Team USA defeated Poland 87-74 on Saturday to finish in seventh place in the FIBA World Cup tournament, and coach Gregg Popovich had a few words for those who have criticized the red, white and blue for not bringing home a gold medal.
“Some people want to play the blame game. There’s no blame to be placed anywhere,” Popovich told reporters. “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.”
The American squad had to cope with more than two dozen defections from NBA stars who backed out of their commitment to play before the tournament. Of the 35 players named last summer as possible members of the roster, only four made it to China: Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Harrison Barnes and Myles Turner.
Walker didn’t play on Saturday due to a neck injury, and his two Boston Celtics’ teammates were on the bench with injuries, too - Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Marcus Smart (leg).
“Their effort was fantastic,” Popovich said of his team. “They allowed us to coach them. You give people credit for what they did, and that’s it. But it’s not a blame and shame game. That’s ridiculous.”
The team’s 6-2 showing was good enough to clinch a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when the roster will look markedly different. Popovich, who will coach the team, didn’t discuss a potential roster.
“This isn’t really the time to even think about that,” Popovich said of the Olympics. “It’s 10 months away.”
The seventh-place finish is the lowest ever by an American team in a major international tournament. Donovan Mitchell led the U.S. against Poland with 16 points and 10 assists on Saturday, with Joe Harris adding 14 points, Middleton 13, Derrick White 12 and Barnes 10.
Mitchell, for one, said the experience was enough for him to know he’d like to be part of Team USA in Tokyo.
“I think I have to wait for them to ask,” Mitchell said. “But I want to be there.”
—Field Level Media