Kemba Walker’s international opponents undoubtedly will key on him in the coming weeks.
FIBA on Tuesday identified the Boston Celtics and U.S. men’s national basketball team point guard as the 2019 FIBA World Cup Group E “star” Tuesday just days before the start of the tournament. Team USA will face the Czech Republic, Turkey and Japan in the preliminary round, and Walker’s status as one of his team’s captains and veteran leaders, combined with the other teams’ lack of big names, make his “star” tag a no-brainer.
“Simply put, Kemba Walker is a winner,” FIBA wrote on its website. “In the NBA he blossomed into one of the league’s top players with the Charlotte Hornets, earning three selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team and this past season, he was All-NBA Third Team. Walker has joined the Boston Celtics for the upcoming season. In 2011, he lifted all those around him to lead UConn to the NCAA title and he was named the Final Four MVP.
“In his only previous FIBA competition, Walker led the USA to the silver medal in the FIBA U-18 Americas Championship 2008 against hosts Argentina. Despite finishing second, Walker was still recognized as the tournament MVP.”
Sure, FIBA’s accolade heaps pressure on Walker, but his excitement over competing in the World Cup, which will run between Aug. 31 and Sept. 15 in China, suggests he’s more than ready to shoulder it. Furthermore, he’s the only player on Team USA who garnered All-NBA honors last season.
Walker will lead his teammates, who include Celtics guards Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and forward Jayson Tatum, in pool play against the Czech Republic on Sept. 1 in Team USA’s World Cup opener, Turkey on Sept. 3 and Japan on Sept. 5 in the preliminary round finale.
Team USA will be expected to progress to the second round, then to bracket phase of the World Cup where it will vie for its third consecutive triumph at this tournament. Judging from FIBA’s estimation, we only can conclude: so goes Walker, so goes the U.S.