 

SCOLA SET TO CLIMB ALL-TIME TABLE

Luis Scola is now 39 and he entered this tournament third on the all-time points list with 573 and, as a Shanghai Sharks player, should feel at home in China.

With former Australia star Andrew Gaze second in that table on 594, Scola will expect to move up the standings in the coming weeks and he took a stride towards doing so with 15 points in a big Argentina win.

The Argentina captain contributed nine rebounds, too, as South Korea were beaten 95-69.

Elsewhere in the same group, Russia edged Nigeria 82-77.
 

RUBIO STARS FOR SPAIN, CHINA TRIUMPH

Spain, the 2006 world champions, accelerated away from Tunisia in the second half to secure a 101-62 victory, with Ricky Rubio predictably central to their success.

Rubio grabbed 17 points and nine assists. Juancho Hernangomez gathered 13 points and eight rebounds in less than 19 minutes.

Elsewhere, an incredible final minute - including two David Huertas three-pointers - saw Puerto Rico beat Iran 83-81, having trailed by 19 points earlier in the game.

In Group A, hosts China were not made to pay for their profligacy from beyond the arc - shooting one of 10 - as they beat Ivory Coast in a low-scoring affair 70-55.

Meanwhile, Poland marked their return to the World Cup after 52 years away with an 80-69 victory over Venezuela.

Team USA still pose a threat at the FIBA World Cup even if Kemba Walker rather than LeBron James is their star man, says former Germany star Demond Greene.

Defending champions the United States, who have five titles to their name, have seen several world superstars such as James pull out of contention for the tournament that starts on Saturday.

But Greene, who played at two World Cups, famously blocking Dwyane Wade in 2006, acknowledges players such as Walker and Khris Middleton could still have a huge impact on the finals.

"It's not their 'A-team'. I would not even say it's their 'B-team'," Greene told Omnisport. "It's a mix between 'B' and 'C-team'. Despite this, they are still dangerous."

Greene added: "You must never underestimate them. [The players] are still playing in the NBA.

"They've got players who average 20 points per game like Kemba Walker. They are All-Stars and leaders in their teams which proves that they are high quality players.

"The problem is that we are spoiled from the previous years, when players like James Harden, Kevin Durant or LeBron James played.

"Now you have players like Khris Middleton, who many won't even know. You have to be a basketball expert to know Khris Middleton, maybe even Kemba Walker.

"That's the problem, that many look at who's not in the team, rather than who is."

Greece are another potential contender due to the presence of Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks team-mate and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Greene believes they can be successful but says the team's big European stars must get used to playing second fiddle to Antetokounmpo, who will dominate the narrative.

"The important thing is that all players understand their role," Greene said. "The years in which Giannis didn't play, all the players had another role.

"He is the top star on and off the court. When there are press conferences, there are going to be 50 cameras around him and the other players will get what is left. You have to handle this.

"They have to understand that even if they play a totally different role in Europe and are top stars here, like Nick Calathes at Panathinaikos. He is a team leader there and also still for Greece. He may even be the heart of the team.

"They all have to cope with that. If this works out, then they can get very, very far with Giannis as their power machine.

"But it all has to work out internally and they will have to let him walk in front and let him be the leader with Calathes at his side.

"Then they can be a very dangerous side, especially in defense. Offensively, they are not that strong, but in terms of defense, they can really hurt other teams."

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."

Kemba Walker has already had an impact on his new Boston Celtics team-mates, who are thrilled to be playing alongside the point guard.

Walker joined the Celtics this offseason as a part of a sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets in which Boston sent Terry Rozier the other way.

The 29-year-old signed a four-year, $140million deal with the Celtics and will be taking over the spot left vacant by Kyrie Irving, who went to the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.

Playing alongside Walker next season will be established Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are thrilled to be welcoming the point guard to Boston.

"I'm just excited," Tatum said at a Team USA practice session in Las Vegas ahead of the FIBA World Cup.

"We've got a good team, it's a new season, everybody's kind of ready to just get going. Last year didn't finish how we wanted, so it makes guys hungry and excited for next season."

"We're going to be positive," Brown added. "Last year, I can't say it can be any worse than that, so coming out and being positive is everybody's mindset."

The Celtics were picked to win the Eastern Conference after going 55-27 in 2017-18, when they finished second in the East and lost in seven games in the conference finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But Boston struggled last season, sliding to 49-33, finishing fourth in the East and losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Walker, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the sixth time in his eight-year spell at Charlotte, and though he made staying with the Hornets a priority in free agency, a deal could not be thrashed out.

He has always stated his love for the city of Charlotte and for his team-mates and the organisation, but it ultimately turned out it was time for him to move on.

However, Walker's loyalty is something that has endeared him to the Celtics squad, according to Marcus Smart.

"We talked a little bit about basketball, but mostly just getting to know each other," Smart said.

"Knowing things that we probably didn't know about one another and just laughing and joking and building that camaraderie up."

Walker echoed Smart's sentiments, but made it clear he still has a way to go before guaranteeing any titles in Boston's future.

"I'm the new guy, they already know each other, so it's just kind of really me and getting acclimated to them and how things go," Walker said.

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