NBA G League International Challenge Shows “Growth” of NBA’s Minor League

By Alex Busch | February 18, 2018

NBA G League USA defeated the Mexico National Team in the first-ever NBA G League International Challenge, 88-67, but came away from the event with more than just a win on its resume.

“It’s a sign of where we’re heading, a sign of an area of growth for this league moving forward,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner. “We hope that the International Challenge can become a mainstay of All-Star weekend. It’s an illustration and example of the next phase of growth for this league.”

USA can use this victory as a stepping stone moving forward, as it will host two World Cup Qualifier games this month, taking on Cuba on Feb. 23 and Puerto Rico on Feb. 26. The best players from around the league will try to qualify USA for the World Cup, when the NBA players would take over.

“When FIBA changed it’s competition calendar, and it included windows within the NBA season in November and February, we were all at a point where NBA GMs and USA Basketball and other said, ‘Given the rising talent in the G League, we have a real opportunity here for the G League to fulfill National Team opportunities,’” said Turner. “What you see here is just further validation on the growing level of talent in this league.”

Reno Bighorns guard Aaron Harrison led the USA with 13 points on 4-for-5 from the field, while Xavier Silas (13 points) and Marcus Thornton (10 points) also dished in on the offensive side.

“Coach (Jeff) Van Gundy is holding us to a high standard and expecting a lot from us, and I think we need that,” said Harrison. “You’re not always going to get 15-plus shots a game, so you need to make the ones you get and be efficient.”

While the NBA All-Stars are enjoying the weekend in a relaxed environment, NBA G League USA relished in representing the red, white and blue, and keeping the intensity up all weekend long.

“It’s definitely a huge difference,” said Sioux Falls Skyforce guard Larry Drew II. “Being able to participate with USA Basketball means that much more for us. Just because of the long history and heritage of the organization. I think we have a good group of guys that want to go out there and prove that they belong at the next level but also want to represent USA in the right way.”

Team Mexico got a head start in the game, but USA caught fire in the second quarter, finishing the opening half on a 20-2 run. USA knocked down 10-of-18 (56 percent) 3-pointers in the opening half to take a 50-37 lead.

Mexico started a comeback in the second half, but couldn’t get within reaching distance, as USA closed out with a 21-point victory.

Silas said that unlike on the NBA side, this game was a lot about defense, and less about showcasing highlight-reel plays.

“We’ve been focused on this team. It’s a lot of defense,” said Silas. “We’re here to represent the USA. We are a brand new team that’s only been together for a few days, but our focus helped us execute and helped us get the victory.”

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