Greg Popovich Knows He Doesn’t Have to Spend Full Time Teaching His U.S. Olympic Players the Game of Basketball
Right now his top priority is to make those players into the team.
“We have to take advantage of their abilities, their strengths and play together, play for each other, with a vision in mind,” Popovich said. “He’s winning the whole deal.”
This is the first Olympics for Popovich as head coach. He coached the US at the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China, putting together a team after nearly three dozen invitees and commitments dropped out of the game. The result ended in seventh place, the worst ever for American men in a major international competition.
This roster is different. Its previous NBA Finals MVP is in Kevin Durant. It features NBA Championship ringside players like Durant, Drummond Green, and Kevin Love — a list that will grow after the NBA Finals as the three U.S. Olympians currently playing in a Milwaukee-Phoenix matchup.
“They are big-time players, so they are not here to develop their individual game,” Popovich said. “They are here to come together, to be a team, fall in love as quickly as possible, and want it as badly as foreign teams want it.”
The players — nine of the 12 on the Olympic team anyway, Milwaukee teammates Khris Middleton and Jew Holiday, as well as Phoenix’s Devin Booker, all absent as they play in the NBA Finals — arrived in Las Vegas on Monday, carrying them away. Gaya to settle down at their hotel and take their first coronavirus test, then gathered for a team meeting in the evening.
Popovich warmly welcomed them all, then began to talk about the challenge to come.
“We know what we have to do,” said US center Bam Adebayo.
The exercise began on Tuesday and will continue till the end of the week. The US play their first international friendly against Nigeria on Saturday, and they will spend the most waking hours together over the next few weeks – that’s exactly what Popovich wants.
“We have to spend a lot of time together,” Luv said. “It’s just going to help nurture and foster some great relationships on the floor and I think that bodes well for what we’re going to do there.”
US forward Jason Tatum of the Boston Celtics played his college basketball at Duke for former Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski, and will now play for Popovich at the Tokyo Games. Tatum also played for Popovich at the Basketball World Cup in China two years ago and said that one aspect of the coach’s personality surprised him.
“He has an amazing sense of humour,” Tatum said. “I think the casual fan sees the guy who does those interviews postgame, but that’s not quite who he is. I love spending time with him and being in a relationship with him now. I’m really lucky That I played under Pop and Coach.
America won the last three Olympic gold medals under Krzyzewski, and now it’s Popovich’s turn. The US would be favored, and remain the number 1-ranked team in the world by FIBA. The first day was about setting up some basic offense and defense — “trying to invent the wheel won’t work,” Popovich said — and establishing how the Americans wanted to play.
After that, it was time to resume team-building.
“They are sacrificing a lot,” said Popovich. “To leave my families after years in Covid – more than that in fact – and to be committed to representing my country at this point I think is really commendable and a great sacrifice.”
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