NBA legend Steve Kerr excited by Middle East progress ahead of Basketball World Cup

Team USA coach, whose team will play two warm-up games in Abu Dhabi, looking forward to seeing how Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan fare in upcoming finals

Team USA and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. AP
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Steve Kerr, the coach of the US national basketball team and the Golden State Warriors, believes Arab countries have made huge strides in the game and is “excited” to see how Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan fare in the Fiba Basketball World Cup, which begins later this month.

Kerr, a nine-time NBA champion as player and coach, took the reins of Team USA at the start of 2022 and will be guiding the Americans in the 2023 World Cup and at next year’s Paris 2024 Olympics Games.

The 57-year-old was born in Beirut and spent a large portion of his childhood in Lebanon, as well as three years living in Cairo, where he studied at Cairo American College (CAC).

The legendary coach has a close relationship with the Middle East and is thrilled to see three Arab nations will be competing at the same World Cup for the first time since 2010.

“It’s very exciting for me to see the progress of basketball in the Middle East,” Kerr said in a Zoom call on Thursday ahead of USA’s upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi for International Basketball Week.

“When I was there in high school, we would play games against the different clubs around Cairo and I was playing for the American school, Cairo American College; so we would play some of the clubs like Ahly and Zamalek and at the time basketball was really not very popular in Egypt, and we would win those games, my high school team.

“And now you watch and you see Zamalek a couple of years ago winning the African club championship. You see the improvement of the players throughout the Middle East and of course the national teams; it’s very exciting and it makes me happy just because of my history in the Middle East.”

Just last month, Al Ahly replicated Zamalek’s 2021 success in the 2023 Basketball Africa League and were crowned champions at BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.

Egypt will be making their seventh World Cup appearance, led by former NBA assistant coach Roy Rana, and have already touched down in the UAE, winning a friendly game against the Emirati national team in Dubai on Thursday before heading to Abu Dhabi for matches against Mexico and Lebanon.

The Lebanese are back in the World Cup for the first time since 2010 thanks to an impressive showing in the Asia Qualifiers, while Jordan are through for the second consecutive time and third overall.

Jordan face a daunting task as they share Group C with USA, Greece and New Zealand. Kerr has yet to watch the Jordanians in action but will make sure his side will be ready for them when they square off in Pasay, Philippines on August 30.

“I have not seen them play yet. We will watch film of them before our game, we will prepare for them well,” assured Kerr.

“I spent some time in Jordan in the mid-1980s and got to go to Aqaba. I remember having an amazing time in Aqaba, what a beautiful place it is.

“My family has spent some time in Jordan and so they’re all very excited that we’re going to be playing against the Jordanian national team. I’m very excited that basketball in the Middle East is getting better and better and so I’m excited to see the Jordanian team.”

Kerr, along with assistant coaches Erik Spoelstra, Mark Few and Tyronn Lue, has put together a strong US squad that includes Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets' Mikal Bridges, and Austin Reaves of the LA Lakers.

USA’s build-up to the World Cup started with a 117-74 win against Puerto Rico in a friendly in Las Vegas, and will be followed by two games against Slovenia and Spain in Malaga this weekend, before a matches with Greece (August 18) and Germany (August 20) at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena.

The Americans have won the World Cup five times, most recently in 2014, but failed to make the semi-finals in the last tournament, which was their worst ever showing in the competition. They lost to France in the quarters and Serbia in the subsequent classification game.

Asked if anything less than gold would be considered a failure for USA, Kerr said: “We are preparing every day and our goal is to win the gold medal and we’re either going to do it or not, and then after that all of you guys get to say whatever you believe, whether you say it’s a success or a failure or something in between; it doesn’t matter to us.

“Because as a team, as an athlete and as a coach, you just focus on the process and the goal and you know that part of major competition is criticism, and so it’s all fair. But you won’t find me saying anything about success, failure – I’m just focused on the team and the process and where we are.”

Updated: August 12, 2023, 7:05 AM