Team USA’s FIBA World Cup run came to an abrupt end with back-to-back upset losses, leading the squad to an embarrassing seventh-place finish. The United States fielded two former Duke stars: Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Mason Plumlee of the Denver Nuggets. Other former Blue Devils, including all-time Duke scoring leader J.J. Redick, were invited to join the team but declined for various reasons.
Jayson Tatum, SF, Boston Celtics
Tatum is a rising star for the Celtics and this year had the opportunity to play among some of the nation's best. Playing under Team USA’s new head coach, Gregg Popovich, Tatum took the court for a series of warm-up friendlies, qualifier and two contests in the actual World Cup. In the final seconds of Team USA’s win over Turkey, however, Tatum injured his ankle. An X-Ray revealed only a mild ankle sprain, but it kept him off the court for the remainder of the team's games.
In the pair of games that Tatum did play, he averaged 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 49 total minutes. His shooting numbers were substandard in both events—four points and 11 rebounds in the Americans' 88-67 win against the Czech Republic and three points and 11 boards in the team’s 93-92 overtime thriller victory against Turkey. Overall, this was a not a bad performance for the former Blue Devil, who had previously played for the American U19, U17 and U16 teams, but a weaker Team USA certainly could have used a burst of inspiration from Tatum.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens does not expect Tatum to miss any time during the upcoming NBA regular season. Tatum came close to returning in the quarterfinals but was held out, and following a loss to France, he did not take any chances playing in the consolation games.
Mason Plumlee, C, Denver Nuggets
Plumlee made his second appearance for team USA this year, following up his gold-medal run in 2014. Plumlee provided a veteran presence for team USA’s relatively young roster. Popovich’s use of Plumlee varied throughout the tournament, but he never eclipsed 16 minutes in a single game.
Plumlee made an appearance in six of Team USA’s eight games, but all appearances came off the bench. He played a total of 47 minutes, averaging 1.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though, as Plumlee added a major defensive aspect every time he joined the game. He only attempted nine shots throughout the entire tournament, making three of them. In a tournament that was underwhelming for the entire organization, Plumlee was no exception. He’ll look to recover and develop further in the offseason as he enters a promising season with the Nuggets.