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Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich views Australia as a ‘huge, huge threat’ to win 2019 FIBA World Cup

Team USA will have no shortage of competition at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. In fact, according to U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich, the team next up on their exhibition schedule is a “huge, huge threat” to win the whole thing.

Similar to Team USA, the Australian team had a couple of big names withdraw from the roster — Philadelphia 76ers All-Star forward Ben Simmons being the biggest — but they still have a talented team led by NBA players such as Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Andrew Bogut, Aaron Baynes and Patty Mills, who Popovich coaches in San Antonio.  

“Huge, huge threat,” Popovich said of the Boomers, via the Associated Press. “They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt. I’m not saying that because I’m here. It’s just a fact … They’ve been close for several years, and they are hungry. They are talented. They have the toughness and physicality to go with it. I think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt.”

Team Australia hasn’t had a ton of success in the tournament in the past, as it has never won a gold, silver or bronze medal in the tournament’s history. What’s more, it has placed no higher than 10th in the past three FIBA World Cups. However, things can change quickly on the international level, and the Australian team has been trending in the right direction as they reached the semifinals of the 2016 Summer Olympics and won the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup championship.

It’s clear that Popovich won’t let his team underestimate Australia or take them too lightly, but the Australian team is approaching things the same way, even if this iteration of Team USA is without its typical star power. 

“They’re the reigning champs, so people are going to have to dethrone them and that’s what we’re looking to do,” Aaron Baynes said of Team USA. “It might even put a chip on their shoulder, everyone talking about they’re not as good as they could be, but at the end of the day they’re coached by probably the greatest coach to ever do it and it’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”

Popovich and Team USA will get an opportunity to see just how good Team Australia is in short order, as the two teams are set to play the first of two exhibition games in Melbourne on Thursday night. The game will be the first time that the USA Basketball Men’s National Team has played in Australia since winning gold at the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane. 

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