2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup

Team USA Notebook: Select Team has its way with National Team

Team USA learns lessons after pair of losses to (mostly) G League talent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — With the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team on the wrong side of their second beating of the day at the hands of the Select Team brought in to prepare them for the FIBA World Cup, Marcus Smart couldn’t hold it in.

“Come on man, this [expletive] is embarrassing,” Smart shouted from the bench as the Select Team put the finishing touches on a 36-17 win in a timed scrimmage that wrapped up Wednesday’s training camp session at the UCLA Health Training Center.

The Select Team, a team including G League players that helped the U.S. qualify for the World Cup coached by Jeff Van Gundy, proved to be the sharper and more energized group.

They reminded everyone in the building that the margin of error for the bunch headed to China is razor thin without the usual assortment of superstars in the mix this summer.

Wednesday’s work was a good lesson, according to USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo. The Select Team is brought in to compete at the highest level, to prepare the Senior Team in the best way possible.

After a strong start to camp in Las Vegas last week, including a big win by the Senior Team on Friday night, and Tuesday night’s late workout, Colangelo said there was some noticeable fatigue during Wednesday’s workout.

But he was quick to praise the Select Team for handling their business the way they did.

“Look, there’s not much difference between a lot of guys,” Colangelo said. “A good example is what you saw today. You saw some G League players play just now, and play very well. There wasn’t much of a difference, okay.”

No hesitation for Harris

While many of the most high-profile players invited to training camp this summer weighed the pros and cons of participation, the league’s reigning 3-point Contest champion didn’t wrestle with his decision.

Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris was all in from the start. There were far more pros that cons, in his mind. But he did reach out to Nets coach Kenny Atkinson for advice on what to do and got an enthusiastic push to dive in without hesitation.

“His whole thing was ‘I want you to be a sponge,’” Harris said. “He just reminded me that I was going to be with [U.S. coach Gregg Popovich] and his staff, [Golden State Warriors coach] Steve Kerr and [Atlanta Hawks coach] Lloyd [Pierce], [Villanova coach] Jay Wright. He said to ask as many questions as you can and it’ll be great for you and great for us. And selfishly and individually, I’d be able to pick up on a lot of different things and just learn as much as you can from all the knowledge in this gym”.

Atkinson was on hand for Wednesday’s workout and confirmed that he encouraged Harris to make sure he was a part of the process, for all those reasons and more.

“My theory is that guys get better playing FIBA,” Atkinson said. “It’s a different style and you have to adapt and get out of your comfort zone. So yeah, when he asked me what do you think? And I knew deep down he wanted to play, I said you’ve got to go. And where Joe has come from, right, basically out of the game to potentially earning a spot on the U.S. National Team, that’s just incredible. But he’s a baller man. He loves the game.”

Pop comfortable in Lakerland

Given his extensive history with the San Antonio Spurs’ longtime Western Conference rival Los Angeles Lakers, it might seem odd to some to see Popovich running his team through workouts at the Lakers’ practice facility.

Just don’t count Popovich among the group. He has no issues working deep in the heart of Lakers country.

“It’s basketball and a gym with rims,” Popovich said when asked if there was anything strange about his current predicament.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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