Nigeria stuns U.S. men’s basketball team in first pre-Olympic exhibition

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The U.S. men’s basketball team lost to Nigeria in its first pre-Olympic exhibition game, its first-ever defeat to an African nation.

Nigeria, with six NBA players and former NBA head coach Mike Brown at the helm, won 90-87 in the first of a series of games in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

“I’m kind of glad it happened,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich, noting that Nigeria has been practicing together since late June and the Americans for four days. “That loss means nothing if we don’t learn from it, but it can be the most important thing in this tournament for us to learn lessons from it.

“I don’t think anyone should act nor would we act [like] that this is the end of the world.”

The landmark victory came nine years after the U.S. shellacked Nigeria 156-73 at the London Olympics, the U.S.’ biggest blowout in Olympic men’s basketball history.

That Nigerian team included one NBA player (Al-Farouq Aminu).

This Nigerian team includes Gabe Vincent, Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala of the Miami Heat, Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings, Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Miye Oni of the Utah Jazz.

With Jahlil Okafor and Jordan Nwora also in the player pool, it could field the largest contingent of NBA players on a single Olympic roster for any non-American nation in history.

Popovich said the difference Saturday was three-pointers. Nigeria went 20 for 42, making twice as many as the U.S. It also won the rebounding battle 46-34.

The U.S. has three players with Olympic experience — Kevin DurantDraymond Green and Kevin Love. It’s missing three of its 12 Olympic players: Devin BookerJrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are playing in the NBA Finals.

Superstars including LeBron James and Stephen Curry withdrew from Olympic team consideration before the team was named.

“Tough times brings guys and teams and people together,” said forward Jayson Tatum, who started with Durant, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Bam Adebayo. “It’s not going to be easy. We knew that coming in.”

The U.S. is trying to rebound from a seventh-place finish at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, its worst-ever international tournament result.

Its lone Olympic defeats in the Dream Team era came in 2004, when it took bronze. An overhaul followed, with Mike Krzyzewski leading teams to three consecutive Olympic titles.

“Everybody expects us to win every game, and that puts some pressure on you, for a new group in a tough circumstance,” said Popovich, who succeeded Krzyzewski after the 2016 Rio Games, where the U.S. had a pair of three-point wins.

Only once has an African nation ever challenged a U.S. men’s senior national team — the U.S. beat Egypt 34-32 at the first world championship in 1950, according to USA Basketball records. Back then, Egypt was the reigning European champion, and the U.S. was represented by the Denver Chevrolets of the AAU.

An African nation has never made the Olympic men’s basketball quarterfinals. From 2000 into 2016, African nations lost 28 consecutive Olympic games to non-African nations.

The U.S. next plays Australia in an exhibition on Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. A full exhibition series broadcast schedule is here.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”