Jeff Van Gundy has been tasked with guiding the national team through the qualifying rounds for the World Cup this summer in China — the precursor to the Olympic squad that Gregg Popovich will take over with a completely different set of players.
Popovich is convinced that Van Gundy should be coaching at a higher level — the NBA.
“He’s better than most of us as a coach,” Popovich said. “Most people know that. That’s not always what gets you hired. It’s circumstances and those sorts of things; personal situations and timing has to be right and all that. But he’s certainly somebody who would make a franchise better, without any doubt.”
Van Gundy has not coached in the NBA since the 2006-07 season. Though he has been very successful as a color analyst on national television for ABC and ESPN, he has sought to get back into the league in recent years but has been left on the outside looking in.
Van Gundy took over the Knicks late in the 1995-96 season and led them to six straight playoff appearances before quitting 19 games into the 2001-02 season. He then coached Houston for four seasons.
Popovich praised the work that Van Gundy has done guiding the U.S. squad, which is stocked with G League players. Van Gundy’s squad next faces Argentina in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Monday night and can clinch first place.
“He was remarkable. Spectacular,” Popovich said. “Off the charts what he did, qualifying USA for the world championships. He put together about five different teams. Mostly different players each time in a short amount of time he had to get them ready. If they didn’t do well, U.S. doesn’t go. He deserves a lot of credit for doing that . . . We’re really grateful to him for what he did.
“He was my first choice. We’ve known for a while, but we knew we had to qualify and we had to find a coach to do it. He was my first choice. Thankfully, he thought about it for a day or two and talked to his family and accepted it. He’s to be lauded for what he did.”