Gregg Popovich
AP

Popovich: ‘Inappropriate’ for me to lobby players for Team USA during NBA season

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NEW YORK — Gregg Popovich will do everything he can to lead the United States to Olympic gold in Tokyo. Except for one thing.

He won’t lobby players to go to China, where the U.S. will play in the Basketball World Cup and qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

“I just think that would be inappropriate for me before games to go up to one or two guys on each team and say, ‘Hey, are you going to play for us this summer? I’d really like to have you,’” Popovich said. “He’s there to try to whip (us). He’s got a different priority that night and I think it would be inappropriate for me try to do that.”

Popovich has been the Americans’ national team coach for a few years but there was never a guarantee he’d actually get to lead them in competition. The U.S. first had to qualify for the Basketball World Cup, where the Americans can then play their way into the 2020 Olympics. Jeff Van Gundy guided the U.S. through qualifying, earning a spot in China with teams comprised of mostly NBA G League players. He finished 10-2 when the Americans beat Argentina 84-83 on Monday night in Greensboro, North Carolina .

“He was remarkable. Spectacular. Off the charts what he did to qualify the USA for the world championships,” Popovich said. “He put together about five different teams, mostly different players each time in a short amount of time they had to get them ready. If they didn’t do well, U.S. doesn’t go and he deserves a lot of credit for doing that on his own and really grateful to him.”

The minor leaguers will now give way to NBA stars this summer. Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs coach who was hired in 2015 to succeed Mike Krzyzewski following the Rio Olympics, said he doesn’t believe anybody has, thus far, committed to playing.

The Americans compiled a national team pool of more than 30 players they can choose from, knowing top stars such as LeBron James are unlikely to want to play consecutive summers. They will trim that to a smaller number to invite to training camp in Las Vegas this summer, with the goal of getting the final roster of 12 players there.

Unlike Krzyzewski, who rarely saw his prospective players while coaching at Duke, Popovich is around them all the time during the NBA season.

“And hate half of them,” he joked. “It’s going to be really tough to coach them.”

USA Basketball leaders haven’t begun reaching out to World Cup prospects yet, needing to devote their time first to the revolving-door rosters of the qualifying games. With that behind them, national team managing director Jerry Colangelo and director Sean Ford can begin assembling the next team — without Popovich’s help.

“Jerry Colangelo has been the wizard of that, he’s been the guy who’s put those teams together along with Sean Ford,” Popovich said. “The two of them have done yeoman work over the years in putting the groups together and they’re good at it, so I’ll leave that to them.”

J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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Alexandra Trusova, 15, becomes first woman to land three quadruple jumps

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Alexandra Trusova established herself as the world’s leading female figure skater … in her first senior international competition.

Trusova, the 15-year-old, two-time world junior champion from Russia, became the first woman to land three quadruple jumps in one international competition program, posting the world’s highest free skate and total scores on the early season.

Trusova previously landed three quads in the free skate at the Russian Federation’s test skates in early September.

She opened Saturday’s free skate with a quadruple Lutz, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and another quad toe to run away from Japanese Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 44.27 points. Video is here.

She won a lower-level event in Slovakia with 238.69 points, which would have beaten Japan’s top skater, Rika Kihira, and Olympic bronze medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva by more than 14 points at an event last week in Canada. However, judging panels can be more or less forgiving from event to event.

Still, Trusova established herself as a force going into next month’s Grand Prix season. She will face Kihira and Medvedeva at Skate Canada the last week of October.

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