Team USA coach Gregg Popovich had some words for critics of the United States following their disappointing performance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
After dropping games to France and Serbia, the United States finished seventh overall in the tournament, after defeating Poland, 87-74, in a consolation game on Saturday; their lowest finish ever in an international competition.
"Some people want to play the blame game," Popovich said, via ESPN. "There's no blame to be placed anywhere. They want to play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn't win a gold medal? That's a ridiculous attitude. It's immature, it's arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn't respect all the other teams in the world and doesn't respect that these guys did the best they could."
Despite their underwhelming finish, Popovich was extremely satisfied with the effort that the players on the team put forth.
"Their effort was fantastic. They allowed us to coach them," Popovich said of his team. "You give people credit for what they did, and that's it. But it's not a blame and shame game. That's ridiculous."
A lot of the talk surrounding Team USA this summer was about the top-tier talent -- guys like Anthony Davis, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Kevin Love -- that decided to withdraw from competition for various reasons. But, after Team USA's initial loss to France on Wednesday, Popovich wasn't using that as an excuse. In fact, he said that it was "disrespectful" to France and other teams in the tournament for the media to focus on the players that didn't participate.
"I think it's a disrespectful notion to even bring something like that up,". "That 'well, hey, you guys didn't have this guy or that guy!' That's disrespectful to France or whoever else is in the tournament. France beat us. It doesn't matter who was on the team. I couldn't be more proud of these 12 guys who sacrificed their summer to come here having never played together before, and they put themselves in the arena and competed and they deserve credit for that. Just like France deserves credit for winning. It's not about 'well, the United States didn't have their other guys.' There's no such thing as other guys. These are the guys that were here, and they did a great job, and I'm very proud of them."
Though they failed to bring home a medal, the experience wasn't a net negative for the players as Team USA, as they all got valuable international experience.
"I think individually across the board, everybody is a lot better by playing and going through this entire process," Nets guard Joe Harris said. "You spend 39-plus days with one of the best coaches in the world, best coaches in the games, in [Gregg Popovich], Coach Kerr, Coach Pierce, Coach Wright ... just being around them, learning their approaches to the game, being around all these great players, competing with them night-in, night-out, whether it's practice or games, and competing at a high level against some of the best players in the world. This is the best offseason preparation that you could have going into the season."
"For me, this is an amazing experience," Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell added. "Everybody likes to look at the end goal, but when you sit back and reflect, I played on Team USA. That's incredible for me. I think that in itself is amazing. So yes, it was definitely worth it."
If there's any silver lining to this year's FIBA World Cup for the United States -- in addition to the experience that the players gained -- it's that they were able to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games before being eliminated from medal contention. Though it's nice to qualify, the team clearly has some major adjustments to make to ensure that they avoid a similar disappointment in Japan next summer.