Team USA

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

The Boston Celtics had a prominent presence on Team USA during the summer of 2019. The squad that competed for the FIBA World Cup title featured four members of the Celtics: Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart.

While the team lost early in the tournament and snapped a historically-long undefeated streak for Team USA via an exhibition loss to Australia, the group did have some nice moments. And it's worth noting that one Team USA player thought a Celtics player shined brightest of all during the tournament.

As Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris explained, he thought Tatum was the best of the bunch for the USA squad.

“I thought Jayson was probably the best player on our team this summer,” said Harris at NBA's All-Star weekend, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “Obviously there were a lot of talented guys there. Unfortunately he got hurt halfway through our trip, but he was leading us in a lot of different areas. It wasn’t this huge statistical thing, I think it was more the presence that he had. What I saw, what he brought every day to practice. It was one of those things where he is super young, but he didn’t act like it, he didn’t play like it, and I could’ve told you this summer that he’d have a pretty good chance to be here today as an All-Star.”

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Tatum only played in two games for Team USA after suffering a sprained ankle, but he did average 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. That closely mirrors the 22.4 points and 6.9 boards that he has averaged so far during the 2019-20 season, his first All-Star campaign. And Tatum only playing in the two wins, not the two losses, is notable as well.

But Harris' point about Tatum having a presence and playing beyond his years may be even more important. If he can continue to develop, keep that presence about him and emerge as a leader, there's no telling what his ceiling could be.

Tatum will look to continue his hot play of late following the All-Star break. And no matter what happens with the C's, it seems that Tatum is tracking toward becoming a star player at the NBA level.

And his peers, like Harris, are recognizing that.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Celtics well-represented on 2020 U.S. Olympic basketball team finalist list

Celtics well-represented on 2020 U.S. Olympic basketball team finalist list

A quartet of Boston Celtics players represented USA Basketball at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

We could see as many as five Celtics representatives at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are among the 44 finalists who could make the 2020 U.S. Men's Olympic Team.

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Here's the full list:

With five players on the list, the Celtics are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most well-represented team. Walker, Smart, Tatum and Brown all made the FIBA World Cup squad, with Walker (13.4 points, 5.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game) leading the way for a USA team that finished a disappointing seventh.

Several American NBA stars declined to play in that tournament, though, and the Celtics' contingent should face stiffer competition to make the Olympic roster, which typically includes the best NBA talent. (None of the current Celtics were on the U.S. team that won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.)

But Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich has spoken glowingly about each C's player on his FIBA World Cup roster -- especially Tatum -- so it's possible Boston could land one or two players on the final 12-man roster.

Team USA will announce its final roster "later this year," according to USA Basketball. Celtics fans also could see two more familiar faces at the 2020 Olympics: Daniel Theis represented Germany at the FIBA World Cup, while Vincent Poirier could suit up for France.

The 2020 Olympics begin on July 24 in Tokyo.

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Marcus Smart rips fans who rooted against Team USA at FIBA World Cup

Marcus Smart rips fans who rooted against Team USA at FIBA World Cup

Marcus Smart doesn't necessarily blame the NBA stars who chose not to participate in the 2019 FIBA World Cup this summer.

And he's well aware Team USA's seventh-place finish in the tournament is a failure worthy of criticism.

But the Boston Celtics guard still has a bone to pick with American fans whom he believes were rooting against Team USA while it was grinding away in China.

"That was tough for us," Smart told The Athletic's Sam Amick and Joe Vardon on the latest episode of their "Tampering" podcast. "We see and hear everybody back at home talking and really letting us have it, and it's like, hey, while you guys are sitting at home on your couch watching us, we're the ones out here actually putting in the work.

"We're the ones getting beat up. We're the ones getting hurt. We're the ones sacrificing our time, our bodies and things like that while you guys are sitting at home eating popcorn."

Celtics fans will recognize the passion in Smart's answer. The 25-year-old guard took on a leadership role for an undermanned Team USA squad that featured three other Celtics but was missing superstars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and James Harden, who all opted to stay home.

Smart, who appeared in five of Team USA's eight games in China while battling a leg injury, respects those players' decisions, but believes the resulting lack of support Americans showed Team USA didn't help his squad's cause.

"It's kind of sad that, while we go out here and play other countries that are all united -- their country is rooting for these guys -- we have some of our guys back at the house and fans back in America just rooting against us," Smart continued.

"It was really hard for us to go over there anyway, we were already at a disadvantage playing against other teams, let alone knowing that guys back at the house really weren't on our side. It was really us versus the world."

The world ended up winning, as France bounced Team USA in the quarterfinals. But Smart wishes his team had gotten a little more support back home.

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