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Pan-Am Games: Catching Up With Coach Tibbetts On Decision Day

Team USA coach Nate Tibbetts | Photo: Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images

For the first time ever, USA Basketball will send a team completely comprised of NBA D-League players to the Pan-American Games. But before the Americans ship off to Guadalajara for the 16th Games (dating back to 1951), USA and Tulsa 66ers coach Nate Tibbetts and his staff have some work to do in cutting the roster down from 15 to its final total of 12.

Kevin Scheitrum, You’re making final cuts either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. How’s that shaping up?

Nate Tibbetts: It was tough getting to 15, and it’s gonna be tougher to get to 12.

Kevin Scheitrum, Are you happy with the way people have come to play?

Nate Tibbetts: I think, overall, guys have competed at an extremely high level, and that’s kind of what we talked to them individually when they came in. Number one, they needed to be in shape and, Number two, they had to be ready to compete for a spot because 21 good players were gonna be here. Overall they’ve done a great job.

Kevin Scheitrum, The guys who make the team are going to have two motivations: first, the ability to show their stuff on an international stage and possibly earn a call-up sooner than later; and second, to get the chance to compete for their country. Are you working hard to impress the important of putting on the red, white and blue?

Nate Tibbetts: Right now, it can’t be about a call-up. Right now it’s gotta be about playing for the U.S. I think we’ve got great guys here that really understand that. It’s been 28 years since we brought a gold medal home in the Pan-American games.

There’s not a lot of room for selfish play and undisciplined play. We all gotta be on the same page.

Kevin Scheitrum, That 28-year drought. Is that in the back of your head?

Nate Tibbetts: The last time we won was when Michael Jordan was playing. We definitely talked about that in our first meeting, and we need to use that as motivation, and I think we will.

We’ve talked about it early, and we’ll continue to remind them.

Right now, it can't be about a call-up. Right now it's gotta be about playing for the U.S.
Nate Tibbetts
Kevin Scheitrum, Team USA won the first five Pan-Am Games, then the rest of the world caught up and America seemed to slow down. What’s happened over the past 28 years?

Nate Tibbetts: I don’t know for sure. You said it, I think – the rest of the world has caught up. The gap in talent is a lot shorter than it used to be. Everyone around the world is playing basketball, and everyone in the world is playing basketball to beat the U.S. We’ve got a huge target on our chest, and people are coming at us.

Kevin Scheitrum, It’s notoriously tough to get All-Star teams to play as a team, with guys coming together for just a few short weeks. What are you doing to glue everybody together?

Nate Tibbetts: It’s gonna be a challenge to put a team together in a short amount of time, but this is what we have to do – try to figure it out. Our guys’ focus has been extremely sharp, and we’ve come to work in practice because our guys are focused-in. We’re trying to play catch-up here, but these guys have been playing basketball for a long time now.

Kevin Scheitrum, When you found out you were coaching, what went through your head?

We aren’t gonna be a well-oiled machine on the offensive end, compared to some guys that have been together for two to three years.
Nate Tibbetts, on the importance of playing solid defense
Nate Tibbetts: Just to represent our country, what a special opportunity – a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Every day I come in and I still can’t believe that I’m doing it, and I think some of the guys have that feeling, where they’re really excited to do it. We have an opportunity to represent our country.

Kevin Scheitrum, You’re looking like a guard-driven team, with some big guys playing out of position. What kind of team should we expect in Guadalajara?

Nate Tibbetts: We need to use our depth. We’re gonna have 12 guys that are gonna play, and maybe a different guy steps up every night. We need to play with a high level of intensity on the defensive end to give us some possessions. We aren’t gonna be a well-oiled machine on the offensive end, compared to some guys that have been together for two to three years. We need to be in position defensively, so we can put our guys offensively in position.

We can’t have selfish basketball.

Kevin Scheitrum, The D-League is often characterized as an offense-first league. Do you feel like you’ve had to ratchet up the guys’ defensive intensity?

Nate Tibbetts: I think our staff does a pretty good job here at Tulsa holding guys accountable defensively. If guys aren’t committed to the defensive end this week and while we’re down there, they’re not gonna play. They understand that, and they’ve done a heck of a job buying into our defensive philosophy, so I don’t have a lot of worries about how hard they’re gonna go. But we’re gonna see a lot of different things [in international ball] from the NBA game and D-League game.