Going into the FIBA World Cup, the narrative surrounding Team USA was about all the stars who weren’t playing. But now that they’ve tipped off, Nets wing Joe Harris talked about getting the job done with who they have, and living up to the lofty gold standard the U.S. has set.
“It’s obviously an honor to be here, to represent your country,” Harris said after Team USA’s opening rout of the Czech Republic. “We are all extremely proud to wear USA across our chests. This is something that not a lot of people have the opportunity to take part in, to have this experience.
“We are all privileged and honored to be here, but we also have that competitive streak in us where we are here to uphold the gold standard that USA has had in the past Olympics, past World Cups and past World Championships.”
They got that off on the right foot, drilling the Czech Republic 88-67 in their Group E opener on Sunday.
While a number of Nets are experienced on the international level – newcomers Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan all won 2016 Rio Olympic gold – this is new for Harris. The Brooklyn wing had nine points, four rebounds and an assist in 20 minutes off the bench Sunday. His nine points were the most by any reserve.
Not shockingly, Harris – who has developed into one of the most accurate shooters in the league – went 2-for-3 from 3-point range. Harris, who shot a league-high 47.4 percent from deep last season, will space the floor for players like Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker. And with zone defenses legal in FIBA, he’ll serve to bust those as well.
With stars like Anthony Davis, James Harden, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard all withdrawing, Team USA is lacking star power. And there was more than a little skepticism after they lost to Australia in an exhibition tuneup. But now that the games count, Harris said they’ll be even more fun – and intense.
“To actually play a game, where you are in the World Cup, there is significance to it, the point differential matters, all these things kind of add up,” said Harris, who averaged 13.7 points last season for the Nets in 76 games, every one of them starts.
“Obviously the exhibition games were fun, it was fun to compete against somebody other than ourselves. But, to finally come in and have it be the tournament, have it truly matter, it was fun night for us. It was a fun night for us to come out and just compete on this stage.”
Team USA faces Turkey on Tuesday and closes the group stage Thursday against Japan. The top pair of squads from each group move on to second-round groups and play two more games. The top two from each of the four second-round groups then reach the quarterfinals, where the challenge should really start.
Still, a U.S. team shockingly devoid of star power and filled with journeymen like Harris can actually reach for a motivation Team USA rarely can: Being overlooked and underrated.
“The team gets a little chippy about it because everybody’s writing them off because they don’t have the marquee names, or people view as marquee names,” Kobe Bryant said last week. “These young players that are playing on this team will be those marquee names in two, three years. And they’re great players in their own right.”
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