Team USA is getting ready to face one of its biggest threats, according to coach Gregg Popovich.
After defeating Spain in the team’s first exhibition game before the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the United States is preparing to face Australia for two exhibition contests in Melbourne.
“(Team Australia is a) huge, huge threat,” Popovich told reporters Tuesday, via the Associated Press. “They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt. I’m not saying that because I’m here. It’s just a fact.
“They’ve been close for several years, and they are hungry. They are talented. They have the toughness and physicality to go with it. I think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt.”
Team USA is combatting dwindling numbers as at least two dozen stars have opted out of participating in the World Cup due to injury, citing a need to focus on the upcoming NBA season or declining an invitation.
P.J. Tucker is one of the latest players to drop out. He joined teammates James Harden and Eric Gordon in withdrawing from the team.
Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Julius Randle, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Tobias Harris, Paul Millsap, JJ Redick, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell have all either pulled out or declined an invite.
Kemba Walker, one of the most seasoned players on Team USA and one of just two players on the roster who has made an All-Star team, says the team isn’t focused on who isn’t there.
“We don’t care. We want to be here and are putting in the time to be here and we definitely take that as motivation,” Walker said Wednesday. “We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs. We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal.”
Meanwhile, Australia will try to improve on the world stage.
The team reached the semifinals of the 2016 Summer Olympics and won the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup championship. But Australia has yet to achieve the same success at the World Cup. In the past three tournaments, it has placed no higher than 10th.
Team Australia is in Group H alongside Canada, Lithuania and Senegal. It will begin World Cup play Sept. 1 against the Canadians.
Team USA will start play in Group E against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1.
Japan and Turkey are also in the group.