Coach Steve Kerr could only marvel at the wealth of wisdom that has guided Team USA to three victories out of three games after the first round of the Fiba World Cup.
“There’s a lot of knowledge in that room,” Kerr said as the Americans start the next phase of the campaign on Friday against Montenegro in another early 4:30 p.m. tipoff at Mall of Asia Arena.
If the players on the American roster are easily known given their NBA status, the coaches are equally—or even more—popular.
Not only does the United States have Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat on his staff, but also fellow NBA champion coach Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers. Like Kerr, Lue has also played against legendary coach Phil Jackson.
Filipino cage fans may not know much of Mark Few but he has a reputation for handling a great US NCAA Division I program in Gonzaga, which has made two National Championship Game appearances, one in 2017 and the other in 2021.
There’s also former Northern Consolidated player Chip Engelland, who is the team’s shooting guru. Ex-New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy quietly made it to Manila and was on hand for the United States’ 110-62 rout of Jordan two nights earlier.
Van Gundy, also the witty former ESPN NBA color commentator, is said to be helping the Americans in terms of scouting and was in Team USA’s Las Vegas camp.
“For me, it’s one of the great parts of this experience,” said Kerr. “I felt that in ’19 [World Cup] and ’21 [Tokyo Olympics] with Coach Popovich and that staff. When you get a group of people you enjoy and you really respect and you have conversations every single day, a lot of great stuff comes up.
“It’s just fun for me to see Coach Spo and how he addresses the team, Ty Lue on how he looks at the game and how he makes adjustments, defensive-wise. Coach Few with the way he carries himself, the culture he’s built at Gonzaga, you kinda observe these guys which is what I’m learning from them.
“They’re all great coaches and great guys and we’re all enjoying the experience,” added the Golden State Warriors mentor.
Team USA will again come to the contest heavily favored against a Montenegro side that reached the second round for the first time in the country’s history after going 2-1 in group play.
“I think what’s important is to focus on what’s in front of you,” said Jalen Brunson. “You can’t focus on what’s happening in the other groups, you just have to focus on what we can control. Lots of good teams and lots of good players here. It’s all about how it motivates us together.”
After the match against Montenegro, which is led by Chicago Bulls center Nikola Jucevic and naturalized player Kendrick Perry, the United States will face Lithuania in what could be a hard-fought encounter on Sunday.
“We just want to win. It’s something that’s really important that we all care about, just winning,” said Brunson. “As long as it’s at the forefront of our minds, we’ll be alright.”
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