No longer ‘Dream Team,’ Team USA carries chip on its shoulder
Tyrese Haliburton seems to always find himself being put on the spot in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup.
After dealing with questions about a controversial take by a fellow American athlete questioning the legitimacy of National Basketball Association (NBA) titleholders being called world champions, Haliburton was asked about the idea that this current Team USA pales in comparison to American national squads before.
“People say Team USA is not the ‘Dream Team’ anymore. There’s no superstar like LeBron [James] and [Steph] Curry,” a reporter said, asking Haliburton if this notion was lighting a fire under the NBA-flavored team that hopes to enter the knockout round unbeaten with a win Sunday against Lithuania.
“I think we are all guys that feel like we want something to prove in this league,” Haliburton said. “At the same time, we’re all up and coming guys and we don’t have a ton of veterans.”
The Team USA roster has an average age of 24, barely younger than the 2019 squad which was at almost 26. Bobby Portis and Josh Hart are the oldest in the current team, both being 28. Anthony Edwards, billed as the top man of the United States side, is the youngest player at 22 years and one month while Haliburton is 23.
The two have been NBA All-Stars along with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Ingram, and some on the current roster—maybe the popular Austin Reaves, for example—could be given the nod in future editions of the midseason classic.
If the reporter’s question was meant to fish for headline-worthy quotes that would generate a flood of reactions on social media, Haliburton certainly didn’t mind taking the bait. “I think we’re more about guys [with] something to prove in the league. We see that stuff, we use that as external motivation, of course. But we have something to prove, not just [to] people externally. That doesn’t really matter, just within ourselves knowing that we’re more than capable of winning basketball games.”
Haliburton and the Americans are keen on once again proving that they can be world champions despite the lack of star power against a Lithuanian team that also owns a 4-0 record and a roster that could challenge for the title.
But Lithuania is also determined to show that it is not just a stepping stone for any team in the tournament.
“We didn’t prove anything yet,” said Jonas Valanciunas after Lithuania fought hard for most of the contest before taking down Greece, 92-67, in Friday’s other game. “We’re still on a mission. We got to go further and further.”
Valanciunas, who will face one of his New Orleans Pelicans teammates in Ingram, sees the 8:30 p.m. game at Mall of Asia Arena as no different from the games Lithuania has already played in the competition.
“Every game is special,” he said. “We fight and we leave everything on the court. It doesn’t matter what game it is. We gonna go out and fight.”