ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Tyronn Lue has waited a long time for this trip.
He was supposed to have the USA Basketball logo on his chest on foreign soil long ago — 1997, actually, when he was starring as the point guard at Nebraska and picked to represent his country at the men’s 22 and under world championships in Australia.
But a nagging right leg injury flared up, causing numbness so severe he couldn’t navigate stairs without falling. The team ruled him out, and he flew home alone.
Fast forward 26 years: Lue, the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, is now wearing the logo overseas. It’s not on a jersey, but on polo shirts, as he’s part of the staff that will guide the U.S. men’s team through the Basketball World Cup in Manila starting later this month.
“I think it’s an honor,” Lue said. “You grow up watching basketball, watching the Olympic team, the Dream Team, you always want to play for those teams. I wasn’t good enough, but it’s amazing to have an opportunity to represent my country in any capacity. So, coaching is what it is.”
Golden State’s Steve Kerr is the team’s head coach; Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Gonzaga coach Mark Few are alongside Lue as the assistants. The staff also has former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy helping with scouting and Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley was involved during training camp earlier this month in Las Vegas as coach of the select team that practiced against the World Cup squad.
“We know we have a hell of a coaching staff,” U.S. forward Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks said.
It is a think tank of basketball, and there’s a certain irony in that Lue — replaced as a player 26 years ago — joined this staff as a replacement. Lue was originally tabbed by managing director Grant Hill to be coach of the select team, but when then-Phoenix coach Monty Williams, now the Detroit coach, had to bow out of his assistant-coach role because of family responsibilities, Lue got asked to join the staff of assistants.
“Monty had his situation and Steve and Grant called me right away and said, ‘How would you like to be a part of it?’” Lue said. “And I said, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s a dream come true. To have an opportunity to coach the USA team, to be around great players and a great staff, it was a no-brainer for me. I felt badly for Monty, but he called me, said I’d have a great experience.”
It is not an insignificant commitment that the coaches are making. They’ll be together for six or seven weeks, mostly overseas — in Spain this past week for two exhibitions, in Abu Dhabi for the next week for two more exhibitions, then it’s off to Manila for the World Cup. If the U.S. plays for a medal the team won’t be back home until Sept. 12.
That’s less than three weeks before NBA training camps start. It means that Kerr, Spoelstra and Lue — all coaches of teams that will enter this season with championship aspirations — are relying on their staffs to do all the hands-on offseason work while they’re gone.
“I have a great supporting staff,” Lue said. “Our staff, they do a lot. I can delegate and know they’re doing a great job while I’m here with USA Basketball.”
It’s just the latest chapter in an upcoming book detailing Lue’s basketball story; he is in the process of writing one. He was part of two championship teams early in his playing career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title in 2016 when LeBron James delivered on his promise to bring a crown to northeast Ohio.
He has played with or coached some of the league’s best players — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, James and more. And now, at last, comes his chance to finally win gold for his country.
“I’ve been blessed to play with a lot of greats,” Lue said. “You get to see what they do, gain that knowledge and see how the hard work translates to basketball and things off the court. And when you win, holding the trophy up at the end of the year is just so satisfying, gratifying. There’s nothing like it, and hopefully we can do it here.”
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