By Eurohoops team/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Van Gundy said that the style of basketball in FIBA competitions reminds him of the toughness found in NBA playoffs back in the 90s.
The former NBA coach also praised the World Cup Qualifiers (in which he participated as head coach of Team USA) system as something that “grows basketball on a global level.”
There will be an enduring image of the United States’ successful Americas Qualifiers’ campaign for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. It is one of the players jumping up and down wildly with Reggie Hearn after his buzzer-beating game-winning jump shot against Argentina.
We won so many close games that we could have lost,” Van Gundy said in an interview published by Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport. “We have to understand that our opponents have already reached a high level and will continue to grow.”
So yes, the campaign was successful, but it was one that has raised more eyebrows in the United States. International basketball, or “FIBA basketball” as Van Gundy calls it, is tough and getting tougher.
In his post-game remarks after the 84-83 win over Argentina, Van Gundy said: “I was an absolute novice when I came to FIBA basketball, learning day by day about how good the teams are, how hard they play, just how rough FIBA (competition) is.
“That’s nineties playoff basketball in the NBA, hand-to-hand combat, fist down your throat, elbow in your chest, on every possession.
“You have to get used to it and you have to embrace the differences.”
Van Gundy did embrace it.
“I found it fascinating, the level of coaching and playing around the world has improved and I thought I started to get a better handle the more I did it on what it took to win in FIBA basketball,” he said.
Puerto Rico gave Van Gundy’s team two very tough games before losing by seven and eight points, respectively.
“These windows have to serve as a warning for USA Basketball to grow even more because all of these teams are getting better and we were very fortunate to qualify,” Van Gundy said, before also recognizing that even for the countries that did not win as many games, the Americas Qualifiers were beneficial.
“Having taken part in them, I think they’ve been positive for teams that don’t get to play much together, like Cuba, Panama and Venezuela, who grew so much,” he said.
“I think FIBA has, as its primary objective, growing basketball on a global level. And the windows work in order to achieve this objective.”
Van Gundy has been involved in basketball all of his adult life. He was a point guard at Menlo College (1981-82) in California, The College at Brockport, State University of New York (1982-83) and at Nazareth College (1983-85) in New York, and then got immediately into coaching at the high school level before working as an assistant for NCAA teams Providence and Rutgers before getting a big chance as an assistant with the New York Knicks.
As a head coach in the NBA, he led the Knicks (1996-2001) and Houston (2003-07).
His first national team opportunity arrived in the summer of 2017, when he coached the United States to FIBA AmeriCup 2017 glory in Argentina.
Now he’s guided the team through a tricky Americas Qualifiers campaign, one that saw the team win 10 of 12 games. He will now hand the national team reins to Gregg Popovich, who will coach the USA at the 32-team FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, which tips off on August 31.
“I always dreamed of representing my country,” he said. “This experience will forever remain an incredible honor and whatever I do in the future will never be able to surpass it.”