In fact, the position of USAB Head Coach may be the role which Popovich has lusted after for some time. As one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, his previous foray into international basketball was somewhat of a disappointment. Popovich was an assistant coach on the 2004 USA Olympic team that lost three games and was“only” (by USA Basketball’s modern standards) able to claim the bronze medal. Popovich’s last NBA title came in 2014, when his San Antonio Spurs executed some of the most beautiful team basketball ever seen. His body of work has always been based on perfecting the fundamentals of basketball, building a harmonious and cohesive team, and maximising role players to the point where the sum of the whole becomes significantly greater than the sum of the parts. The seventeen man practice roster, which will later become twelve, is ideally poised to succeed under Popovich despite the absence of key names. View this post on Instagram RosterThe final 12 man USAB roster that will feature at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, will be quite unlike any USA team we’ve seen in international competition since the initial addition of marquee NBA stars to USA Basketball that followed 1992. That said, despite a number of withdrawals from established star talent, the USA still has more than enough depth and quality to build a World Cup winning team.Don’t expect to know the final roster for a while yet though. “We have two weeks to decide who will be the final 12,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Men’s National Team managing director. “Forty-eight hours before Game 1 in China is when we have to submit a roster so we want to make sure everyone gets a real shot” (per USAB press release). The roster is likely to be spearheaded by All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker. Having averaged a career high 25.6ppg, alongside 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals, after 8 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker left this summer to join the Boston Celtics. An electrifying, level-headed guard, Walker will excel orchestrating the USA’s offense. With only one All-NBA player (the Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker) and one All-Star (the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton), USAB have a roster primed with savvy, multi-dimensional role players and budding stars perfectly capable of leading this team to the Gold. In fact, the structure of this team, as currently comprised, is more reminiscent of European team, than a traditional US roster.The USA could become the first team to win three FIBA Basketball World Cup tournaments in a row and, despite the absence of the NBA’s superstars, expectations are high. Expect a team USA different to anything you can remember. And expect new stars to shine bright in China.Other teams beware – if you come at the champs, you best not miss. Behind the scenes with Jeff Van Gundy’s USA Team during Window 5 of the Qualifiers where they secured the qualification for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China! #FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouseA post shared by FIBA Basketball World Cup (@fibawc) on Dec 11, 2018 at 9:00am PSTPlayers like Reggie Hearn (Stockton Kings) and Travis Trice (SIG Strasbourg) became vital components in the country’s qualification. Hearn, with 9 appearances, was USAB’s most capped player, averaging an impressive 9.7ppg and 3.2 rpg in just 21 minutes of action whilst hitting 48.8% of his threes. En route to leading USA through the qualifiers, Hearn was honoured with the 2018 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year award.Even the coaching debut of Gregg Popovich has been delayed by his San Antonio Spurs duties. In his absence, Jeff Van Gundy led the USA to an impressive 10-2 record. USAB dominated opponents, outscoring challengers by an impressive 18.33 points per game and won six games by thirty or more points.The road to China wasn’t exactly a cakewalk though, with losses at the hands of both Mexico and Argentina, USAB needed a buzzer beating jumper from Hearn to steal a one point victory in their second game against the Argentines and final qualifying game. In doing so they successfully attained the top spot in Group E, edging out those same Argentines 22 points to 21. GroupUSA are the clear favourites to win Group E, here’s who they will face and how they made their way to China.Czech Republic (24th in FIBA world ranking)The Czech Republic, are one of two nations making their FIBA Basketball World Cup debut in China. Winning 8 of their 12 games, they qualified as the third seed from Group K of the European Zone. Their 74.2 points per game is the second lowest scoring output amongst all European teams who qualified for the World Cup.The Czech’s are dominant on the glass though, averaging the third highest number of rebounds across European teams, with 38.75. In eight appearances, 26-year-old, 7-1 Center, Ondrej Balvin (Herbalife Gran Canaria) led the team with 7 rebounds per contest.Turkey (17th in FIBA world ranking)Turkey’s 8 wins was good enough to secure the second slot in Group I of the European Qualifiers. Having made their World Cup debut in 2002, Turkey have qualified for five straight tournaments, with their best finish being as runners up in 2010.Only one player appeared in all 12 qualifiers for Turkey, center Sertac Sanli (Anadolu Efes). The seven-foot 28-year-old only averaged 16.7 minutes of action, but still tallied 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers) appeared in four qualifiers, putting up impressive numbers with 19.3ppg and 8 rebounds per game.Japan (48th in FIBA world ranking)Japan qualified in second place, behind Australia, from Group F of the Asian Qualifiers. This will be their fifth appearance at a World Cup. Their last appearance was as the host nation in 2006 and their 17th place finish in that tournament is the worst ranking for a host in a World Cup.Nick Fazekas’ (Kawasaki Brave Thunders) 27.2ppg was the highest average (amongst the players with at least six games played) during the World Cup 2019 qualifiers in the Asia zone. He was also one of only three players in the Asia qualifiers to average a double-double, snaring 12.5 rebounds alongside his point haul.Match-upsGame 1 – Sunday 1 September 2019 vs Czech RepublicTomas Satoransky (Chicago Bulls) will lead the Czech charge, as they attempt to upset the USA in their opening game. The Bulls’ guard averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in his two games during the World Cup qualifiers, the best averages for a Czech player.Reigning EuroLeague MVP Jan Vesely (Fenerbahce) won’t play in China, as he recovers from a knee injury – his absence from the team is a bitter blow. Jaromir Bohacik (CEZ Basketball Nymburk), Blake Schilb (Champagne Châlons Reims Basket) and Vojtech Hruban (CEZ Basketball Nymburk) were all named in the initial roster and are the only players outside of Satoransky to have averaged double digit points. They also formed the backbone of the Czech Republic’s qualifying campaign playing in 12, 10 and 11 games respectively.Whilst the Czech’s can be a physical team, they lack the depth to keep up with the USA. Especially when it comes to offensive firepower.Game 2 – Tuesday 3 September 2019 vs TurkeyTurkey represent the biggest challenge to the USA in the group stage. 32-year-old forward Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks) has been a key component of the national team since 2006, he’ll team up with Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers). Although the trio only appeared in a combined 10 games in the European Qualifiers, they led the team in efficiency, with efficiency ratings of 14, 20 and 20.8 respectively.33-year-old Semih Erden (İstanbul BBSK) provides an inside presence for Turkey. The 6-11 center featured in 9 qualifying games and, in just 19.2 minutes per game, averaged 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks.Turkey has a blend of savvy veterans and confident youngsters that could prove a handful for USAB. Nevertheless, a loss here would be a relatively big shock.Game 3 – Thursday 5 September 2019 vs JapanThe focus here, from an American media perspective at least, will be on Rui Hachimura (Washington Wizards). The former Gonzaga University star, selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA draft, impressed in his four qualifying campaign games with averages of 21.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals. In fact, the 6-8 forward scored at least 24 points in three of those four appearances.Japan’s three key players are Hachimura, the aforementioned Fazekas and Yuta Watanabe (Memphis Grizzlies). In two qualifying games, the 6-9 Watanabe averaged 17.5 points along with 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/3f/5/kemba-walker-usa-fiba_13dj7k2fdzo90zrvmt0892xiy.jpg?t=-1700396676&w=500&quality=80 Walker’s new Celtics teammates, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also feature on the 17 man “finalists” roster. Previous iterations of team USA have been dubbed “The Dream Team” (92) and “The Redeem Team” (08). All three have a legitimate shot at making the starting five. If fellow Celtic and defensive irritant, Marcus Smart, is able to overcome his calf tightness to make the final cut as well, could this iteration of USAB become known as The Green Team?Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks) has a real shot at leading Team USA in scoring throughout the World Cup. The 28-year-old made his first NBA All-Star team last season, having forged himself into an excellent, versatile offensive threat throughout his seven year career. Having entered the league as a second round draft pick in 2012, the 6-8 wing is used to being overlooked and sees the FIBA Basketball World Cup as another opportunity to address this. Speaking to the media following USA White vs USA Blue’s game at the end of the Las Vegas Camp, Middleton was optimistic, “Now we got a chance to show what we can do. The LeBrons, the Hall of Famers, they’re not here. Perfect for us. We got a chance to do great things now.”It’s a chance for a number of young stars too, one of those being Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz). In just his second year in the NBA, the 22-year-old has truly asserted himself as the focal point of Utah’s offensive scheme, averaging 23.8 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The World Cup represents a fantastic opportunity to for this explosive two-guard to really make himself known on a global stage.QualifyingNot a single player selected as part of the USA’s 17 man finalist squad played a single minute across the World Cup qualifying windows. Due to the demands of the NBA schedule, USAB were without their elite talent and selected a team of NBA Development League (G League) players to be tasked with the challenge of leading the country to the World Cup. https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/bc/e0/tatum-hachimura-fiba-basketball-world-cup_10ay6vb6l9k8l1m1f8xq1s0zoz.png?t=-1700185820&w=500&quality=80 https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/f3/33/gregg-popovich-usa-fiba_19fzb3p0e513w1lngdfuezs9fq.jpg?t=-1699268804&w=500&quality=80 USA shouldn’t have too much difficulty taking care of Japan. But things could get interesting if Japan are able to get to the line, their free throw average of 73.8% Asia Zone qualifiers is the highest among the teams with more than six games played. Key StoriesTeam USA’s route to the FIBA World Cup was an odd one. With the introduction of the ”qualification windows” and their clashes with the NBA’s schedule, for the first time since the Barcelona Olympics, Team USA would be qualifying using a team with no players from the world’s Marquee league. The route ahead of them now, in the pursuit of the Naismith Trophy and a record sixth Gold Medal remains just as unusual.Many of the NBA’s top stars have withdrawn from Team USA, citing a variety of reasons. But, due to the absolute abundance of World Class players available to USA Basketball, the Americans remain firm favourites to win a third straight World Cup. The growth of the game globally has led to a position where there were 108 international players on opening-night rosters for the 2018-19 NBA season. Whilst this is amazing, it also means that the 76% of the world’s biggest league is still American. USAB has an excess of quality and quantity.New Head Coach Gregg Popovich always likes to zag when other teams zig and the pool of players from which he can select his final roster is still an envy inducing array of talent. Having both coached in the NBA for 23 seasons (and counting) and served in the US Air Force prior, there is no more perfectly suited candidate to lead this team both patriotically and as a basketball-mind.