Kemba Walker revealed on Thursday that he had been named a captain for Team USA as it prepares for the upcoming FIBA World Cup in China. Joining him in that prestigious role are his Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart and Utah Jazz youngster Donovan Mitchell, the standout of camp and exhibition season thus far.
The decision comes with two exhibition games remaining on the schedule: another against Australia Saturday morning, and then a game against Canada on Monday, both of which can be streamed via fuboTV (Try for free).
Walker told the Associated Press how proud he was to accept the role.
“I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy,” he said.
Walker and Mitchell were natural choices for the captaincy, as they are the only two players to have started both exhibition games that Team USA has played. Walker is the elder statesman of the group at 29 years old, while Mitchell has been the player who has generated the most buzz.
Smart, on the other hand, is a somewhat surprising choice given how little he has played. He is still recovering from a calf injury that has kept him out since training camp. This decision indicates that Gregg Popovich still has big plans for the defensive star, though. Assuming he is healthy enough to play in the World Cup, this assures him a roster spot.
Historically speaking, these appointments are something of an anomaly. Typically, players with more experience on the national team are granted the captaincy. In the 2016 Olympics, for instance, Carmelo Anthony was the team captain after participating in the Olympics on three prior occasions. Walker, Mitchell and Smart have never played for the senior men’s team, though they have had assorted experience with USA basketball.
World Cup rosters are usually thinner on established talent than Olympic teams, but Popovich does have a former Olympian on this roster in Harrison Barnes. That he passed him over in favor of three players who have not participated on the world stage shows how impactful they have been in helping their team get ready for the World Cup.
That inexperience is ultimately appropriate. The story of this team has been how many players have chosen not to play, and how little experience the group remaining actually has in major international competition. Rather than shunning that fact, Popovich is embracing it. This is a new team for a new tournament, and it is crafting an identity entirely independent from the dream teams that have come before it.