untung99.biz: Fun part begins for Steve Kerr Grant Hill and Team USA after qualifying for World Cup

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When Warriors coach Steve Kerr was caught on camera saying to Bulls guard Alex Caruso “we’d love to have you” after a game between the two teams this season, he wasn’t talking about Golden State.

It was a Team USA recruiting pitch. Kerr will coach the U.S. at the 2023 FIBA World Cup in the Philippines and again next summer at the Olympics, and he knows teams win with big guards who are rugged defenders.

Grant Hill, meanwhile, has been taking high-level meetings with very accomplished, very popular American stars, for both the World Cup and the 2024 Paris games.

Even FIBA, the international governing body for basketball, announced that Team USA would play all of its World Cup games in Manila, significant because there are technically three host cities (Okinawa, Japan and Jakarta, Indonesia are the others).

All of these things — the Kerr-Caruso connection, the Hill meetings, the Manila designation for Team USA — all of them took place before the Americans even qualified for the World Cup.

That actually happened Thursday night in Montevideo, Uruguay, when a roster full of Americans you mostly have never heard of, coached by a former Bulls coach whom you’ve probably asked yourself whatever happened to him, beat a collection of Uruguayans you definitely couldn’t name.

The final score, if you must know, was Team USA 88, Uruguay 77. The Americans trailed by 12 at the half. Had they lost, they would have gone into the very last day of qualifiers (Sunday in Brazil) having not yet nailed down one of the 32 spots in the World Cup, which, by the way, is the easiest path for any country to qualify for the Olympics. The qualification process gets much more complicated for teams who do not qualify via the World Cup.

Now, to be fair to the situation, virtually all of the tiebreakers would have been in the Americans’ favor, and to make a long story short, they essentially would have had to lose to Brazil on Sunday by nearly 70 points to actually fail to make the World Cup.

But the point still stands. Even getting to the Philippines was difficult work.

“It’s a tough situation because were we not to qualify, we’d be looked at as failures,” said John Jenkins, a G Leaguer and six-year NBA vet who was one of the 52 players to play for Team USA during the qualifying round.

NBA stars are not available for qualifying games (mainly because a majority were during the season), which makes the Americans more vulnerable. They lost twice and struggled in a number of games, with roster continuity hard to come by. The top brass at USA Basketball, and at FIBA, for that matter, had to go on about their business assuming the Americans would eventually qualify, because if they hadn’t, it would have been both unprecedented and very, very bad for both parties.

Next comes the fun part: in the weeks ahead Team USA will likely start to roll out some names of NBA players committed for the World Cup. It’s always a fascinating exercise, even more so this time because there is no longer a rule for players to make two-year commitments to the program. The Team USA that goes to the Philippines could look very different from the group that goes to Paris.

Most international stars play for their countries at the World Cup. Unless he’s hurt, Giannis Antetokounmpo will play for Greece. Luka Dončić said he’s in for Slovenia. All of the French stars who nearly beat the Americans in the Olympic gold medal game in Tokyo are expected back. And Victor Wembanyama is likely to play for Les Bleus. He’s balling for them in the qualifiers and led the French with 22 points and 17 rebounds in a win Thursday over the Czech Republic.

The same cannot be said for literally any of the Americans who wore a USA jersey during the qualifiers. The players who did all the dirty work over the last 451 days (yes, that’s how long these qualifying games have been going on) have all either washed out of the NBA, are in the G League or just happen to be the reigning slam dunk contest champion.

That’s right. Mac McClung, who wowed us all last Saturday by jumping over humans and dunking basketballs with an ease not seen in some time, played for Team USA during “qualifying window 4” in August in games in Las Vegas and Colombia, where the Americans hadn’t played since 1982. McClung was born in 1999.

Bet you didn’t know. Why would you? These games are the afterthought to an afterthought.


Mac McClung’s path back to NBA: 30 cities, 150 teammates and dunk contest

Isaiah Thomas was an MVP candidate in the NBA 2017. He was on a USA qualifying roster. But just one.

Joe Johnson. Yes, that Joe Johnson, with 41 years and 18 NBA seasons under his belt. He helped the Americans.

Luke Kornet. Matt Ryan. Justin Jackson. All in the NBA now, all used Team USA stints to catch on in the league.

Rodney Hood. Chris Chiozza. Treveon Graham. Chasson Randle. Quinn Cook. Jordan Bell. Tarik Blak. Maybe not quite household names, but all of them at one time or another held fairly significant roles on maybe your favorite NBA team.

“All I look for is an opportunity, and playing with Team USA is creating that opportunity for me being able to continue to play, continue to showcase at a high level against different competition,” said Langston Galloway, an eight-year NBA vet who scored 21 points for the Americans in Uruguay Thursday and has played in nine of 11 games of the qualifying tournament. He’s 31 and playing for the College Park Skyhawks of the G League.

“That’s why I do this — the opportunity to continue to show what I can do,” Galloway said. “Wherever the chips may fall from there, I’ll go and continue to do what I do as always.”

The players with the most American starts during the qualifiers are Galloway and David Stockton (six), who is NBA legend John Stockton’s son. He’s not with the team now because of his G League commitment with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

The same could be said of Jenkins, 31, who is with G League Ignite now but played multiple windows for the Americans last year. Jenkins also has a replica gold medal from the Tokyo Games, courtesy of USA Basketball.

Jenkins was one of four players then-national team coach Gregg Popovich and Sean Ford, longtime general manager for Team USA, picked as practice players for the 2021 Olympic training camp in Las Vegas. Three players on the actual roster — Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker — were still in the NBA Finals and would not be able to participate in camp at all; their arrival in Tokyo ahead of the first Olympic game was in doubt. COVID-19 also had ripped through the roster, costing Bradley Beal a spot and knocking Zach LaVine out of practice for a few days.

Because of all of that, Jenkins flew to Tokyo with Team USA, stayed in the team hotel, went to practice each day and worked out with Kevin Durant.

“It was unbelievable, I’ll never forget getting the medal in the mail,” Jenkins said. “I just got it recently. To say that everybody (with USA Basketball) is first class would be an understatement.”

Jenkins couldn’t play for Team USA in the November window or in February, but last August scored 48 points in two games and drained eight 3s in one — more than any American during the qualifiers. On a personal level, workouts with the Hawks and Lakers resulted from his strong Team USA showing. He said he’s thrilled with his assignment with G League Ignite.

But a part of Jenkins wished he could rejoin Team USA to finish the job. The Americans could have qualified in November, but a loss to Brazil in Washington, D.C. tripped them up.

“Nobody’s really gonna say ‘Oh, congrats to so and so for doing this for us,’” Jenkins said. “I don’t do it for recognition from the world. I just do it because I feel an obligation for my country and for a lot of the guys that are gonna play in the World Cup. They are my friends or I’ve played against them for a while.”

Jim Boylen has been the coach for Team USA for the entire 15-month qualifying process. Dismissed by the Bulls in 2020, Boylen is now a consultant for the Indiana Pacers. He would like to return to the front of the bench for an NBA team or perhaps college. He is not on Kerr’s staff for the upcoming World Cup, but typically, coaches from qualifying rounds are asked to be advisers or to provide scouting reports of other teams. But there is no guarantee.


Far from Bulls spotlight, Jim Boylen finding his way with Team USA basketball: ‘I got my voice back’

Boylen took his ever-changing roster to nine different cities in six countries. He’s used nine starting lineups, and there is a good chance he trots out a 10th different set on Sunday against Brazil.

“Since 1990, only 277 guys have worn the USA Basketball jersey for the men’s senior national team,” Boylen said. “So right away, it’s pretty special to be a part of that. When you talk about our players now, they put themselves in a situation to continue to learn and grow and play meaningful games under pressure. Games we have to win. And they get an extra training camp. Some of them have done it three or four times, they get three or four extra training camps. I think it’s pretty cool.”

Extra practice and extra exposure, but no extra thanks and praise.

(Top photo of Steve Kerr: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)