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Grant Hill believes the FIBA World Cup won’t be easy for Team USA

With the 2023 FIBA basketball World Cup less than 34 days away, Grant Hill is thinking about how he’s going to pack. He’s got time to figure that out, but come Aug.3. Team USA will have their first exhibition match against Puerto Rico in Las Vegas. From there, the roster will be on the clock to assemble a cohesive unit on and off the court. He believes they will be ready by the first tip-off against New Zealand. But there’s a bit of a wait and see their approach to this World Cup.

“We’re all competitors. We also have a great deal of respect for the World Cup, and just how hard it is,” Hill told Hoops Habit. “We have spent a lot of time since the NBA season concluded and even throughout the season, with lots of discussions. Now we have a better sense of how to approach things but we’ll still have to figure it out.”

This year’s FIBA World Cup will feature 32 teams, and be played in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, which includes a gruelling 17-hour flight from Las Vegas to Manila. This tournament will also serve as qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics in France. For Team USA, the second-ranked team for the World Cup, they’ll be looking to break the gold medal drought, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2014.

“We are fully aware – myself, Steve Kerr, his coaching staff – [of] just how incredibly challenging this will be. This will not be easy at all. But we like our roster. We like the balance that we have. Defensively we have some great potential, we have shooting. We have the right kind of people. We’re looking forward to collectively figuring out who we are and what we’re capable of doing and ultimately on quest for gold.”

In 2019, Team USA lost to France in the quarterfinal by 10, and beat Poland by 13 to claim seventh. Spain won gold that year for the second time and are the reigning gold medallists. Overall at the World Cup, the Americans have won 12 medals that include five gold, three silver and four bronze – the most out of any nation.

No tryouts. No mandatory commitment for NBA players.

Earlier this year at a press conference in March, Hill talked about the change in direction of no tryouts, no mandatory commitment for NBA players to make themselves available to play for their country, something he says started during the Jerry Colangelo years. His mantra became part of a gradual transition at a time where players wanted to rest, deal with injuries, spend time with family, instead of committing to back-to-back years of an Olympics and World Cup. Hill says this was a move to adapt to the times.

“I think people reacted and responded a certain way, but that’s kind of been in place already. As we began this process, we just felt it was in the best interest. We have a limited amount of time to prepare. So let’s not use a week of that or two weeks trying to put together a roster. Let’s use that two weeks to put together a team.”

Part of Hill’s strategy is to build a team full of youthful talent. So it’s no surprise that this year’s Team USA roster consists of five players under the age of 23 – Anthony Edwards, Jaren Jackson Jr., Paolo Banchero, Kessler Walker and Tyrese Haliburton – a mix of players that will provide a healthy balance of shooting and defensive.

Let’s start with Banchero. He’s coming into this World Cup as the 20-year-old NBA Rookie of the Year. He carried the Orlando Magic on his back and helped them improve to 34 wins this past season (12 more wins than the previous). He averaged 20 points per game and had 40 games where he scored 20 points or more.

Next is Edwards, a bona fide superstar in the making who, at 21, became an NBA All-Star in 2023. He shot at 45 percent from the field this year, averaging 24.6 points.

Haliburton, 23, hit a career best in 2023: 20.7 points per game, averaging 10.4 assists. He also became an All-Star in 2023.

Jackson Jr. was the Defensive Player of the Year (2023) with an output of 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting at 50.6 percent from the field.

Reaves, a versatile shooter and playmaker, had a breakout year with the Lakers and averaged 26 minutes on the court.

The Shift from NBA to International Game will have its Challenges

Whether it’s the young talent or the mid-career veterans, Hill explains, the selected roster is one he thinks can translate their personal NBA game into the more team-focused international competition that operates under different rules, different styles and different officiating. The challenge for Hill and his staff will be teaching them how to win in a short amount of time.

“Historically, what we’ve done in recent years fielding a team of young players – players who haven’t been a part of the men’s national team – is get them the experience and into the pipeline, and have them a part of FIBA competition. I tip my cap to the 92 men’s national team, the dream team, and the role they played globally was a small part of that evolution. So now there’s this constant flow of, I think, incredibly young talented players who come into the league who have great potential and a lot of runway in front of them and thankfully they want to be part of this.”

In the weeks to come Hill, Kerr, and Team USA’s roster will have to evolve and learn on the go. They’ll have to travel more than 7,500 miles together. They’ll have to learn to eat and sleep as a team. Work through warm up games, training sessions, and show improvement over a six-week period between the opening exhibition match and the Gold Medal game.

“Ultimately we’re judged by whether we win the gold medal or not. That’s the obvious goal. Can we just improve and get better? And commit to getting better, execute and deliver? And just everyday just show improvement. That’ll give us the opportunity to achieve that ultimate goal. You’re not going to win the gold medal the first day. As we go through this, and this journey, this experience together, if we can just get better everyday we give ourselves a real shot at great success.”

Team USA are in Group C along with Jordan (33rd), Greece (9th), and New Zealand (27th).

They play New Zealand Aug.26, Greece Aug.28 and Jordan Aug.30. Quarterfinals are Sept.5. Semifinals are Sept.8. Gold medal match is Sept.10.

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Author: Justin Robertson
July 25, 2023 | 3:00 pm

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