US coach rates Boomers as World Cup threat

Team USA basketball coach Gregg Popovich rates Australia's chances highly for the World Cup.
Team USA basketball coach Gregg Popovich rates Australia's chances highly for the World Cup.

USA coach Gregg Popovich believes Australia are a genuine threat to his team's basketball world champion status as the teams prepare for two matches this week in Melbourne.

With a swag of big names absent, the United States will field a new-look line-up in the World Cup in China, starting later this month, when they defend their title.

Popovich counted the "tough and physical" Boomers as one of the teams circling the USA.

"They are a huge threat," Popovich said on Tuesday after his team's training.

"They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt, and I'm not saying that because I'm here - it's just a fact.

"They've been close for several years and they're hungry, they're talented, coach (Andrej) Lemanis does a good job and they're a team who know what they're doing and they execute well.

"I think they're going to be one of the top competitors, without a doubt."

The teams will square off on Thursday night in their first exhibition match at Marvel Stadium and again on Saturday afternoon.

Popovich said he was still nailing down his starting five for the World Cup and would use the matches against Australia and Canada in Sydney next week to experiment.

He has to cut one player - from 13 to 12 - before the tournament.

'We're not exactly sure what our starting line-up will be," Popovich said.

"I'm not being tricky - I don't know."

Boston Celtics NBA point guard Marcus Smart missed their warm-up game against Spain and an intra-squad scrimmage earlier this month because of a calf issue.

Popovich said Smart was increasing his training load but wasn't revealing if he would be available to face Australia.

If fit, Smart is considered a near-lock for the World Cup as he's perhaps the team's best overall defender.

"He's looking pretty good - he scrimmaged a decent part of practice today," Popovich said.

"He didn't complete the whole practice but he's coming along."

Australian Associated Press