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Nigerian national team first on Team USA’s quest for 4

Team USA’s quest for four straight Olympic gold medals begins Saturday, July 10 with one of five exhibition games.


Hosted at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, this year’s national team will first be tested by the Nigerian national team.


“Every year all these teams have one or two more NBA players,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Which means they have more talent every year so the gap is smaller and smaller. So it’s about execution.”


With three members of the national team away from international play due to participation in the NBA Finals, multiple members of the select team were called up including Cleveland’s Darius Garland and San Antonio’s Keldon Johnson.


“We will have to use a few bodies that’s here but as you might imagine it’s the beginning and we don’t want to skip any steps,” Popovich said. “We want to make sure we have a defensive emphasis that everybody understands how we want to play defense.”


Popovich coaches Johnson with the Spurs in the NBA.


The others are Detroit’s Saadiq Bey, Philadelphia’s Dakota Mathias, along with John Jenkins, Cam Reynolds and Josh Magette who are currently playing overseas.


These first-timers join the likes of former league MVP Kevin Durant, three-time NBA champion Draymond Green and five-time all-star Kevin Love.


“We know each other’s games inside-and-out,” Durant said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for every player, what they’ve been through and their journeys to this point. But it’s on Pop to establish roles, sets and defensive schemes and we’ve got to abide by them. I think everyone here has bought into what we’re trying to do.”


Durant is entering his third Olympic experience with a chance to become the all-time leading scorer for the country.


“I felt like I committed to USA basketball when I was coming out of college,” he said. “Every chance that I get, when I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place to play basketball, I’m going to go out there and play.”


Durant enters 25 points behind three-time gold medalist Carmelo Anthony with points not officially being counted until Olympic play begins Sunday, July 25.


“If he said no, I would have begged, cried, done anything I could to change his mind,” Popovich said. “He loves to win, he loves the camaraderie, he wants to be a part of this all the time, as we all know.”


Durant is already first in points per game (19.4) and three-point field goals made (59) and has a 39-0 record in Olympic play.


“You know his famous quote, ‘I am Kevin Durant?’” guard Bradley Beal asked. “There’s nothing changing, we know who he is, we know what he’s capable of doing and he’s doing the same thing in practice.”


The rest of the talent-filled roster includes Washington's Beal, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Detroit’s Jerami Grant, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Chicago’s Zach LaVine.


Popovich heads into play with his coaching staff of Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Indiana’s Lloyd Pierce and Villanova’s Jay Wright still intact.


Another coach who knows Popovich among others on Team USA well is Nigerian national team head coach Mike Brown.


“Well, he’s got the same great sense of humor,” he said. “He’s got the same great smile and love of life that he’s always had. Right now, he’s a lot more confident of an individual just like any of us would be 20 years later.”


Brown, who won three NBA championships as an assistant under Popovich and Kerr, is getting his first opportunity to coach internationally.


“More than anything, hopefully like we all are, he’s wiser,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “He appreciates the opportunities that he’s had and basketball-wise has grown every year just like all of us.”


His Nigerian national team is highlighted by eight either active or former NBA players including three players from Miami (Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala and Gabe Vincent) and Minnesota’s Josh Okogie.


“Having respect for the opponents I think is step No. 1,” Pop said. “More so than anything else, rebounding, shooting, playing defense. If you don’t respect these teams, you’re in big trouble.”


The US national team is 2-0 all-time against Nigeria including exhibition games.

Team USA’s quest for four straight Olympic gold medals begins Saturday, July 10 with one of five exhibition games.


Hosted at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, this year’s national team will first be tested by the Nigerian national team.


“Every year all these teams have one or two more NBA players,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Which means they have more talent every year so the gap is smaller and smaller. So it’s about execution.”


With three members of the national team away from international play due to participation in the NBA Finals, multiple members of the select team were called up including Cleveland’s Darius Garland and San Antonio’s Keldon Johnson.


“We will have to use a few bodies that’s here but as you might imagine it’s the beginning and we don’t want to skip any steps,” Popovich said. “We want to make sure we have a defensive emphasis that everybody understands how we want to play defense.”


Popovich coaches Johnson with the Spurs in the NBA.


The others are Detroit’s Saadiq Bey, Philadelphia’s Dakota Mathias, along with John Jenkins, Cam Reynolds and Josh Magette who are currently playing overseas.


These first-timers join the likes of former league MVP Kevin Durant, three-time NBA champion Draymond Green and five-time all-star Kevin Love.


“We know each other’s games inside-and-out,” Durant said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for every player, what they’ve been through and their journeys to this point. But it’s on Pop to establish roles, sets and defensive schemes and we’ve got to abide by them. I think everyone here has bought into what we’re trying to do.”


Durant is entering his third Olympic experience with a chance to become the all-time leading scorer for the country.


“I felt like I committed to USA basketball when I was coming out of college,” he said. “Every chance that I get, when I’m healthy and my mind is in the right place to play basketball, I’m going to go out there and play.”


Durant enters 25 points behind three-time gold medalist Carmelo Anthony with points not officially being counted until Olympic play begins Sunday, July 25.


“If he said no, I would have begged, cried, done anything I could to change his mind,” Popovich said. “He loves to win, he loves the camaraderie, he wants to be a part of this all the time, as we all know.”


Durant is already first in points per game (19.4) and three-point field goals made (59) and has a 39-0 record in Olympic play.


“You know his famous quote, ‘I am Kevin Durant?’” Beal asked. “There’s nothing changing, we know who he is, we know what he’s capable of doing and he’s doing the same thing in practice.”


The rest of the talent-filled roster includes Portland’s Damian Lillard, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Detroit’s Jerami Grant, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Chicago’s Zach LaVine.


Popovich heads into play with his coaching staff of Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Indiana’s Lloyd Pierce and Villanova’s Jay Wright still intact.


Another coach who knows Popovich among others on Team USA well is Nigerian national team head coach Mike Brown.


“Well, he’s got the same great sense of humor,” he said. “He’s got the same great smile and love of life that he’s always had. Right now, he’s a lot more confident of an individual just like any of us would be 20 years later.”


Brown, who won three NBA championships as an assistant under Popovich and Kerr, is getting his first opportunity to coach internationally.


“More than anything, hopefully like we all are, he’s wiser,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “He appreciates the opportunities that he’s had and basketball-wise has grown every year just like all of us.”


His Nigerian national team is highlighted by eight either active or former NBA players including three players from Miami (Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala and Gabe Vincent) and Minnesota’s Josh Okogie.


“Having respect for the opponents I think is step No. 1,” Pop said. “More so than anything else, rebounding, shooting, playing defense. If you don’t respect these teams, you’re in big trouble.”


The US national team is 2-0 all-time against Nigeria including exhibition games.


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