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Despite notable Team USA absences, Donovan Mitchell sets his sights on World Cup gold
EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. — Donovan Mitchell sprinted from one end of the court to the other, weaving in and out with his teammates, when Gregg Popovich raised his right hand and stopped the drill.
Not good enough, the coach said. Do it right.
For the past few weeks, the story of Team USA has focused on the All-Star talents who won’t be wearing red, white and blue when the 2019 FIBA World Cup tips off later this month in China. But as Mitchell and his teammates got to work at the UCLA Health Training Center on Tuesday night, the start of Team USA’s second week of training camp, the Utah Jazz guard understood why Popovich had stopped a simple weave drill: this team still expects excellence.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s not here. It’s about who is here,” Mitchell said. “We have a group of guys that wants to play hard and really wants to win gold. That’s our main objective.”
And Mitchell figures to be a key to Team USA’s success.
When the Jazz guard first accepted his invitation to train with the national squad, he was simply hoping to do enough to earn a spot on the roster. But after several high-profile NBA stars withdrew from the national team’s talent pool, Mitchell has found himself in an unexpected, but welcomed, position as a possible starter for his country.
“A lot of the guys dropped out. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But my approach is the same. My biggest thing is to come out here and compete. Be the best defender, the best competitor, whatever I need to do to be on the floor.”
Mitchell, for his part, had planned to honor his commitment to Team USA regardless.
“It’s an honor,” he said, wearing his blue No. 53 practice jersey. “I was never able to be a part of USA Basketball in high school or college. So for me, it’s a privilege.”
“I’ve been playing with [De’Aaron] Fox and Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen Brown since we were in high school,” he added. “To be able to play with them on an international level is special. It’s just fun. I’m enjoying this experience.”
While others declined Team USA’s invite to focus on the start of the upcoming NBA season, Mitchell said Jazz leaders have been completely supportive of his decision to participate in the World Cup.
“They were all for it. They were excited for me to get to play,” he said.
After being limited in his offseason training efforts due to injury a year ago, Mitchell has been fully able to hone his craft on the court this summer. And the Jazz’s young star believes the tournament will only help him when the NBA season tips off.
“Last summer was different,” he said. “I’m healthy. I’ve been able to travel a little bit, but I’ve been able to put in work. And this is just another step to get better.”
Mitchell smiled when asked about being able to play against his teammate, Joe Ingles, when the U.S. travels to Australia for two exhibition games next week, and again when he considered the prospect of facing Rudy Gobert and France at some point in the tournament.
“This is an experience to be able to play against talented guys from all over the world,” Mitchell said.
But the Jazz guard wants more than just experience.
He wants to win. And he expects excellence from anyone in a Team USA uniform.
“We’re not focused on the names on the back of the jersey,” Mitchell said. “Just the name on the front.”