LAS VEGAS — The first order of business for USA Basketball on Friday night (Saturday, Manila time) was thanking its fans, so Donovan Mitchell grabbed a microphone to deliver the pregame message.
He got right to the point.
“We look forward to going out to China, representing the USA, and winning the gold,” Mitchell said.
And now, the first step of getting ready for an unprecedented third straight Basketball World Cup title is complete.
USA Basketball held its Blue-White game to wrap up a week of training camp in Las Vegas, and the Blue squad — the national team candidates, for the most part — had little trouble in beating the White squad composed mostly of young up-and-coming NBA players, 97-78. Jayson Tatum scored 17 points for the Blue, which got 14 from Kemba Walker and 12 from De’Aaron Fox.
Everybody who was supposed to play did, new U.S. coach Gregg Popovich got to tinker with a lot of combinations and no one got seriously hurt — thankfully, there was no reprise of the scene like the one five years ago during a USA Basketball exhibition game in Las Vegas, when Paul George suffered a horrible lower leg injury.
In short, that made the night a success. Everything else was just details.
“It’s the beginning, a new tournament, another World Cup and I think our guys are making progress,” Popovich said. “They haven’t played together before. Showing great effort, doing a good job in a lot of different ways, just trying to get used to each other and form a team. We’re still in those early stages of trying to get together, figure out how we want to play and learn about each other.”
Next up: Week 2 of camp, starting Tuesday at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, California. Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Chicago’s Thaddeus Young were cut from the national team on Friday night, with Derrick White and Marvin Bagley III moving up from the White squad for next week’s camp.
Those moves leave the list of candidates for the 12-man national team at 17, counting injured players Kyle Lowry and Marcus Smart — both of whom remain in the mix.
“I keep saying, ‘We’re going to be OK,’” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “We’re going to be OK.”
White — who plays for Popovich in San Antonio, and was getting coached up by him a bit during Friday’s scrimmage as well — finished with 12 points and seven assists for the White team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. John Collins also scored 12 and Jonathan Isaac added 11 points for the White squad.
Popovich and his staff will have about two more weeks to figure out which 12 players will be in China on the World Cup roster. The tournament starts Aug. 31 and the Americans open group play on Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic in Shanghai.
Popovich started Mitchell, Walker, Jaylen Brown, Myles Turner and Khris Middleton, though he cautioned about reading much into that. The next five into the game was Tatum, Fox, Brook Lopez, Joe Harris and Kyle Kuzma.
From there, Harrison Barnes, P.J. Tucker, Mason Plumlee, Adebayo and Young eventually got worked in.
“I think it’s incumbent on the staff to figure out the best combinations as far as roles are concerned,” Popovich said.
The Blue led by as many as 30.
Lowry, the point guard for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors told NBA TV during the game that he will meet with his surgeon, Dr. Michelle Carlson from the Hospital for Special Surgery, on Monday — at which time he may know when he can return to action. Lowry, who had surgery last month to repair a torn tendon in his left thumb, is hoping to participate in national team workouts next week. “Hopefully she gives me some good news,” Lowry said. He’s been in a splint for about four weeks.
Former USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and his wife Mickie were courtside. Krzyzewski led the Americans to an 88-1 record and five gold medals — three Olympics, two World Cups — in his 12 years at the helm before being succeeded by Popovich for this Olympic cycle. Also in attendance was Vegas regular Floyd Mayweather, a big basketball fan, along with U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalists Sam Perkins and Chris Mullin.
After practices next week, the U.S. will play Spain in an exhibition at Anaheim, California on Aug. 16 before flying to Australia the next day.