MANILA, Philippines -- When Victor Wembanyama withdrew from playing for France this summer, citing the demands of the next 12 months, the country's hopes of winning the FIBA World Cup took a big hit. But it was still stunning to see the French lose to Latvia on Sunday night, eliminating them from the tournament before pool play even ended.
This was on Team USA's mind as it prepared for its matchup against Greece on Monday night. The Americans weren't in the same precarious spot as France, but their opener against New Zealand, a 99-72 victory, wasn't impressive by their standards. And Greece had played the U.S. even for the last 25 minutes of a friendly game 10 days ago in Abu Dhabi.
"All of our guys saw the result last night with France, and it's a good, good reminder to all of us that you just can't ease into any game in this tournament," Team USA coach Steve Kerr said.
Kerr has compared the World Cup to the NCAA tournament. Players are following games on local TV -- this is a massive nationwide event in the Philippines -- and their phones, keeping track of what the competition is doing. Australia, another medal contender, lost to Germany on Sunday.
Team USA's effort against Greece, a 109-81 win on Monday in which there was no drama, boosted the team's confidence.
More takeaways from Team USA's win against Greece:
Since then, roles began getting defined on the roster, and he's seemed to be playing from behind a bit. Kerr didn't even use him in a friendly game against Spain on Aug. 13.
Hart has been very busy on this trip. In addition to finalizing his big deal while in Europe, his twin 3-month-old boys are on the trip with him. He and his wife, Shannon, wanted the family to stay together and expedited passports for little Hendrix and Haze. There are other family members on the trip to help, but he's been working double duty as a new father and playing for Team USA.
It's been a wild time for him, and his playing time has been as unsteady as his sleep. But Kerr has gone to him when he needed physical play, including within the first few minutes of the New Zealand game.
Hart played his best game of the summer on Monday, flying everywhere as he got 11 rebounds and handed out five assists as part of another great effort by the bench. With Paolo Banchero totally holding down the backup center spot by looking considerably better defensively, some minutes are there for Hart in a small lineup, and he's earning them.
"They're not a real second unit," Hart said. "They're a first unit in disguise. ... It's like, showtime, man, you're watching the whole show."
• There is indeed a show at the moment, and Austin Reaves continues to star in it. On his off night Sunday he made an appearance at the Manila Sneaker Expo, and several thousand fans came to see him. He autographed balls and threw them into the crowd and professed how great it is to be a Los Angeles Laker.
He had 15 more points, six rebounds and five assists as well as a highlight dunk to extend his brilliance for Team USA on Monday. Reaves has hinted at what were some whispers that he didn't deserve a spot on the team when it was announced in June, though after his great playoffs, those were the exception.
The Filipino fans love to call Reaves "him," a reference to his viral reaction when he was miked up during a playoff game in Memphis in April. His teammates enjoy teasing him when they hear it. Reaves walks the line between acting like a humble guy from Newark, Arkansas, and playing with extreme confidence.
Reaves won the TCL Player of the Game award for the Greece win and, as part of the deal, got a trophy that he tried to immediately give away.
"[The attention] is weird for me, but when I'm not in it, I don't think about it," Reaves said. "I'm a normal human. I go home, I talk to my family. I didn't bring my system [to Manila], but I play a lot of video games and I golf ... I love the love, the success I've had, especially in this summer. I love all of it, but outside the moment I try not to think about it because I don't want to get too high on it. I want to stay even-keel and remain the person I was before."