MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) – Jeff Van Gundy did his job. USA Basketball is headed to the World Cup.
The US rallied late to beat Uruguay, 78-70, on Sunday night to wrap up a spot next year in the FIBA World Cup in China. The US won the last two World Cups in 2010 and 2014, and will aim to become the first nation to capture three consecutive gold medals.
Travis Trice scored 17 points in the clinching win for the US, which used rosters filled primarily by G League players in qualifying. John Jenkins added 13 points for the Americans (8-2), who have two qualifying games remaining at North Carolina in February.
“No better feeling than representing your country and getting a big road win to qualify for the World Cup!” Jenkins tweeted after the game. “Thank you @usabasketball for this amazing experience and first class treatment. It was truly an honor!”
Gregg Popovich will coach the Americans at the World Cup in China, which also serves as an Olympic qualifier, and he raved about the job Van Gundy did as the US coach in the qualifiers.
“Coach Van Gundy has been brilliant and he’s working for pennies, zero pennies,” Popovich said. “He wants to do it for the country and he loves coaching. There’s nobody better to put a team together quickly.”
The US needed a late 12-0 run to finally seize control, and that was enough to clinch the World Cup berth.
At the World Cup, the U.S. is going send the best of the best. Or at least, some of the best of the best.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all among the 35 players in USA Basketball’s pool for the World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though it’ll likely be months before the Americans know exactly what group they’ll be taking to China to play for Popovich.
“Jeff has done an amazing job under really difficult circumstances,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who will assist Popovich next summer. “To have to qualify during the NBA season is a strange format but Jeff is the right guy for the job and he’s proven that. … It’s remarkable, to go ahead and do that without our top-flight players.”
The World Cup starts Aug. 31. The draw for the 32-team event will be held March 16.