We’ve known this was coming, but now it is official: Jeff Van Gundy is coming out of the broadcast booth and getting back on the sidelines to coach Team USA in the AmeriCup 2017 (you might remember it better as the FIBA Americas Championship) and the World Cup Qualifying games over the next two years.
“USA Basketball is excited and appreciative that coach Van Gundy is willing to undertake this challenge and help lead the United States in these competitions,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball Men’s National Team managing director in a statement. “Qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup is the first step in our attempt to repeat as gold medalist, and we’re delighted that we were able to secure a coach of Jeff’s caliber to lead these USA teams.”
Van Gundy may be the highest profile coach available, and he will get the instant respect of the D-League players on this team because of his standing. He’s a smart, high-level coach who can work with the talent given to play an up-tempo international style taking advantage of the USA’s general superior athleticism to its opponents. No, that’s not what Van Gundy’s NBA teams were known for, but he is certainly a coach capable of more than one style of play.
Yes, you read that last paragraph right, we’re sending D-Leaguers. Remember that FIBA — the body that oversees international basketball competitions — changed the timing of the qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup from the summer to the fall and winter. Of course, those times fall during the NBA season, not to mention the seasons of other major leagues around the globe. This is not soccer where breaks are built into the season to allow international competitions — nor will it ever be — so the USA is sending a team of D-League players to those games, as well as the FIBA Americas tournament this year. Van Gundy will coach them.
Despite winning the last World Cup (and last Olympics), the USA has to qualify for the 2019 World Cup through the games in November and next February. Gregg Popovich will coach a team of NBA players in the 2019 World Cup in China. If the USA is one of the two best teams from the Americas in the World Cup — which it will be — that will qualify the USA for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Popovich will coach that as well (with likely much of the same roster from 2019).
Van Gundy will still have plenty of time to be an NBA broadcaster for ESPN/ABC. Could this be the first step to him returning to an NBA bench? That’s up to him, he’s had plenty of offers before, and he can get one if he wants.