FIBA World Cup 2019: Team USA has 'become close in a short period of time,' Gregg Popovich says

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Coach Gregg Popovich is pleased with how well Team USA has come together heading into the 2019 FIBA World Cup. 

“They’ve become close in a short period of time,” Popovich said (via ESPN). “The camaraderie has blossomed, and I think that will bode well for us.”

USA Basketball announced the final roster last weekend with the final cut coming when Kyle Kuzma left the team because of a foot injury. The ultimate roster was different than many expected as several star veterans withdrew their invitations in the months leading up to the tournament. 

“I think because of the circumstances that brought this team together, I feel like the players have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Jerry Colangelo, who helps put the roster together, said (via The Athletic). “There’s this sense of, ‘Hey, we’re not chopped liver,’ and I think that’s the glue that holds this group together. There’s a good feeling between everyone in that way.”

The team first started working out together four weeks ago in Las Vegas and the players have competed in five exhibition games together, where Popovich has tried out five different starting lineups.

The bonding has gone beyond just the court, though, including team dinners. The Athletic notes the players “genuinely like each other” and there’s more off the court bonding than usual for NBA teams playing at tournaments like this one.

“We were just kind of hanging and getting to know each other, and it kind of spurred it from there,” Joe Harris said. 

Donovan Mitchell added: “Our dinners are funny, they’re fun. It’s just talk — about each other, our individual teams, what our day is like. Just, you know, guys’ lives, what we go through as NBA players, a lot of us have similar situations.”

Veteran Kemba Walker explained one big difference is the team has the same agenda: to play for each other.

“We have great chemistry, I think. We’re getting along really well,” Walker said. “We want to play for each other, and that’s the biggest thing.

“We’re constantly communicating and constantly picking each other up. We love being around each other; it’s been a great experience for all of us.”

While the tournament starts Saturday, Team USA’s first game is Sunday against the Czech Republic.