Bacon, Team USA Readying for Next Round of FIBA World Cup Americas Qualifiers

By Sam Perley

A productive offseason for Dwayne Bacon will be getting a bit more eventful in the coming days as he prepares to represent Team USA and the Charlotte Hornets at a pair of FIBA World Cup qualifying games.

Bacon, who was officially selected on Sept. 10, will be part of a United States squad that takes on Uruguay on Friday, Sept 14 in Las Vegas followed by an away showdown with Panama on Monday, Sept. 17. These two contests officially begin USA’s second round of qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which will take place in China next summer.

When the time comes to pick the final delegation for the tournament, that’s when the LeBron James’s, Steph Curry’s and Russell Westbrook’s come into play. For qualifying, USA Basketball tends to turn towards developmental players who are capable of matching up well against lower-profile opposing national teams.

And that’s where Bacon comes into the mix. Even though he won’t be part of the final roster next year, donning the red, white and blue in a sanctioned international competition is still a special milestone for the second-year NBA forward.

“I think it’s a great opportunity just to be in a competitive environment and to be under a good coach, building good habits, having to adapt to a new style and system,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “All of that is valuable development for him.”

Longtime NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy will be leading Team USA through the qualifying process, which will conclude in February of 2019. Bacon’s teammates for this two-game slate include Frank Mason III (Sacramento Kings), Henry Ellenson (Detroit Pistons), Isaiah Hicks (New York Knicks) and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs).

A somewhat noteworthy observation about the 12-man USA roster is that no player included on it appeared in as many NBA games last season as Bacon did (53). The Florida State product averaged 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds over 13.5 minutes per outing his rookie year.

Team USA’s first opponent, Uruguay, has not qualified for the FIBA World Cup since 1986, when it finished in 18th place. Esteban Batista – who appeared in 70 games for the Atlanta Hawks from 2005-07 – is the only Uruguayan-born player to ever compete in the NBA.

According to Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper, Batista will not play on Friday because of a quadriceps strain, nor will two of the team’s other better players in Bruno Fitipaldo and Luciano Parodi.

Monday’s foe, Panama, placed 21st at the 2006 edition of the World Cup and much like Uruguay, has little in terms of NBA-level talent. Guard Trevor Gaskins ranks tied for 12th in scoring (13.2 PPG) and tied for second in assists (5.5) amongst all players through the first round of FIBA Americas qualifiers. Charlotte native and former University of Virginia forward, Akil Mitchell, is also listed on the Panama roster.

After these two contests, the United States will have four more remaining qualifying matches; at Argentina on Nov. 29, at Uruguay on Dec. 2, home against Panama on Feb. 22 and home against Argentina on Feb. 25. Because these games fall within the NBA season, Bacon won’t be partaking. Team USA will likely utilize full-time G League players instead.

If (or when) Team USA brings home its third-consecutive World Cup gold medal next summer, Bacon can take pride in knowing he played a small, yet important, role in the process. If nothing else, this experience gets him into a couple of early competitive situations as he looks to take his game to another level this upcoming NBA season.

Fans can watch Bacon and the rest of the Team USA competitors take on Uruguay (Friday, Sept. 14 at 10 p.m. EST) and Panama (Monday, Sept. 17 at 9 p.m. EST) on ESPN+ or www.livebasketball.tv.