USA Basketball came to Las Vegas for training camp this week with plenty of questions about an unproven international roster.
It left encouraged.
Many of Team USA’s new players made a good showing in a 97-78 victory over a select team of younger NBA players before an announced crowd of 7,656 on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“I think our guys are making progress,” coach Gregg Popovich said after the team’s first exhibition game. “They haven’t played together before. They’re showing great effort. Doing a good job in a lot of different ways. They’re just trying to get used to each other and form a team. We’re still in those early stages of trying to get together and figuring out how we want to play and learning about each other.”
USA Basketball is breaking in plenty of new players after a rash of NBA stars dropped out of its training camp for the FIBA World Cup in China. That left the team with three healthy former All-Stars this week and some wondering whether a third straight gold medal was in its future.
It’s not out of the question.
The team took Popovich’s emphasis on ball movement to heart and had 23 assists on 38 field goals. The passing left players with plenty of open looks, and they went 11 of 27 (40.1 percent) from the 3-point line.
“We’ll take that,” Popovich said. “That’s pretty good. And I think we’ll up our assist total even more than you saw tonight as we become more familiar with each other and feel more comfortable.”
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum led the national team with a game-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the bench. Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox, who was promoted from the select team this week, was also a standout with 12 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
For the select team, Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (eight points) and San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (12 points) performed well enough to earn promotions to the national team, but on Friday they were outgunned.
After falling behind 8-2, the national team went on a 23-4 run that spanned the late first quarter and early second to take a 41-22 lead.
“They came out tonight and hit us first,” said Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who tied for the team lead with four assists. “I think a lot of us, we all competed all week. They’ve been competitive practices, and today you guys saw that spill onto the floor.”
USA Basketball will take a few days off before training from Tuesday through Thursday in Los Angeles. Bagley and White will travel with the team, replacing Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo and Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young, who were cut after the game.
The team will need to make more cuts to get to a 12-man roster before the World Cup begins Aug. 31.
“It’s going to be a good group for us to try to bring together,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “We’ve got the right guy coaching, and we’ve got a number of good young players.”
USA Basketball schedule
Friday: Exhibition vs. Spain, Anaheim, Calif.
Aug. 22: Exhibition vs. Australia, Melbourne, Australia
Aug. 24: Exhibition vs. Australia, Melbourne, Australia
Aug. 26: Exhibition vs. Canada, Sydney
Aug. 31: World Cup begins in China