MELBOURNE - Team USA arrived in Melbourne early Monday morning and were straight back into it as they hit the practice court in the afternoon, continuing their preparations for the upcoming FIBA World Cup in China.
As they ran through their sets under the watchful eye of head coach Gregg Popovich, the squad was in a joyful mood despite the long-haul flight from Los Angeles, with smiles aplenty and no shortage of camaraderie at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
While the team has less than two weeks to fine-tune their on-court preparations before their first game of the tournament against the Czech Republic, building team chemistry off it has been one of their key focuses, according to point guard Kemba Walker.
"I'm just trying my best to get everyone a little bit better each and every day. Our camaraderie, our chemistry, it's getting better each and every day," Walker said following the team's first practice in Melbourne. "We just had a 17-hour flight here, so we were on the plane joking, laughing, stuff like that. It's been great,"
"I am one of the only guys on this team that has been around a little bit longer, so it is fun, I'm just being myself, trying to bring the energy and enthusiasm."
With the average age of the 13-man squad just 25.6 years, Walker is an elder statesman of the group and the 29-year-old is enjoying every second surrounded by his teammates, who are doing their best to cram in plenty of team building in their short time together.
🇺🇸 Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell putting in work at #USABMNT practice in Melbourne 🏀 pic.twitter.com/wlA6oeDh6A- NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) August 19, 2019
"It's been great, I think now it's kind of more of a college environment, we're doing everything together wherever we go, we try our best to be together as much as possible"
"A lot of these teams [in the World Cup] have been together for a very long time and us we're new to this, we're a new group, but to me, it feels like we've been together for a while. We gell so well together, we understand the importance of having USA across our chest, we don't care who scores the most points or who shoots the basketball, we're together and it's been so much fun being a part of this team."
Coach Popovich echoed those sentiments when speaking with media at practice, stressing the importance of building friendships among the group.
"As we all know in team sports, when you feel responsible, when you care about somebody, when you love somebody, you have empathy for somebody, things go better," Popovich told reporters.
"Going to dinner and spending time off the court, just learning about them and their families. We don't know their wives and girlfriends and children like we do our own teams back in the NBA so it's a slow process, but we try to get a little more familiar every day.
"We go to dinner without phones and people actually talk to each other, ask questions and learn about how each other grew up and that sort of thing. Because it's a brand-new basketball team you have to start, not skip steps, and try to learn about people, and you get as far as you can in a short period of time."
Team USA will take on the Australian Boomers in two games in Melbourne on Thursday, August 22nd and Saturday, August 24th, before taking on Canada in Sydney on Monday, August 26th.
International Basketball Series Schedule
|August 20||Canada Basketball vs. New Zealand Tall Blacks||Quaycentre, Sydney, Australia||6:30 a.m. ET|
|August 21||Canada Basketball vs. New Zealand Tall Blacks||Quaycentre, Sydney, Australia||6:30 a.m. ET|
|August 22||USA Basketball vs. Australian Boomers||Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, Australia||5:30 a.m. ET|
|August 24||USA Basketball vs. Australian Boomers||Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, Australia||12:00 a.m. ET|
|August 26||USA Basketball vs. Canada Basketball||Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, Australia||5:30 a.m. ET|