Storyline: USA Basketball

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So for Pop-watchers of a certain age, it’s hard to resist rewinding to the height of his reverence for the Jazz every time Popovich huddles with the budding Utah star Donovan Mitchell these days — a frequent occurrence on the U.S.A. Basketball practice floor. A picture of coach and player after a recent intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas, side by side and backs to the camera, slammed home the point: Mitchell has begun a six-week course of higher learning under Popovich.

Popovich still isn’t sure what he has roster-wise, but he can point to at least one luxury as he finally settles into his dream job as Mike Krzyzewski’s successor: Mitchell’s rise alongside the All-Star guard Kemba Walker will enable the United States to field an elite starting backcourt at the FIBA World Cup in China from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15. “Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Yet the mere mention of the word “scrimmage,” for a U.S.A.B. contingent in Las Vegas, inevitably evokes images of what happened to George. That’s the reality even when both player and program can gratefully say, on this unpleasant five-year anniversary, that they have rebounded as well as anyone could have hoped. “It was a travesty when it took place, and it just put us back on our heels,” Jerry Colangelo, U.S.A.B.’s managing director, said Thursday on the eve of Friday’s scrimmage. “But time has a way of healing. The fact that Paul came back all the way and it didn’t affect his career, it kind of minimized what transpired.”

U.S.A.B.’s struggles to attract stars for this summer’s World Cup bid have been a persistent N.B.A. story line over the past month. Those troubles, though, are more often attributed to player apathy toward a non-Olympic tournament, along with general concerns about workload and travel amid the league’s rising “load management” movement, rather than fretting about a George repeat. “No, sir,” Boston’s Kemba Walker said when asked if he viewed George’s story as a cautionary tale before accepting U.S.A.B.’s invitation to be the face of this World Cup squad.

All of that would have been hard to imagine on Aug. 1, 2014, seeing George, with his right leg placed in an air cast and teammates like Plumlee all around him so visibly shaken, taken out of the Thomas & Mack on a stretcher. “Hard to watch,” Walker said, recalling the broadcast he watched that night while traveling in Atlanta. “Sad.” Said Colangelo: “If Paul had gone down for the count, it would have been tragic for him and for us. Thank God it didn’t go down that way.”

USA National Team members expected at the World Cup training camp include Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat); Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings); Jaylen Brown(Boston Celtics); Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers); Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks); Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors); Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks); Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz); Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics); Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics); P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets); Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers); Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics); and Thaddeus Young (Chicago Bulls).

The 14-man USA Basketball Select Team includes Jarrett Allen (Brooklyn Nets); Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings); Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns); Jalen Brunson (Dallas Mavericks); John Collins (Atlanta Hawks); Pat Connaughton (Milwaukee Bucks); Craig; De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings); Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets); Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic); Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies); Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks); Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs); and Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks).

Mitchell will also attend Team USA’s national team training camp Aug. 5-9 in Las Vegas. He hopes to earn a spot on the final 12-man roster for the FIBA World Cup in China, but his goal is to come back to Utah a much-improved player. “A lot of it, I’m just keeping it to myself with just being a better playmaker and a better player overall, being more efficient, and those are the obvious things, and then being in better shape,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully making the USA team will help with that.”

Thompson did not sound as definitive as he walked through an arena hallway following practice on Wednesday. Thompson mused, “I don’t even know what I’m getting for tonight, bro.” Thompson then added, “my focus is on winning this game tomorrow.” Still, it appears unlikely Thompson will play, according to a source familiar with his thinking. Thompson has appeared in five consecutive NBA Finals. He wants to focus on his pending free agency and a planned trip to China as part of his work with Anta from July 12 through 22.

If Walker plays, something he said he would like to do, he will come up against Japan in the group stage, with the Akatsuki Five, Turkey and the Czech Republic set to battle it out with the Americans for a place in the second round. “It will be an honor, of course, it will be the first time in my professional career that I will get the opportunity to compete for the U.S.A. team,” he said. “It will be an honor to play against Japan. I love playing against different competition, especially guys from another country, so I am looking forward to it.”

“He was remarkable, spectacular, off the charts, what he did to qualify USA for the world championships,” Popovich said of Van Gundy, who has worked as a television analyst since being fired by the Rockets. “He put together about five different teams, of mostly different players every time, and had a short amount of time to get ready. If they didn’t do well, the U.S. doesn’t go, and he deserves a lot of credit for doing that. I’m very grateful to him for what he did.”

Head coach Gregg Popovich has named former player and friend Steve Kerr as an assistant coach on Team USA for the next two summers, an indication that the Golden State Warriors coach is emerging as an option to become head coach sometime in the future. USA Basketball made the announcement Thursday. Popovich also named Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and Villanova head coach Jay Wright as assistants. Popovich and this coaching staff will work with the national team for the 2019 World Cup in China and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“This is an incredible opportunity and one I’m extremely grateful for,” Kerr said in a statement. “I had the good fortune to participate in our USA Basketball program as an amateur, and to have the chance to return to the world stage three decades later and work under Pop, one of my former coaches and a mentor, is a tremendous honor.” Kerr played for Team USA in the 1986 World Championships in Madrid while he was a player at Arizona. He hasn’t been a part of Team USA since 1988 as he’s focused on his NBA playing, front office and coaching career. Popovich bringing him into the fold will give him experience with the international game that could be put to use later.

The USA will continue its training through Sept. 13 at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. The USA, playing in the first competition window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying second-round games, will meet Uruguay on Sept. 14 (7 p.m. PDT) at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, then meet Panama on Sept. 17 in Panama City. The USA roster is capped by Bryce Alford (Oklahoma City Blue); Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets); Henry Ellenson (Detroit Pistons); Reggie Hearn (Grand Rapids Drive); Isaiah Hicks (New York Knicks); Dakari Johnson (Free Agent);Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings); Ben Moore (Fort Wayne Mad Ants); Chasson Randle (Capital City Go-Go); Travis Trice (Milwaukee Bucks); Jameel Warney (Texas Legends); and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).

Featuring 10 players who played for NBA teams in 2017-18, and the return of two players boasting of previous World Cup Qualifying game experience, USA Basketball announced today 14 players who will vie for a roster spot with USA’s September World Cup Qualifying Team. The hopefuls will open training camp on Sept. 6 at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. The Las Vegas training camp will be used to determine the 12-man team for the USA’s first competition window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying second-round games. The U.S. will square off against Uruguay on Sept. 14 (7 p.m. PDT) at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, then meet Panama on Sept. 17 in Panama City. The player selections were made by the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team Committee.

Returning to contend for a USA roster spot after previously playing with USA World Cup Qualifying Teams are guard Reggie Hearn (Grand Rapids Drive) and center Jameel Warney (Texas Legends). Hearn played with the USA’s November 2017 and June 2018 World Cup Qualifying Teams, and while getting the starting nod in all four games, averaged 12.3 points a game. Warney played for U.S. in the November World Cup Qualifier and averaged 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. Both players were also part of the USA AmeriCup Team that finished 5-0 to claim gold in August 2017. Warney, who was selected the 2017 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year, earned AmeriCup MVP honors after posting 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, while Hearn contributed 10.0 points a game. Rounding out the U.S. training camp roster are Bryce Alford (Oklahoma City Blue); Dwayne Bacon (Charlottw Hornets); V.J. Beachem (Free Agent); Jordan Crawford (New Orleans Pelicans); Henry Ellenson (Detroit Pistons); Isaiah Hicks (New York Knicks); Dakari Johnson (Free Agent); Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings); Ben Moore (Fort Wayne Mad Ants); Chasson Randle (Capital City Go-Go); Travis Trice (Milwaukee Bucks); and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).

Now it appears all might be not be as it appears with Robinson’s immediate future, with Heat President Pat Riley providing insight on the 3-point specialist’s plans in advance of training camp. “I’m really proud in the fact that Duncan Robinson has been invited to play in the international series,” Riley said of the September window for World Cup qualifying, “but he decided to stay here because he wanted to make our team, he wants to force us into giving him a real contract.”

It will be Colangelo and Gregg Popovich, who officially took over for Krzyzewski after the 2016 Rio Olympics, to choose those guys. Colangelo said there was initially an expectation on his part to step away from the program in 2016 along with Krzyzewski. But after Popovich said he would be willing to coach the team on one condition — that Colangelo stay at the helm — those plans changed. “So, in my mind, that gets me through 2020,” Colangelo said. “And then, we’ll see.”

Mavs assistant coach Jamahl Mosley was one of nine assistant coaches at the USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp this week in Las Vegas. “To me this camp was great,” Mosley said. “We got the guys a chance to recognize, come together and start building a family with USA Basketball. Just getting together and being around these coaches is — I said it before — it was an honor and an privilege. I can’t even put into words how fantastic it’s been.”

But U.S.A. Basketball officials are bracing for Leonard to invoke his right to pass on the non-mandatory sessions, as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have done, as he continues his recovery from the mysterious quadriceps injury that led to the unraveling of his relationship with the Spurs. Leonard, after all, might dread the glare of the spotlight more than Popovich. “He’s a maybe,” Colangelo said of Leonard’s attending the camp.

USA Basketball and Griffin have never been able to properly mingle. However, the window isn’t closed. On April 6, Griffin, along with Detroit Pistons teammate Andre Drummond, were among the 35 players named to the USA Basketball 2018-20 roster. Training camp in preparation for the 2019 USA World Cup in China and 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be July 25-27 in Las Vegas. And Griffin has every intention of participating. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Griffin told The Athletic. “I mean, the Olympics, in general, is something I’ve always wanted to do at least once.”
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