NEW YORK—The U.S. has picked the 12 players it believes can defend its world basketball title.
The Americans kept Derrick Rose and cut All-Star Damian Lillard and three others early Saturday morning, getting their roster down to the limit for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
Though team officials had previously said they might carry extra players when they left for Spain on Saturday, and final rosters aren’t due until next Friday, the Americans decided there was no need to wait.
Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons also were cut, shortly after the Americans beat Puerto Rico 112-86 in their final home exhibition game.
“Since taking over the USA Basketball men’s national team program in 2005, this was without doubt the most difficult selection process we’ve gone through,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said in a statement. “I can’t stress enough the outstanding effort and commitment that has been given by each finalist.
“I also want to make it clear that this is not just about talent—each player is incredibly talented and each player offered us unique skills. In the end it was about assembling the best team, selecting guys who we felt would be able to best play the kind of style we envision this team playing.”
The rest of the roster is: Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee.
The Americans can still change the roster in event of injury or withdrawal before Friday, a day before the World Cup opener, which is why they originally considered bringing extra players to Spain.
“We feel that it’s better to go with 12 because that’s really difficult on anybody if they’re not going to be on the team to travel that far,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game at Madison Square Garden.
Lillard, Drummond, Hayward and DeRozan didn’t play in the game, but Krzyzewski stressed afterward the final decisions on the roster hadn’t been made—and it turned out two got tickets on the plane.
“I’m excited about the 12 players selected and feel we have excellent versatility and the makings of a really good defensive team,” Krzyzewski said.
Rose came off the bench and scored six points in 14 minutes. He had sat out the previous game and a couple of practices this week after feeling soreness following last Saturday’s exhibition opener against Brazil, his first action since missing most of the last two seasons after a pair of knee surgeries.
But he proved he was healthy enough to make his second U.S. team, having played for the Americans when they won the former world basketball championship in 2010.
“These guys want to play with him. That’s part of getting back is to be around a group of peers,” Krzyzewski said.
Curry scored 20 points, while Harden and Gay had 13 points apiece for the Americans, who will play a final exhibition game in Spain against Slovenia and open the World Cup next Saturday against Finland.
The U.S. led 52-47 after Thompson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of an entertaining first half before a divided crowd that included plenty of Puerto Rican fans. Knicks All-Star and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medallist Carmelo Anthony, who is part Puerto Rican, was in the front row along with golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis star Andy Murray.
The Americans lost a number of key players this summer but are still good enough to defend their world title with the roster that remains, though they are vulnerable, which Puerto Rico proved by staying right with them for 20 minutes.
But they can also turn close games into blowouts in a hurry, which they did by outscoring Puerto Rico 14-2 to open the second half, with some energetic plays from Faried on both ends, to open a 66-49 lead.
“The team is looking great,” Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo said. “A lot of young guys motivated to represent their country with a lot of pride and honour, and you’ve got to give respect to that.”
Puerto Rico’s veteran backcourt of Arroyo and J.J. Barea has loads of international and NBA experience, and they didn’t wilt under relentless U.S. pressure the way so many other teams do. Former Knicks forward Renaldo Balkman also started for the Puerto Ricans, who play in Group B along with regional rival Argentina, Croatia, Greece, Senegal and the Philippines.
Barea scored 16 points and Arroyo had 15.
“Not every game is going to be pretty when we get to Spain, so this is a good test for us and a good experience for everybody on the roster,” Curry said.