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.”

David Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

United World Wrestling
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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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