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Team USA out to prove the doubters wrong ahead of World Cup

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Melbourne, AUSTRALIA -- It was an energetic and vibrant Team USA that took to the practice courts at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre on Tuesday afternoon, clearly benefiting from their first night's sleep on Australian soil.

As tip-off at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night against the Boomers continues to draw closer, the confidence within the US camp steadily builds.

The overwhelming narrative from outside the group that made the 17-hour trip to Melbourne is who is not with the team, rather than who will be representing Team USA in pursuit of their third straight gold medal at the FIBA World Cup.

Three-time NBA Championship coach, and Team USA assistant, Steve Kerr, told ESPN that he believes the negative commentary around the team will only provide added motivation for the squad.

"They see all this stuff, they read it, so they know," Kerr said.

"That has to be motivating to read that your team's not very good and all the best players stayed home so these guys, that will motivate them."

One of only two previous gold medal winners with Team USA, Mason Plumlee, explained to ESPN why missing the opportunity to play for his country was never a consideration.

"The chance to play with other really good players, the chance to play for a great staff, the chance to go out and play for another gold medal. Each journey is different, a lot of people look and say, 'well, I've done that before,' but I haven't played in the World Cup in China, or been to Australia, so to me, there was so much newness to the situation and it got me excited," Plumlee said.

Receiving his first opportunity to play with the men's USA squad, rising star with the Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum, echoed Plumlee's sentiment.

"I just think it's a great honour, since the first time they asked me I was all in for the opportunity, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you can't take this for granted," Tatum said without hesitation after practice on Tuesday afternoon.

One of the challenges of piecing together a talented but unfamiliar squad on short notice is identifying the leaders among the group, though Kerr revealed a few key names had stood out at training camp.

"You can tell the guys who want to step up and be vocal leaders. Donovon Mitchell jumped out immediately, Marcus Smart, Kemba [Walker], those guys right from the beginning were leading and really setting a tone for everybody else. You could tell almost right away."

Head coach, Gregg Popovich, dove a little deeper when explaining how a wide-range of personalities among the 13-man squad can elicit different motivating techniques.

"They're people, they aren't automatized, or just workhorses that just play basketball, they're thinking beings and you have to take some of those personalities that are different and confidence levels," Popovich explained.

"Everybody grows up differently, everybody feels a certain way about themselves and it's important to find the people that maybe need a little boost. Some people are just very, very humble, very introverted, you've got to bring them out a little bit. It's one of the fun things about coaching."

Plumlee has seen the progression from his young teammates, not only with on-court chemistry, but in coming out of their shells and becoming those leaders.

"Day by day guys are getting more comfortable and more vocal. For the most part people know what to say and when to say it, it's more them knowing they have a voice and the coaches encourage guys to have a voice on this team," he said.

As those individual voices continue to shine through, this team is beginning to discover their identity, and perhaps with that, the resolve to prove the doubters wrong.

Perhaps the negative coverage will stoke Team USA's competitive fire as Kerr suggested, or perhaps it will simply be brushed aside, as Plumlee suggested as he removed ice from his knees, headed for the team bus back to the hotel.

"We're confident. We don't have to worry about the critics, we just have to come together and play our best basketball and we will give ourselves a chance to win."