Saturday, December 9, 2023

USA Basketball finding a way to have fun as FIBA World Cup journey rolls on

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Anthony Edwards and Team USA put on a show throughout FIBA World Cup exhibition play.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — This was the last act of the World Cup preseason for Team USA.

A few hours before flying to the Philippines on Monday for its World Cup stay, a good portion of the USA Basketball travel party — some players and family members, along with coaches and staff — visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, a magnificent center of worship that has seen the likes of Pope Francis, President Joe Biden, King Charles III and Rihanna shed their shoes to step on its gleaming white marble floor in recent years.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson posed for photos with tour guides. Erik Spoelstra marveled at what he saw. Steve Kerr got a bunch of pictures with his wife. And when the tours were done, nobody was in a hurry to leave.

“I had to see the mosque,” Kerr, the U.S. coach for the World Cup, said earlier in the week. “It looks amazing.”

It is, after all, vacation time in the NBA. And USA Basketball went to great lengths to ensure that there would be a work-life balance for those who committed six weeks of their time with hopes of getting the Americans back atop the international stage.

Some who made the trip halfway around the world to be part of the experience have ridden camels. Others went to the Ferrari World amusement park, some played golf, some shopped or visited the Louvre Abu Dhabi. There was plenty of time to chill at the pool or walk along the sand as the 102-degree bath water of the Persian Gulf gently lapped the shore.

But now, Manila awaits. The World Cup is finally here.

“I know everyone’s going to be focused on who wins, and obviously we are — we desperately want to win,” Kerr said. “But this is an incredible experience, too, for our players, our coaches, our families to see the world, to really experience competition at the highest form all over the globe. What an experience. I think our guys are loving it.”

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