MELBOURNE, Australia – Team USA coach Gregg Popovich sees Australia as the title threat at the upcoming World Cup in China.
He'll soon find out how much of a threat when teams meet Thursday in the first of two exhibition games in Melbourne. A record Australian basketball crowd of 50,000 is expected for the match at Marvel Stadium. The second game is set for Saturday.
"Huge, huge threat, '' Popovich said to the Boomers on Tuesday." 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 the physicality to go with it. And they think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt . ''
Australia, ice by Patty Mills, who coached by Popovich at San Antonio, lost the bronze medal final at the 2016 Olympics to Spain.
The US team is thin on superstars, with only Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez combining for five NBA All-Star appearances in comparison to their last Olympics squad, which had 33.
But Walker, who last month joined Boston after eight seasons in Charlotte, said criticism of The US team was spurring its players ahead of its title defense in China.
"We don't care. We want to be here and are putting in the time to be here and we definitely take that as motivation, '' Walker said Wednesday. "We have a bunch of guys who don't mind being the underdogs. We're hungry, and we're going to go out there to try and win a gold medal. ''
Walker said he, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Celtics guard Marcus Smart would share the captaincy duties as part of a leadership group.
"I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I'm here to set the pace and bring my experience and energy," 'he said.
Australia, meanwhile, hopes to end 55 years of losses against the US The Americans have won all 25 games against Australia since 1964.