The USA’s campaign hasn’t gone to plan.
The USA’s campaign hasn’t gone to plan.

Team USA’s humiliating ‘wake-up call’

DEPOSED champions the United States locked in its worst ever finish at a Basketball World Cup after losing a dead-rubber 94-89 to Serbia on Thursday night (AEST).

In a match-up many had predicted wouldn't be seen until the final of the tournament, Team USA fell behind a scarcely-believable 32-7 at quartertime.

They fought back to make the scoreline less embarrassing but it was a second defeat in three days after a young team up of second-tier NBA stars was defeated 89-79 in the quarter-finals by France, ending a 13-year unbeaten run.

And it's not being received well.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday that when the time comes to start assembling the 2020 Tokyo Olympics roster, he won't forget those who backed out of commitments to play in the World Cup this summer.

Of the 35 players originally selected for the US player pool, only four are in China for the World Cup.

"I can only say, you can't help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn't show up," Colangelo said.

"I'm a firm believer that you deal with the cards you're dealt. All we could have done, and we did it, is get the commitments from a lot of players. So with that kind of a hand you feel reasonably confident that you're going to be able to put a very good representative team on the court. No one would have anticipated the pull-outs that we had."

The US has one more classification game but will finish no better than seventh - the worst finish ever by an American men's team in a major tournament.

The US will go to Tokyo next year seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal, and getting stars to play on the Olympic team is rarely a problem.

The World Cup team wasn't exactly loaded with superstars - only two of the 12 US players on the World Cup roster were All-Stars this pastseason, while nine of the 12 players on the 2016 Olympic team were coming off All-Star appearances.

Colangelo felt ankle injuries sustained by Jayson Tatum during the World Cup and Kyle Kuzma just prior to the tournament hurt the US chances in China, noting that the team felt Kuzma was going to be a big help.

But there's also been criticism of the way the pieces fit together in China.

The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks said the team needed to be built around young stars Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Devin Booker and Jaren Jackson Jr going forward.

"That may not be the most awe-inspiring list in comparison with the (2008 team), but this foursome's style of play is a better fit for the international game. The best defensive strategy against the Americans has always been to pack the paint to neutralize their athleticism and turn them into shooters," Tjarks wrote.

"Players like Young, Booker, and Jackson grew up watching Steph Curry. Shooting 3s from all over the floor is second nature to them. That shooting ability, in turn, will create massive openings at the rim for players like Williamson. Team USA always brings the best athletes to international competitions. Now we will have the best shooters, too."


Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Gregg Popovich. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Colangelo expressed disappointment for US coach Gregg Popovich, who will also lead the Tokyo-bound team next summer.

Popovich missed out on making the 1972 Olympic team as a player, and was an assistant coach on the 2002 world championship and 2004 Olympic teams that failed to win gold medals.

"I told Pop I felt really bad for him because I wanted him to have a chance to win a gold medal after his experience with USA Basketball in the past," Colangelo said. "But it wasn't meant to be in this competition."

But even the five-time NBA championship-winning coach is being questioned now. "How does Gregg Popovich escape unscathed? Why is there never any criticism of how he handled the team's preparation or roster? Apparently Pop the Great is above all that," wrote Dwight Jaynes.

"He certainly couldn't find many answers with this team, other than using smaller and smaller lineups. I don't think Team USA was prepared for the situation. And that usually falls on the coach, doesn't it?"

Casey Feeny made the case for Villanova's Jay Wright to take the reins, arguing the role was better suited to a college coach.

"The No. 1 job (and probably No. 2 and No. 3) for the national team coach is to convince the best players to play," Feeny wrote. "You know who has experience at convincing good players to play for them? High-level college coaches."

"Another reason why a college coach, specifically Wright, should lead the national team is the nature of the task," Feeny added. "Beyond the one-and-done nature of international tournament play, the expectation is for USA Basketball to win every game. When you run a big-time college program, that is a familiar pressure."