How the 2004 Team USA squad nearly derailed Gregg Popovich's coaching dream

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Team USA will be returning to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and will be coached by current San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. After years of a rift with the head of Team USA basketball Jerry Colangelo and Popovich, the five-time NBA champion head coach will get the opportunity many felt he should have had years ago.

Popovich was an assistant coach under Larry Brown on the 2004 Olympic team in Athens, Greece. That team, however, only managed to win the Bronze medal that year and is regarded as one of the worst Olympic performances by a Team USA Olympic basketball team in history.

The team lost three games that year, a Team USA basketball Olympic record. It also included their worst loss ever, a 92-73 route by Puerto Rico in the first game. While former MVP’s Allen Iverson and Popovich’s longtime player Tim Duncan were on the team, it was comprised of several young players who had not yet cemented themselves.

Eight years later, Brown believes that team’s performance cost Popovich a chance to coach the team in future years.

“We threw those kids into a terrible situation,” Brown told Jackie MacMullan of ESPN. “Pop and I talk about it all the time. I say to him, ‘What could I have done better?’ What I hate most about it is I think it cost Pop his chance at the job.”

Legendary Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has served as Team USA’s coach the last three Olympic cycles will – if all goes as planned – succeed Colangelo as the president of the program while Popovich slides in as coach in 2020. Therefore, a relationship with Colangelo, once believed permanently strained after Popovich was snubbed of a mere phone call and a face-to-face meeting, will be repaired.

"If you can imagine, it's a thrill. It's an honour," Popovich said of his involvement, with the programme (via "The first and most basic thing is to be on the court with all these guys. There's a lot of talent here, you just get amazed. You look at both gyms and something's going on that somebody's doing that's just amazing to you.”

Popovich will have a lot of work to do if he wants to repeat the success of Team USA. The team’s all-time leading scorer Carmelo Anthony has confirmed he will not return in 2020. Kevin Durant is not ready to commit to another Olympics, and several other questions must first be answered.

But representing his country means the most to Popovich.

“Being a former military guy, if you can represent your country in any way, that's always pretty important,” Popovich said. “Our country is a little bit divided in various ways, as we all know. And this is a shining example of teamwork and togetherness and people all focused on one goal.”

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