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Americans stacked against familiar foes

Team USA is confident of getting the job done in the FIBA World Cup. (Photo from FIBA)

Team USA is tipped to go all out when it battles familiar foes in the second round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup starting Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

United States’ head coach Steve Kerr said they will be ready against Greece, Montenegro and Lithuania, which are being bannered by National Basketball Association players, in the next round of the preliminaries of this 32-nation tournament.

The Greeks are being led by Thanasis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks while the Montenegrin and Lithuanians have Nikola Vucevic of the Chicago Bulls and Jonas Valanciunas of the New Orleans Pelicans at the middle.

Interestingly, Antetokounmpo plays with Bobby Portis at the Bucks while Valanciunas teams up with Brandon Ingram at the Pelicans in the NBA.

Kerr said they will use familiarity to their advantage.

“Familiarity helps as well because the hard part is going into the game and there’s a great player who these guys don’t know and this guy has a lot of letters. Going up against a guy like Vucevic and Valanciunas is helpful,” Kerr, a four-time NBA
champion with the Golden State Warriors, said.

Aside from facing familiar foes, Kerr and his star-studded team are also starting to get used to playing international brand of basketball.

“In FIBA, they’re gonna call more fouls on the three-point shot so we have to adjust to that. We try to prepare them for FIBA but we’re learning as we go,” said Kerr, whose wards survived the first round unscathed following convincing wins
over New Zealand, Greece and Jordan in Group C.

But winning over the teams of Vucevic and Valanciunas will not be easy.

Montenegro entered the second round oozing with momentum following a 91-71 win over Mexico and an 89-74 victory over Egypt.

Valanciunas will also be a tough nut to crack as he leads Lithuania in scoring with 13.7 points and 10 rebounds per outing to finish Group D undefeated.

The Americans, however, are not letting their guard down.

Team USA forward Paolo Banchero told DAILY TRIBUNE that they are staying hungry and humble to avoid getting upset as early as the group stages.

Banchero, who averaged 12.3 points for Team USA in the first round, believes the current squad has a lot of talent to go around despite missing marquee names like Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Jayson Tatum.

“We can’t be complacent and we can’t take them lightly. We’ve got to be locked in and be ready to go from the jump. Seeing France go down sent a message to us and to strong teams in the tournament that we have to be ready,” said Banchero, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.

“I think even though we might not have the star-studded players, I still think we have the most talented team. I think we also play very well as a team, everyone has gelled together, really came together and been able to play team basketball.”

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