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Popovich keen to spread the love within Team USA

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MELBOURNE - Team USA wasted no time before hitting the Australian hardwood, running through a light practice at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre just hours after touching down from Los Angeles.

"Well, just like anyone else I would assume," Team USA head coach, Gregg Popovich responded when asked how the group was handling jetlag.

"It's probably tougher on some than others but that's why we came out to practice, just to kind of shake it out, get rid of the airplane, go get a good meal."

Similar to the message coming out of the Boomers camp, building team chemistry has been a focus for the Americans, as they head into a World Cup with an inexperienced national team by their usual standards.

With practice time limited, Popovich stressed the importance of his squad getting to know each other on a personal level during their time together.

"As we all know in team sports, when you feel responsible, when you care about somebody, when you love somebody, you have empathy for somebody, things go better," Popovich explained.

"Going to dinner and spending time off the court, just learning about them and their families. We don't know their wives and girlfriends and children like we do our own teams back in the NBA so it's a slow process, but we try to get a little more familiar every day.

"We go to dinner without phones and people actually talk to each other, ask questions and learn about how each other grew up and that sort of thing. Because it's a brand-new basketball team you have to start, not skip steps, and try to learn about people, and you get as far as you can in a short period of time."

Boston Celtics guard, Kemba Walker, is one of only two All-Star players in the 13-man squad (Milwaukee Buck, Khris Middleton being the other), though he has embraced the challenge of being one of the leaders with his new teammates.

"Our comradery, our chemistry, it's getting better each and every day. We just had a 17-hour flight here, so we were on the plane joking, laughing, stuff like that. It's been great, I am one of the only guys on this team that has been around a little bit longer, so it is fun, I'm just being myself, trying to bring the energy and enthusiasm," Walker said after practice in Melbourne.

The expected crowd of 50,000 plus drew many smiles, perhaps none more so than Middleton, who is in Melbourne for the second time, after visiting the city in 2016 with the NBA's 'Basketball Without Borders' program.

"It's just another test, we know it's going to be a crazy crowd, it's going to be a great experience, we are definitely going to get tested against a great Australian team so it'll be a good game for us to learn, see where we need to get better going forward," Middleton said.

Having played multiple seasons with Matthew Dellavedova in Milwaukee, Middleton has his eye on challenging his old teammate at Marvel Stadium later this week.

"Delly was a great teammate of mine and a great friend and I know he was talking about it last year about how exciting this game would be for them and for us. To compete against him, he's a warrior. It's going to be a great test and it'll be great to see him and play against him," Middleton said with a smile.

Despite big name players missing on both teams, any hint of underestimating the Boomers ahead of the World Cup was quickly laid to rest.

"We know how good these guys are, how tough they are," Walker said without hesitation.

"They still have great players, they have Patty [Mills] and Dellavedova, [Aron] Baynes, great players. These guys have been playing with each other for years, so we expect a great game, a great challenge."

Popovich went one step further, believing he knows exactly what to expect from the Australian squad on Thursday night.

"Exactly what I see every time they play. Coach [Andrej] Lemanis, has them relentlessly physically tough. They run their offense and execute it really well. That's a team that loves each other, been playing together, experienced, and I would think that's going to continue, that's what they do. That's a hell of a group."

Team USA will hold two more practices before Thursday night's exhibition game at Marvel Stadium.