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MANILA, Philippines – Even minus the NBA heavyweights, the USA squad still looks fancied enough to go all the way in the FIBA World Cup.
But as it turned out, talent depth may no longer be the only thing that comes to play in the global games as the Americans now serve as a mere curtain-raiser to the final showdown pitting Serbia and Germany.
“This team is very worthy of winning a championship and we just didn’t get it done,” said USA coach Steve Kerr.
Relegated to the third-place battle, the United States hopes to salvage a bronze against a similarly NBA-studded Canada crew on Sunday, September 10.
The North America showdown was the finale many predicted, but new powerhouses came charging as Germany and Serbia arranged an all-European title match for the first time in 17 years.
“The game has been globalized over the last 30 years or so. These game are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore,” said Kerr – a reference, of course, that could only mean the 1992 Dream Team.
Often described as the “greatest sports team ever assembled,” the 1992 USA squad paraded all the best of the NBA as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson bannered the superstar cast.
But while pure talent carried that USA team to a perfect romp, it’s a team model that apparently no longer holds in current international basketball.
“Players are better all over the world. Teams are better,” said Kerr. “It’s not easy to win a World Cup or the Olympic games.”
The Americans got a feel of it early on, as they often rallied from a slow start in the group phase before absorbing a shock first loss to Lithuania.
“I guess year in, year out we’re expected to win just because of the history USA Basketball has had,” said American point guard Jalen Brunson.
USA has won the World Cup five times, the most by any country. And this year was supposed to be a redemption bid after the Americans surprisingly finished seventh in the 2019 edition in China.
But perhaps, winning a bronze will be fine for now as the Americans continue their climb back to the top.
It’s no easy task, Kerr admits, and he credits his roster – led by young NBA stars Anthony Edwards, Paolo Banchero, and Austin Reaves – for putting their “neck on the line.”
“We recognized right away this group is amazing – the commitment to each other, to the team, to representing the country well,” said Kerr. “They were incredible. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Kerr noted there’s also no taking away their learnings from international play.
“This is great, high-level competition on the world stage. I think everybody on our team loved being part of this. And part of competition at this level is you put your neck on the line,” said Kerr.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys, for how hard they played, how they’ve approached this last five weeks of practice, putting in the work.” – Rappler.com