FIBA World Cup 2019: Donovan Mitchell, Team USA ready for title run — 'You don’t come in unless you want to win'

Team USA is favored to win the FIBA World Cup, now it needs to execute.

Published : Aug 31, 2019 09:38 IST

Myles Turner (left), Khris Middleton (middle) and Gregg Popovich
Myles Turner (left), Khris Middleton (middle) and Gregg Popovich

Myles Turner (left), Khris Middleton (middle) and Gregg Popovich

Every  person involved with Team USA has their own story.

Gregg Popovich has taken over as head coach and is on the bench with the national team for the first time since the disappointing 2004 Olympics. Marcus Smart and Myles Turner have been national team mainstays from when they were teenagers. Donovan Mitchell is making his first appearance and is looking forward to not only competing at the international level, but to learning from his new teammates.

But while every man has a different story, they are all united on one front. They are playing with Team USA because they love to win. Mitchell said that straight up.

"You don’t play Team USA unless (you want to) win," Mitchell said at team practices in Las Vegas in early August. "You don’t come in unless you want to win."

Team USA has done a lot of winning in the past. The national team has won gold medals at six of the last seven Olympics and owns a total 15. It is also the two-time defending champion at the FIBA World Cup and are favored to take home the gold this year in China. Winning is expected at the highest level for Team USA Smart and Turner have already done a lot of winning for the national team, just not yet at the highest level.

Turner has extensive experience with USA basketball. He won the gold medal with Team USA's U18 squad and was a member of the select team leading up to the 2016 Olympics. This moment isn't lost on him though even if it's not unfamiliar.

“This is a huge opportunity for me," he said.

But it is a different opportunity and a different challenge. In 2014 at 18 years old Turner averaged 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds at the U18 World Cup as Team USA went 5-0 and won a world title. He had very good success there, but he knows the FIBA World Cup is going to be a different beast.

"When you’re in high school you’re so much more athletic, so much bigger than everybody," he said. "Now (there’s) guys just as big, just as smart, just as athletic, just as skilled, so you’ve got to kind of — you can’t just overpower everybody, you’ve got to actually play them.”

Smart won gold medals in 2012 at the U18 FIBA Americas Championship and in 2013 at the U19 World Cup. He played in nine games in 2013, starting eight, averaging 9.6 points, 2.8 rebounds,  2.2 assists and 2.4 steals.  His 22 steals are tied for the second-most by an USA player at the U19 World Cup. He was also on the select team leading up to the 2016 Olympics with Turner. He is loving the opportunity in front of him.

“I’ve been part of USA for a very long time," he said, "since I was with 16s and then with 17s and growing up so, I played on the select team with those guys … so now being here to actually make the team is incredible.”

Not every player invited to Team USA decided to play at the World Cup. Guys like Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and James Harden turned down the opportunity either for fear of risking injury or simply because they wanted to prepare for the upcoming season. And that's only a handful of players who turned it down. The list is long and consists of a few other NBA superstars.

Those men had a chance to play but they turned it down, but Mitchell, Turner, Smart and their teammates saw an opportunity to stand out on the international stage. They have taken the challenge and will run with it into their first game against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1. 

But they didn't have to do this. They could have sat out and waited for the regular season. Even Popovich, who is entering his 24th season with the Spurs, had to think about joining Team USA and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski stepped down from his post as head coach. In the end his desire to bring the U.S. more success won out.

"I thought about it," he told ESPN earlier this month. "I met with Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo (Team USA's managing director). I took a little bit of time. We talked several times. I knew what I was getting into. It's your country. You say yes. You man up and try to surround yourself with as much brainpower as you can."

Will Team USA win this year's FIBA World Cup? That remains to be seen. But this team has done all it can to put itself into position to do it.

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