USA basketball’s best is often saved for Olympic years, but one year removed from Rio, Team USA is faced with an important tournament this fall. While Gregg Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 World Cup, a change in the tournament qualifying schedule means Team USA was put in a unique position.
With qualifying happening during the NBA regular season, another coach will have to step in to coach while Popovich and the other NBA players stay with their collective teams.
Enter Jeff Van Gundy, who will coach a team full of non-NBA players in the qualifying round of the tournament in the coming months. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski profiled Van Gundy and his return to coaching after more than a decade off the bench, and it sounds like the ESPN broadcaster is genuinely excited about heading Team USA’s qualifying hopes.
Van Gundy spoke of the pressure that comes with the job, but also his excitement about getting to represent his country. His initial reaction, though, is a common one: don’t screw it up.
Van Gundy has studied everything available to him to understand what awaits him and the NBA development league players in these coming FIBA qualifying events. Yes, he has studied everything and come to a conclusion.
“I told myself, ‘You better get your s— together and not f— this up,” Van Gundy said.
“You better be ready.”
Van Gundy spoke to the pride he has in taking over the job, even if it is in a temporary role. Though he likened his squad and the qualifying experience to a “JV” team compared to the roster that will compete in the World Cup, the former Rockets coach seemed proud of the players he assembled and what they bring to the table.
“When they called me, someone from USA Basketball started to explain what this could mean for me,” Van Gundy said. “I said, ‘Hey, let me stop you right there. I don’t want anything from this. I’m getting something from this. I’m getting to represent my country.’
The Wojnarowski piece has a lot more about how Van Gundy is preparing for the tournament and how he assembled the team, and it’s well worth your read if you like his work on TV. Though he’s grown in his role as an analyst, it’s clear he’s still a coach at heart and is ready for the role USA Basketball has given him.