MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Naismith Trophy is part of the prize package for winners of the Basketball World Cup.
He immediately understood the mission.
“It’s nice to see it,” Haliburton said. “It’ll be nicer if we bring it home.”
The chance for 32 teams to do just that finally gets underway on Friday, when the World Cup begins in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan. Consider this a redemption-type opportunity for the U.S., which was seventh — its worst-ever finish — at the last World Cup in 2019, and even saw its 12-year reign atop the men’s national-team world rankings end last November.
Yet at this World Cup, the only team with 12 NBA players on its roster finds itself back in the role as the favorite knowing that only gold will be good enough and anything less will be decried as failure.
“We’re going to compete. We’re going to play as hard as we can. We’re going to try to win a gold medal,” U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “If we don’t, we understand there will be plenty of criticism and we’re OK with that. But our approach is, this is incredibly fun, we’re unbelievably fortunate to be able to do this and to compete and know that we did everything we could. We’re putting in the effort. We want to win. But whatever happens happens — and we’ll live with that.”
There is no shortage of challenges. France believes it finally is in a position to win gold, after winning bronze at the most recent World Cup in China in 2019, silver behind the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics two summers ago, and silver behind Spain at last year’s EuroBasket. Slovenia has Luka Doncic, maybe the best 1-on-1 player in the tournament and an All-NBA talent for Dallas. Canada has a slew of NBA players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Australia has savvy veterans like Patty Mills and Joe Ingles. And then there’s Spain, the defending World Cup champion.
“Honestly, I hate the definition of defending anything,” Scariolo said. “We are not defending anything. Every team is starting a new, fresh competition. Every team starts 0-0. We have been proud to exceed any expectations during the last competitions, winning championships that nobody predicted. We might win and we are starting from, once again, behind several teams in the expectations of the final result.”
The tournament starts Friday with eight games — there are eight more Saturday, including the U.S. opener against New Zealand — and will almost certainly see history on Day 1. Local officials are hoping more than 40,000 people will attend in Manila when the Philippines meets Karl-Anthony Towns and the Dominican Republic. That attendance figure would smash the previous World Cup record, set when 32,616 watched the U.S. beat Russia at Toronto in 1994.
It’ll be a moment of immense Pinoy pride.
It’s just relishing the opportunity,” Philippines coach Chot Reyes said. “I mean, who gets this chance, right? To coach your national team in a tournament of this magnitude in your hometown? I know there are a lot of detractors, but I just always remind myself that what we have here going on is special. That’s enough for me. That’s enough for us.”
Qualifying for this event started more than two years ago, with 80 hopefuls getting pared down to the 32 nations that are in Asia for the next couple of weeks. Teams were placed into a four-team group; the top two teams in each of the eight groups made the second round. Some nations fully understand that they would need to pull off the upset of upsets to advance.
When Venezuela’s David Cubillan was asked how to guard Doncic, who awaits them in their tournament opener on Saturday: “You need to pray.”
There are some interesting pairings in the opening games, including Serbia facing China. Sasha Djordjevic stepped down as Serbia’s coach after the last World Cup in China, then got hired by China last year — and sure enough, Serbia awaits him Saturday.
That’s very, very special,” Djordjevic said. “Very emotional. It’s going to be a game full of emotions. But we are professionals and we have to do our best for the teams that we are working for. It’s a detail that probably you guys from the media will like, but for me, it’ll be a game full of pride.”
Kerr is looking for a unique double: He won the World Cup, then called FIBA’s world championship, as a college player in 1986 when the Americans beat the Soviet Union 87-85 at Madrid behind 23 points from Kenny Smith. Kerr missed the title game after tearing a knee ligament in the semifinals.
“This experience,” Kerr said, “is something our team will never forget.”
That was among the selling points Kerr, Grant Hill, and Sean Ford — the braintrust of USA Basketball’s men’s program right now — used to lure this roster of players who haven’t been on this stage before. There’s no shortage of talent and no shortage of expectation.
There’s no such thing as pressure,” U.S. point guard Jalen Brunson said. “I have figured it out that as long as I continue working hard on my game, putting everything I can into what I do, there’s no such thing as pressure. Now there are different moments, and situations where the stakes are higher than the others, but as long as I keep working hard there is no pressure. And I think this team is going to rely on each other.”