CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Jeff Van Gundy is about to coach his final game for the United States in the qualifying rounds for this summer’s FIBA World Cup.
From there, who knows when he’ll coach again.
Van Gundy — the coach for all six two-game qualifying cycles for the U.S. and who led the Americans into the field for this summer’s tournament in China without navigating any serious trouble — will send his team out to face Argentina at Greensboro, North Carolina on Monday night in the final qualifying game for both nations.
Both teams have already clinched spots in the World Cup. All that’s at stake in the finale is first place in Group E; both teams go into Monday night with 9-2 records. Van Gundy has gotten the Americans to that point despite being handed a very different roster for each qualifying cycle, and has used more than 50 different players with “USA” across their chests so far in the tournament.
“Jeff Van Gundy was a perfect selection for us as it relates to put together a squad, or squads,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “I had the privilege of watching a few practices to see how he put all those things together, all those pieces together and how quickly he got people to buy in. I just think he’s done an outstanding job. We could not have done any better.”
Van Gundy hasn’t coached in the NBA since the 2006-07 season. He’s been a television analyst for ESPN and ABC since, and is generally considered one of the very best commentators in the game. He’s part of the lead crew on ESPN, often working with Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Doris Burke.
“I don’t love TV. I love the people I work with,” Van Gundy said last week, as the U.S. qualifying team was breaking training camp at the University of Miami. “I love coaching. I like TV. Whenever you try an alternative job that you’re not trained in and you don’t really have an expertise in, it’s all about who you work with.”
Burke has been with Van Gundy for some of his practices, and she marvels at how well he teaches and how fast he processes the game.
“He is able to see all 10 guys on the floor through an entire possession,” Burke said. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. I just love the man.”
It’s likely that Van Gundy will remain involved with the U.S. team for the World Cup in some capacity. The team that will play in China starting on Aug. 31 will be coached by San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who’ll have a roster stocked with NBA superstars — while Van Gundy went through qualifying with G League players. Popovich, countless times over the last several months, has lauded the job Van Gundy has done.
Van Gundy said coaching the U.S. in qualifying didn’t necessarily stoke his desire to keep coaching. He’s never wavered on that.
“That coaching fire never went away,” Van Gundy said. “It’s always been about timing and fit. It hasn’t worked exactly. But that’s all right, too, because I am so lucky to do what I’m doing.”
There were 14 spots in the 32-team field available when this last qualifying window in the Asian, European, Americas and African regions opened late last week.
By Sunday afternoon, 10 of those last 14 spots were gone.
Serbia, the world’s No. 4-ranked team, finally clinched its spot with a 97-76 win over Israel on Sunday in the last qualifying game for both teams. Russia also clinched its spot Sunday, needing a late 33-11 run to rally past Finland 91-76.
China got in automatically as the host. Tunisia, Nigeria, Greece, Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Australia, France, Angola, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela, Canada, Argentina and the U.S. qualified before this final window as well.
World No. 7 Slovenia and No. 9 Croatia were the top-ranked teams that failed to qualify.
There’s one spot left out of 12 allocated to Europe, and it’ll go to Montenegro or Latvia. Those nations play Monday, and Latvia must win by nine points or more to earn a trip to the World Cup. Otherwise, Montenegro goes.
The last of five spots for Africa was at stake later Sunday, with either Ivory Coast or Cameroon set to grab that one.
On Monday, the last two spots in the Americas Region will be decided — the Uruguay-Puerto Rico winner certain to get one, and the Dominican Republic likely to get the other. The draw for the World Cup is March 16 in China.