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Game Preview: USA vs. Czech Republic

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Gregg Popovich has Team USA bonding as they open the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Practice - Shanghai Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

By Team USA standards, Gregg Popovich has not had many things go according to plan as he heads into his first big tournament has head coach of the men’s national team. Just about all the team’s stars and mainstays are either injured or elected to skip the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China in no small part due to its close proximity to the beginning of NBA training camp.

As a result, he ‘s left with a hodge-podge group of players with Harrison Barnes as the only one with extended experience with the senior team. With time to gel this group would easily carry any NBA team deep into the playoffs, but time is not something that’s on their side. It’s even arguable that there are more talented teams in the tournament — namely currently top-ranked Serbia — so Pop knew there was one key factor he had to figure out to get the best out of his team: camaraderie.

As reported by Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“They’ve become close in a short period of time,” Popovich said. “The camaraderie has blossomed, and I think that will bode well for us.”

“You have to enjoy being with people in order to feel responsible for them. To be accountable to each other, you have to have some sort of empathetic bond. You have to love each other to a degree.”

That’s why he was very excited when his team decided to exclude all staff, including him, him from the first team dinner once they reached Shanghai.

It wasn’t the most inventive choice for an evening in Shanghai — the group went to the local Morton’s for steak and sea bass — but the food was not the point. Whatever has been said about this team, one thing that is becoming apparent is that it has embraced the need to construct some semblance of chemistry.

”We have great chemistry, I think. We’re getting along really well,” Kemba Walker said after practice Friday at an international school in the Pudong section of the sprawling city. “We want to play for each other, and that’s the biggest thing.”

This team knows they have doubters, and they plan to use that as fuel for the upcoming tournament. Just because the team doesn’t feature any of its usual “superstar” names or mainstays doesn’t mean they aren’t an extremely talented group.

Now, the real work begins as the team opens group play Sunday morning against the Czech Republic. Even though the Americans will be heavily favored to advance, an exhibition loss to Australia last week showed they aren’t invincible and must maintain focus throughout each and every game. Unlike the versions we’re used to seeing, this isn’t group that win it all on talent alone. But like always, having each other’s trust is a good place to start, and if anyone knows that, it’s Pop.

U.S.A vs. Czech Republic

September 1 | 7:30 AM CT | Shanghai

Watch: ESPN+