Team USA is entering its final stretch under the guidance of Jerry Colangelo, and most probably, Gregg Popovich, and the Americans have every opportunity for the best of endings.
For Colangelo, 81, the program’s managing director who rebuilt USA Basketball into a three-time gold medalist and two-time FIBA World Cup champ beginning in 2005, one more gold here in Tokyo would be the fitting capper to a brilliant run that came with a bit of a bumpy landing. For Popovich, who is 72, it would be a chance to rewrite the narrative of what has been a disastrous two summers for Team USA with him as coach so far.
While the Americans don’t have to beat the Czech Republic on Saturday (8 a.m. ET) to advance to knockout play, a loss would only further sink a team and program that is trying to shake off an unprecedented six defeats in two years. They’re playing it as though they must win out, which, beginning next week is indeed the case if they are to finish with a gold.
Because of that seventh-place finish at the 2019 World Cup, and the two upsets in Las Vegas exhibitions, and Olympic-opening loss to France (which snapped a 25-game Olympic winning streak), and roster defections and players’ grumbling toward Popovich, Team USA is already facing hard questions that will only get worse if it loses again.
“I want the USA basketball program to be looked up the way it has been looked upon for a number of years — in a very favorable position,” Colangelo said.
On Friday morning, Colangelo sat with a few beat writers to answer those questions.