BEIJING — After finishing seventh in the FIBA World Cup with a victory over Poland on Saturday, Team USA coach Gregg Popovich issued a rebuke for those criticizing his team for its worst-ever showing in a major event.
“Some people want to play the blame game. There’s no blame to be placed anywhere,” Popovich said. “They want to play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature, it’s arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect that these guys did the best they could.”
Team USA played with just nine players in the 87-74 win after Kemba Walker missed the game with a neck injury. Walker said he thinks he will be ready for Boston Celtics training camp at the end of the month. His Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum (ankle) and Marcus Smart (leg injuries) also did not play. Tatum missed six of the eight games in the tournament, Smart missed three.
Much has been made about 31 of the 35 players who started last summer on Team USA’s roster pulling out of playing for the team. Another handful pulled out after being added to the roster. From 2018, when the group was announced as Popovich took over as coach, only Walker, Khris Middleton, Harrison Barnes and Myles Turner were in China.
“Their effort was fantastic. They allowed us to coach them,” Popovich said of his team. “You give people credit for what they did, and that’s it. But it’s not a blame and shame game. That’s ridiculous.”
After the team flies home Sunday, the players and coaches will return to focus on their NBA teams. But the clock is already ticking on USA Basketball. The Tokyo Olympics are in July, and significant changes to the roster are likely.
“This isn’t really the time to even think about that,” Popovich said of the Olympics. “It’s 10 months away.”