The US Olympic men’s basketball team have been together for two weeks. There were six practices. The team played four shows. Two roster changes have already been needed and the Americans have no idea when three more players will join the squad.
This is probably not the formula for Olympic success, but ready or not, Tokyo is waiting.
“It’s a little different,” said US coach Gregg Popovich.
No, it is very different. Unprecedented, really, like almost everything else in the Tokyo Olympics that start on Friday. The United States – the reigning three-time gold medalist in men’s basketball – leaves Las Vegas on Monday for the trip to Japan, where they will begin final preparations for the start of the Tokyo Games.
The plan is to have four more practices in Japan before the Olympics open against France on July 25. Americans have 12 names on the list; only nine will be with the team for the trip to Japan as the other three – Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker – still play in the NBA Finals.
“I think we’re all better for the adversity we’re going through, because you handle it or not,” Popovich said. ” You understand. And these guys had to do that. They kept their heads held high. There may be a disappointment here or there, or an event that occurs, but they move on. And that is the purpose of life. So it is no different.
Adversity has come in droves for Americans. During their two week stay in Las Vegas:
– Bradley Beal was forced to leave the team for reasons related to the virus and Kevin Love has stepped down due to injury.
– Jerami Grant was briefly in health and safety protocols related to the virus and missed a few days.
– Keldon Johnson has been promoted from Team Select (the players brought to Las Vegas so they can practice against the Olympians) to replace Beal, and JaVale McGee has been added to the roster to replace Love. McGee was with the squad for Sunday’s exhibition final against Spain, but didn’t play, meaning his first action with that squad will be in actual Olympic competition.
– Oh, and the Americans lost to Nigeria and Australia, had to call off the rematch against the Australians, and for a brief moment only six of the 12 members of the Olympic team were available in the camp.
“We still won’t have those other three, but at this point that’s not going to change,” Popovich said. “We just have to persevere and find ways to keep them in shape even though we’re not going to be able to perform too well. So we’re going to have to find some common denominators for that exact group. Less is more, so to speak. Inventing the wheel would be the worst thing we can do for this group.
Middleton, Holiday and Booker will play Tuesday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. If Milwaukee wins this game – the Bucks, along with Middleton and Holiday, lead Booker and the Phoenix Suns 3-2 in this series – they’ll win the NBA title. It would also mean the trio could be in Japan by the weekend, giving time to join the Americans for at least one practice before the game against France.
If Phoenix forces Game 7, it would be Thursday night, the day before the opening ceremony in Tokyo, three days before the USA-France game. A grueling playoff race is quite intimidating for the players; a grueling playoff race followed by a flight halfway around the world isn’t the recipe for fresh legs, so anyone can guess how effective Middleton, Holiday and Booker will be when they get to Japan.
Popovich doesn’t know what to expect.
“I have no idea. You know, I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m just totally transparent,” Popovich said. “We thought, Are they going to have jet lag? gonna be like two days later after they land and you’ll be okay? ”… In some ways it may depend on whether everyone is healthy. If they aren’t, they have to play. So we have gone through a lot of scenarios, we haven’t figured it out yet, that’s for sure.
And that’s a rarity, with Popovich running out of answers.
“He takes it very seriously,” said Johnson, who also plays for Popovich with Spurs.
The five-time NBA champion as a coach from San Antonio has competed in intelligence with 11 different members of the Basketball Hall of Fame during his career. Spurs have won 60% of those games, a fancy way of saying that the best minds to ever coach the game lose three out of five times to Popovich. He has a story of having the answers.
But as he heads to Tokyo, for an Olympics in the midst of a pandemic, without fans and without a quarter of his roster, even he is still scratching his head. Plus, the United States’ opener in Tokyo is not child’s play – France are the team that ousted the United States from the medal race at the Basketball World Cup. -ball 2019 in China, the tournament that marked Popovich’s debut as the head coach of the US program.
And Popovich, who usually doesn’t reveal anything by accident, said on Sunday evening that the Americans had been preparing for France “for two years,” a clear nod to what happened in China.
“We still have a long way to go,” Popovich said. “And we still have a week before we play, so even though it’s not long… I think it’s wonderful because we need that time. So, I hope that we will continue to improve during the week and that we will be ready to play a very good French team.
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