If there’s a narrative that will remain consistent in Team USA’s 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign, it would have to be the squad’s journey of self-discovery.
The 2019 edition of the FIBA World Cup saw the Americans finish in seventh place, their worst finish in tournament history. Team USA can easily win the FIBA World Cup if they put their undivided attention into it, but the reality is that basketball in the Olympics remains the top priority. It’s why recruiting Americans has been easier during Olympic cycles than in World Cups, a trend that has somewhat continued with the current iteration of Team USA.
The Americans immediately had a 12-man roster, with Paolo Banchero even switching from Italy to the USA. Having a 12-man lineup immediately instead of a pool of players removes the uncertainty of whether or not players will earn a slot in the final roster, but it can raise the chances of some coasting through the preparations. Team USA seemed to fall into that trap when they were being manhandled by the USA Select Team, who were composed of younger stars like Cade Cunningham (who did his best Luka Doncic impression) and Jalen Green.
The Americans eventually found their groove and through three exhibition games so far, it seems like this upstart squad is going all out to win the Naismith trophy.
Team USA got its toughest challenge so far when it took on World No. 1 Spain in an exhibition game in Malaga, Spain. Not only was it a test against the defending FIBA World Cup champions, but the game was played in front of an animated crowd that simulated the type of atmosphere that comes with international competitions.
Even if there was not much to play for at this point, both teams approached the contest with the intensity of a knockout game. The Americans had a 55-45 lead at halftime, but the Spaniards eventually found their groove and chipped at the lead. Spain even took the lead from Team USA at one point, but crucial baskets from Jaren Jackson Jr., Anthony Edwards, and Jalen Brunson helped the Americans secure a 98-88 victory.
In its buildup to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Team USA went 3-1 in its exhibitions, suffering a 98-94 defeat to Australia, who would eventually finish in fourth place in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Through three games, this squad has matched that win total while averaging 101.3 points per game and preventing their opponents from scoring 90 points. The youth movement is in full effect, as their athleticism has been a boon on both ends of the floor.
With the way things are looking, the Americans could sweep their remaining friendlies or opt to pace themselves so as to peak at the right time. After Spain, Team USA will take on Greece, who will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo, and 2022 FIBA EuroBasket third-placer Germany, which boasts a pretty solid roster with some current and former NBA players. In a time where load management has become the norm, there could be a chance some on the American squad will sit out. This would, of course, open up opportunities for the others, but it will also give Team USA’s opponents less opportunities to scout the prominent players on the team.
In essence, this is a redemption run for Team USA. The window of opportunity is also there, given the absence of stars like Antetokoiunmpo, NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Victor Wenbanyama. Not winning the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup was disappointing, but to finish the competition much worse than the debacle of 2002? That can’t happen again.
This year’s Team USA set to compete in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila, Philippines is not exactly the Redeem Team of the 2008 Summer Olympics. In these last few games, though, they’ve played with a palpable energy that could see them achieving a feat accomplished by their peers 15 years ago.