ROUNDBALL DAILY

It’s the ultimate put-down for USA basketball: playing for 7th place in the World Cup

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After consecutive losses, the best finish Team USA can hope for in the World Cup is a shameful seventh. (Getty Images)

By Joel Alderman

No matter that it was not a star-studded team. It still represented the United States, where basketball was born and where it is supposedly our game. But Team USA was relegated to playing for seventh place and with no medal in sight in the FIBA World Cup in China. It was an embarrassing fall.

It was defeated for the second straight day; and whether the Americans win or lose Saturday, it guarantees our worst-ever finish with NBA players in a major international tournament.

Things looked good until a 58-game, 13-year tournament win streak was ended by France on Wednesday. It dropped Team USA to the consolation-round – a difficult division to get the motivation to play in and maintain the American legacy of success in the sport.

After falling to France, another loss followed a day later, this time to Serbia, 94-89. The handwriting was on the wall when the Serbs raced off to a 32-7 lead after the first quarter. It would be hard, for reasons known more to them, to justify why some of our best players chose not to play. There were only two current NBA All-Stars, Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton, in the uniforms they proudly wore.

Our fans are left to wonder what it would have been like if superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry had showed up.

The only person on Team USA with Olympic experience, Harrison Barnes, commented sadly, “There’s no regrets from our group in terms of what we’ve given, what we’ve sacrificed, the commitment everyone has made.”

What he followed with really must have hurt. “For some of us, potentially all of us, it could be the last time we wear a USA jersey.”

The only good thing for the USA that came out of the competition is that it qualified this country for the Olympics in Tokyo next year, when it will again be coached by Gregg Popovich.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, without naming names, said when they start picking players for the next Olympics, he won’t forget those who backed out of commitments to play in the World Cup.

“I can only say, you can’t help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up,” he said.

“No one would have anticipated the pull-outs that we had.”

Our gratitude and respect goes to those who did play. They gave it their all. Others get the finger of shame.

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UPDATE

Team USA salvaged a small measure of consolation by avoiding an eighth place finish at the World Cup, defeating Poland, 87-74, in the seventh-place game and ending with a 6-2 record. This is still the lowest finish ever by a U.S. team in a major international basketball tournament.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz) had 16 points and Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets)14. Three Americans, all by way of the Boston Celtics, sat at out the last game with injuries. They were Kemba Walter (neck), Jayson Tatum (ankle) an Marcus Smart (hand).

USA led by 17 at the half.

Coach Gregg Popovich defended this team. ”There’s no blame to be placed anywhere,” he said afterwards. “(W)hoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect that these guys did the best they could.”

Poland (4-4), with no NBA players, had three who played Division 1 college ball here including Louisville, Ken., born A.J. Slaughter) who scored 15 points. He was a four-year player at Western Kentucky.

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