When Steve Kerr penciled in his starters Friday for Team USA’s opening scrimmage vs. Team Select, USA Basketball’s young practice squad, in Las Vegas, he wrote down the names of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. “Twins” once again, the two are hopeful they will continue in those roles when the FIBA World Cup opens for the Americans vs. New Zealand in Manila on August 26.
Kerr said he’s already impressed by the two Brooklyn Nets.
“I already knew what kind of players they were from coaching against them, but they’re so mature: There’s a calming sense from both guys,” Kerr said on Friday. “And they’re also modern-day basketball players: shoot the three, guard multiple positions, long athletically. They’re huge components to this team.”
Starting for Team USA — and winning— would be a big deal for Bridges, 26, and Johnson, 27, who have been teammates both in Phoenix and Brooklyn. Big because the two Pennsylvanians will be repping their country for the first time.
“Yeah, [it’s going to be] so much fun,” Bridges told The Post. “It’s honestly just, like, a blessing to get the invite and be able to go. Obviously, it cuts the offseason short; but, I mean, it’s Team USA. That’s definitely something I’d rather cut it short for. So definitely excited; excited [for] the teammates and coaches that are going to be out there, and just ready to win.”
“You know, I’ve talked to people that have played, I’ve talked to people that have been a part of it,” added Johnson. “They said it’s such a valuable experience for your career, and you can learn a lot from it. And then you just get the experience to see high level basketball across the world in a different type of environment. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
It will also be a challenge. The United States hasn’t won a FIBA World Cup gold since 2014 when Kyrie Irving was the MVP of the Cup playing alongside James Harden and Steph Curry (as well as then-Net Mason Plumlee.) Moreover, not one of the Team USA’s 12-man roster has played in either the World Cup or Olympic competition before being selected for this year’s entry. The team is young, inexperienced but hungry.
Depending on how far they advance, the schedule could be grueling with a maximum of 14 games, five so-called “friendlies” — exhibition games — and nine Cup games. The first “friendly” will be vs. Puerto Rico at 10:00 p.m. ET Monday night in Las Vegas where Team USA is training. FS1 will broadcast the game. From there, the Americans will head to Malaga, Spain, to play two games in then two more in Abu Dhabi in the UAE as they make their way to Manila.
Although it’s an extra month of organized basketball for the two Nets forwards, neither their coach nor GM, himself a veteran of FIBA play with New Zealand begrudged them a chance to wear the red, white and blue.
“I think it’s great,” Vaughn said. “We want our guys playing more in the offseason. I think that’s something that I love to trend toward. Most guys get their personal trainers and they spend an exorbitant amount of time by themselves. There’s something to a team component of seeing your teammates in the offseason.
“I think it’s going to give [Cam and Mikal] an extreme amount of confidence, leadership. They’ll see other really good dudes around them, how they participate, how they dive into their own future. So I think it’s great that they’re playing.”
“I think when you represent your professional side, that’s one thing: I guess we pay the bills,” said Marks who led New Zealand to a fourth place Cup finish in 2002. “But when you end up playing for your country, that’s completely different. That’s so unique and not many people get to do that. That’s something very different when you get to put on that uniform. I would never discourage anybody from playing for their country.
“I think Mikal and Cam are very proud to be able to represent Team USA, and we’re excited to watch them. The exposure that they’re going to get not only to basketball but life experiences, when you go and you travel with a small group … to countries that, to be quite frank, maybe they’ll never go to again. I don’t know, but it’s life-changing in a lot of different ways. So I’m sure these guys are sponges and they’ll soak the whole experience up, which is exciting for them.”
Marks has said he plans to attend Cup games in Manila where he will also be able to watch 6’11” Patrick Gardner play for Egypt. Gardner was signed to a training camp deal last month. Ben Simmons, who turned down a chance to play for Australia’s national team to focus on his rehab, posted encouragement to his Nets teammates on Instagram Saturday...
Of course, everyone on Team USA wants to win, in part to avoid a repeat of 2019 when the U.S. finished seventh. But the competition aside, there’s the thrill of wearing national team colors.
“It means a lot, man,” Johnson after Friday’s practice in Las Vegas. “This is such a cool opportunity. I think it’s such a great learning experience to play alongside great talent, under great leadership. It’s an opportunity I’m gonna do my best to take advantage of.”
- Basketball World Cup is complicating the summer plans of two key Nets, and that’s just fine with them - Brian Lewis - New York Post Sports+
- Steve Kerr says Nets’ Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are ‘huge components to Team USA - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Pistons’ Cade Cunningham, Select Team dominate Team USA in FIBA scrimmage - Joe Vardon - The Athletic