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USA men’s basketball select team beats World Cup team in short scrimmages

Steve Kerr

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 4: Steve Kerr looks on during the USA Men’s National Team Practice as part of 2023 FIBA World Cup on August 4, 2023 at the Mendenhall Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

USA Basketball assembles what it calls a select team to practice with and scrimmage against its national team before big events like the World Cup and the Olympics, while hoping those games become a real test.

Mission accomplished.

Let’s be clear: The “games” Friday were 10 minutes long, the national team was trying a whole slew of combinations and U.S. coach Steve Kerr wasn’t exactly treating a three-point deficit in the final minute the way he would if a medal was at stake. He wasn’t calling time-out to set up plays, never even got out of his seat until the final buzzer sounded.

But that said, the select team did beat the U.S. World Cup team in a pair of those scrimmages on Friday, the second day of camp in Las Vegas. Kerr seemed completely unbothered afterward, noting he had seen similar results before the 2019 World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics two summers ago.

“That’s a time-honored tradition in USA Basketball,” Kerr said.

That’s absolutely true, famously going back to the first time NBA players represented the country. It was the 1992 Dream Team, the group of basically the best players in the world at that time — Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson and more — playing a team of college kids in a closed scrimmage. The Dream Team lost, 62-54.

“We had a little bit of success against that team,” Grant Hill said earlier this year, “and we had a lot of failure as well, the next couple of days.”

Hill — now the managing director for USA Basketball — was a college player then on that 1992 select team, and remembers vividly what happened in subsequent scrimmages; the Dream Team played like the Dream Team and the rout was on. That likely won’t happen in this camp, with the talent gap between the national team and the select roster nowhere near as wide as was the case 31 summers ago.

Detroit’s Cade Cunningham was a particular standout for the select team Friday.

“You want to get great talent to come in and challenge you every which way,” Kerr said. “That’s what the select team did today.”

Camp continues Saturday and Sunday, with the U.S. playing its first tuneup game ahead of the World Cup on Monday in Las Vegas against Puerto Rico.