USA Basketball put together different rosters for all six World Cup qualifying windows, and coach Jim Boylen noticed the same two things with each of those groups.
One, every player beamed when putting on the “USA” jersey for picture day. Two, by the third or fourth day of practice, the players were coaching each other.
It took 52 players and more than a year, but the job is done — USA Basketball is going to the World Cup in the Philippines this summer. The U.S. won’t have to sweat it out this weekend when the final spots in the 32-team field get claimed, after rallying to beat Uruguay on Thursday and clinching a berth.
“When they put on the USA jersey, the same jersey that LeBron James wore, the same jersey that Kobe Bryant wore, the same jersey of the senior men’s national team, there’s a joy from those guys unlike what I’ve ever seen,” Boylen said. “And then it clicks: They’ve reached a higher level of distinction and they’ve got to come together. That’s what happened.”
Boylen has led the U.S. to a 9-2 record in qualifying, with one game left at Brazil on Sunday. It’s meaningless, on paper, for the Americans, but could decide whether Brazil goes to the World Cup or not.
His efforts were lauded Friday by Steve Kerr, who will coach the roster of NBA players that the U.S. will take to the World Cup this summer.
“Jim Boylen has done a great job with that whole group and they all go unheralded, and I just want take the time to say ‘thank you’ as the coach of the team that will be playing in the World Cup this summer,” said Kerr, the Golden State coach. “My gratitude goes out to Jim and all the players.”
For many of the U.S. players, Sunday could be the last time they play with “USA” on the front of the jersey. The World Cup roster will be filled by NBA players; the qualifying teams, with a handful of exceptions, were primarily players from the G League.
If the U.S. finishes as one of the best two teams from the Americas region in the World Cup, they’ll also qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The Americans are the four-time defending Olympic champions. Kerr will again coach the Americans in the Olympics if they qualify, assisted by Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue and Gonzaga’s Mark Few.
“All I want them to do is take care of business,” said guard Langston Galloway, who played in the most qualifying games for the U.S. over the last 15 months. “I feel like I’m part of their success to some extent. We’ve done our job and now we hand it over to the next group and let them finish the job.”
MELO ON BOARD
Carmelo Anthony was introduced in Manila on Friday as the newest FIBA World Cup Global Ambassador.
He said it was special to be picked for the role, especially since his close friend Kobe Bryant was an ambassador for the 2019 World Cup in China. Anthony said it was “special to kind of follow what Kobe has created on a global scale.”
“I’m sure he definitely would have been here with me, watching these games, coming over, hanging in the Philippines and just enjoying himself,” Anthony said. “For me, I can continue part of his legacy, but also establish what I have to establish for myself.”
Anthony, a three-time Olympic champion, joins Pau Gasol and Luis Scola as ambassadors.
“I’m glad we’re not competing no more. We’re on the same side now,” Anthony said.
Jordan made the 32-team World Cup, clinching its spot Friday when New Zealand defeated Saudi Arabia.
Jordan is the seventh team to advance through the Asian Qualifiers, joining co-hosts Philippines and Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Australia and China. There is one spot left unclaimed from Asia, with Iran and Kazakhstan still in the running.
Also clinching on Friday were South Sudan and Egypt.
The other teams that have clinched so far:
Americas Region (7 spots)
In: USA, Canada.
Still in the race: Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico. Those last five spots will be decided Sunday.
Europe Region (12 spots)
In: Finland, Latvia, Germany, Greece, Slovenia, France, Lithuania, Spain, Italy.
Still in the race: Serbia, Belgium, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Georgia, Iceland.
Africa Region (5 spots)
In: Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Egypt.
Still in the race: Angola, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia.