The Team USA dropouts for training camp accumulated quickly, but all that did was open up spots for others in a USA Basketball program filled with depth.
New Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker and the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell see it as a good thing and head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters the 12 who will end up on the final roster “are not ‘C’ players.”
Walker: ‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’
Walker signed a max deal with the Celtics this offseason, but unlike other free agents in new places he’s decided to stay committed to Team USA. He was named to the initial 2018-20 players pool last year and the training camp roster this June.
"This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us," Walker told reporters Monday from camp, via ESPN. "I think a lot of us are happy those guys pulled out because this is our chance.
“It's our chance to get on the big stage and showcase our talent. A chance for us to do something new. It'll be a new-look team. Everybody is kind of doubting us but I think we're hungry."
Walker won silver with the U18 national team in 2008 at the FIBA Americas U18 championship. He averaged a team-best 13.4 points and was named MVP.
Mitchell: We have a chip on our shoulders
The U.S. men’s national basketball team has 12 medals in 17 FIBA World Cups. They’re currently two-time defending champions and are 123-27 overall.
With more top talent that hasn’t yet gotten an opportunity to wear the red, white and blue while winning a world title, it means more players like Walker who are hungry for the opportunity.
Mitchell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“Obviously, we play with more of a chip (on our shoulders),” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of countries think they see an opening so for us we have to go out there and compete and get ready. We’re going to get every team’s best shot.”
Nine of the 14 named to the World Cup training camp roster backed out. There are 17 players now in camp trying to make the 12-player roster.
Popovich: ‘These are not ‘C’ players’
The national team has a lot to work with in terms of filling a roster, an aspect not lost on national team managing director Jerry Colangelo. Via NBA.com:
"Thank goodness we're blessed with the depth of talent we have in this country. You find guys that want to play and you go with them."
Popovich said as much in separate comments to reporters, adding everyone in camp wants to be there which is “a big part of the battle itself.
"These are not ‘C’ players. You've heard a lot of criticism about who isn't here, and I keep repeating that it's about who is here. There's some really good talent and it's going to be difficult getting to a 12-man roster when you really think about it.”
The 2019 FIBA World Cup begins Aug. 31 in China and runs through Sept. 15. Team USA’s first game is against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1.
NBA stars withdraw from Team USA
Big names pulled themselves from consideration at what seemed like a daily pace last month. James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Zion Williamson all withdrew to either prepare for the upcoming season or for personal reasons. (Beal removed his named because his child is due during that time.)
In late July, USA Basketball announced it added six players to the training roster, including Mason Plumlee, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Only three players in camp have played for the U.S. in senior level international competition: Plumlee (‘14 WC), Kyle Lowry and Harrison Barnes (‘16 Olympics).
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