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11 Eric Moreland (USA)
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After accomplishing their World Cup mission, the USA sigh in relief

MONTEVIDEO (FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas Qualifiers 2019) -- The first word that came to coach Jeff Van Gundy's mind once the United States secured their World Cup participation was — relief.

The North American team, back-to-back and current World Cup champions, had to look for ballers with little experience at the FIBA level and who, under different circumstances, wouldn’t have had the opportunity of representing their country, due to the unavailability of their heavy NBA weaponry.

“Frankly, it’s a relief. It’s a relief to get it done,” said Van Gundy after the USA’s triumph in Montevideo against Uruguay, 78-70, which sealed their World Cup participation in China next year.

Van Gundy, who took the United States to the gold medal at the FIBA AmeriCup 2017 and took on the challenge of coaching the squad in the continental qualifiers, praised the work done by the director of USA Basketball, Sean Ford, and coach Gregg Popovich, who will lead the Americans in the World Cup. During the first 10 games of the windows, the United States, due to availability issues, have presented 45 players during the process, something that complicates continuity pretty much.

“I’m happy for everybody at USA Basketball but no person more than Sean Ford who has invested everything into this and for Gregg Popovic to be able to coach our great players in the World Cup in China. I’m really happy for those two guys.”

The United States’ participation in the Qualifiers was full of obstacles. In the first round, they fought to good battles against a resilient Puerto Rico, and suffered a hard defeat as visitors in Mexico.

After losing against Argentina on Thursday, the United States (8-2) used their defense again to turn around an adverse scoreboard in their match against Uruguay, whom they left five points behind in the last four minutes, thus achieving their eighteenth World Cup ticket. USA have been present at all World Cup events since its beginning in 1950.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to know that on the way back home that we helped our country qualify for the World Cup 2019,” said shooting guard Chasson Randle, who has played for qualifying games. Like I said, it would have been tough flying home with two losses. , we’ve been together a very short time and to stick together through adversity, that’s a great feeling and I’m happy we could do that not only for our coach, but for each other and for USA as well. We stayed together through adversity,” added Randle, who scored 10 points in their win against the Celestes.

It's not in the cards that any of the players that have worn the USA uniform during the windows will be active for the team in the World Cup, because that's wen the NBA stars will come in to the action. However, just being a part of basketball history in their country, and in finding a new World Cup qualification, is a great source of pride.

It means a lot. Like I said early on, a lot of us never thought we’d ever put on a Team USA jersey, so for us to not only get a chance to play but also be the team that clinches it and get the berth in the World Cup, it means a lot!” said point guard Travis Trice, who in four qualifying games averages 12.5 points and 4.8 assists.

Ticket in hand for China 2019, the United States will close their qualifying stage in the sixth window, with local games in Greensboro, North Carolina, against Panama (February 22) and Argentina (February 25).

And with the relief of knowing that they're already in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, the United States can already start thinking about their next objective: achieving their third consecutive World Cup championship, which would be something never before seen at this prestigious event.