MELBOURNE -- United States coach Gregg Popovich has tipped Australia as a key contender at the upcoming basketball World Cup in China, saying they have the ability to win the tournament.
The veteran San Antonio Spurs mastermind offered the praise ahead of two warm-up games between the nations in Melbourne this week.
"They are one of the teams that can win the whole thing, without a doubt," Popovich said. "I'm not saying that because I'm here (in Melbourne). It's just a fact."
The world number one Americans will try to win a third consecutive World Cup next month with a line-up that lacks many of their NBA superstars, with the likes of James Harden, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard among notable absentees.
But they boast top young talent and will use the games in Australia to refine their identity.
They arrived in Melbourne on the back of a 90-81 victory over second-ranked Spain in Anaheim, California, and will play the Boomers later Thursday, then again Saturday before a final warm-up against Canada in Sydney on August 26.
In contrast to the five-time World Cup winners, Australia have never won a medal. But Popovich thinks this could be their year.
"They've been close for several years, and they are hungry. They are talented. Coach (Andrej) Lemanis does a good job, and they are a team," he said on the USA basketball website.
"They are together. They know what they are doing. They execute really well, so that's what it takes. They have the toughness and physicality to go with it.
"I think they are one of the top contenders without a doubt."
While Australia boosts a handful of NBA stars, including Utah Jazz's Joe Ingle and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs, they suffered a setback on Monday when Jonah Bolden joined his teammate Ben Simmons in pulling out of the World Cup.
Other Australian NBA standouts not playing include Thon Maker (NBA commitments), Ryan Broekhoff (birth of his child) and Dante Exum (injury).
© Agence France-Presse
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