MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Jeff Van Gundy did his job. USA Basketball is headed to the World Cup.
The U.S. rallied late to beat Uruguay 78-70 on Sunday night to wrap up a spot next year in the FIBA World Cup in China. The U.S. won the last two World Cups in 2010 and 2014, and will aim to become the first nation to capture three consecutive gold medals.
Travis Trice scored 17 points in the clinching win for the U.S., which used rosters filled primarily by G League players in qualifying. John Jenkins added 13 points for the Americans (8-2), who have two qualifying games remaining at North Carolina in February.
“No better feeling than representing your country and getting a big road win to qualify for the World Cup!” Jenkins tweeted after the game. “Thank you @usabasketball for this amazing experience and first class treatment. It was truly an honor!”
Gregg Popovich will coach the Americans at the World Cup in China, which also serves as an Olympic qualifier, and he raved about the job Van Gundy did as the U.S. coach in the qualifiers.
“Coach Van Gundy has been brilliant and he’s working for pennies, zero pennies,” Popovich said. “He wants to do it for the country and he loves coaching. There’s nobody better to put a team together quickly.”
The U.S. needed a late 12-0 run to finally seize control, and that was enough to clinch the World Cup berth.
“Hell of a job to get us qualified,” Van Gundy told the Americans in the winning locker room. “Well done.”
Uruguay led 61-54 in the fourth, and was still up 65-60 when the game changed. Jenkins’ 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes left put the Americans up by four, and Chasson Randle connected on another 3 on the next U.S. possession to cap the burst and give the U.S. a 72-65 edge.
Scotty Hopson scored 11 points for the U.S., which has used 46 players in the 10 qualifying games played so far — all of them coached by Van Gundy, who was asked by USA Basketball to take G League players and get the country into the World Cup. Bruno Fitipaldo led Uruguay with 17 points.
For the qualifiers, the U.S. used its junior varsity.
Next summer, China will get to see the U.S. varsity.
Van Gundy has used that analogy several times over the past 16 months, and it’s fitting — the Americans qualified for the World Cup by using players that were plucked mostly from the G League. FIBA completely overhauled the qualifying system for this event, and most of the qualifying games were played at points in the year where players from the NBA or the top European leagues would not be available.
At the World Cup, the U.S. is going send the best of the best. Or at least, some of the best of the best.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all among the 35 players in USA Basketball’s pool for the World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though it’ll likely be months before the Americans know exactly what group they’ll be taking to China to play for Popovich.
“Jeff has done an amazing job under really difficult circumstances,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who will assist Popovich next summer. “To have to qualify during the NBA season is a strange format but Jeff is the right guy for the job and he’s proven that. … It’s remarkable, to go ahead and do that without our top-flight players.”
The World Cup starts Aug. 31. The draw for the 32-team event will be held March 16.
“Frankly, it’s a relief,” Van Gundy said. “It’s a relief to get it done.”
USA: Richard Solomon, who was 4 for 4 in 14 minutes, was ejected in the fourth quarter after picking up a technical for reasons that weren’t exactly clear to the American bench. Solomon had gotten an unsportsmanlike foul called on him in the first quarter as well.
Uruguay: Luciano Parodi scored 13 points and Estaban Batista added 10 for the hosts.
The 32-team field for next year’s World Cup is filling, with nine spots getting grabbed in this window of games to push the total number of qualifying nations so far to 16.
The U.S., Argentina, Australia, France, Angola, New Zealand, Korea, Spain and Turkey qualified in this window of games around the world that started Thursday. They join Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Nigeria, Tunisia and China — the lone automatic qualifier into the field, a perk that comes with hosting — as the teams that have locked up spots.
Brazil, Canada and Venezuela could also qualify Monday, depending on various outcomes. Canada plays at Brazil.
USA: Hosts Panama in Greensboro, North Carolina on Feb. 22.