How Team USA is handling the massive time change at the FIBA Basketball World Cup

MANILA, Philippines — Throughout Golden State’s past decade as a perennial NBA title contender, the Warriors have often tweaked their practice itinerary to accommodate their travel schedule. When Steve Kerr’s club has flocked east for a long road trip, it’s not foreign for Golden State to deboard its private charter and head directly to an evening shootaround, as opposed to the NBA standard of getting shots up the following morning before that same night’s away game.

Kerr’s Team USA roster, competing in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, has had to adjust its routines for several varying time zones, not just the 12-hour difference from Eastern Standard Time to the Philippines, where Team USA’s first two tournament contests tip Saturday at 8:40 a.m. ET. The Americans’ five-game exhibition slate also featured friendlies in Europe and the United Arab Emirates.

“It was tough in Spain,” said U.S. forward Mikal Bridges, a rising swingman for the Brooklyn Nets. “Just taking naps during the day, taking like two-hour naps, it was tough to sleep at night. I learned my lesson.” When Team USA arrived in Abu Dhabi for exhibitions against Greece and Germany, Bridges, a self-proclaimed napper during the regular season, fought the urge for a midday snooze. “And that helped good,” Bridges told Yahoo Sports. “I was in bed, falling asleep by like nine, 10 o’clock. Sleep!”

USA player Brandon Ingram uses his smartphone before a practice session ahead of the Basketball World Cup in Taguig, Philippines on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
When Brandon Ingram isn't actively using his phone, it is set to "Do Not Disturb." (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Roughly four hours after landing in each new country, starting Team USA forward Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans’ All-Star, has fought fatigue with workouts. Ingram is traveling with a personal trainer to conduct manual work on his body throughout the event, plus an additional support staffer that oversees his weightlifting. Perhaps that’s Ingram’s secret sauce because New Orleans’ smooth scorer has still found napping helpful in the Philippines. “I’m sleeping throughout the day, getting like two or three hours at a time,” Ingram told Yahoo Sports. The other key ingredient: Ingram said his phone is always set to “Do Not Disturb” — not just when he’s trying to catch a few extra winks.

Ingram may be the only Team USA player capable of resting whenever he pleases, without suffering any ramifications. Touching down in Manila, what Tyrese Haliburton thought would be a short stint of shut-eye ended up being his own teaching moment like Bridges before him. Haliburton settled in for a five-hour nap inside Team USA’s swanky accommodations. “That didn’t help,” said the Pacers’ All-Star point guard. “It felt good, but when it was time to go to bed, I didn’t go to sleep until like three in the morning.”

The following day, Haliburton was groggy throughout practice and media obligations. He forced himself to stay up until one in the morning that second night, scrolling through social media to stay in touch as people woke up back in America. He played video games for an hour after his eyelids first started to fall. At last, he drifted off, only to rise well behind schedule. “I ended up waking up late for my treatment,” Haliburton told Yahoo Sports. “I slept from one to noon. I just kinda reset my body, and I’m good now.”

Haliburton’s game of choice is WWE 2K, declaring he can control any wrestler and still emerge victorious. “But me and my homies, we all create characters and play as ourselves,” Haliburton said. Indiana’s floor general, currently serving as Team USA’s backup point guard, even found a way to jailbreak the game on his computer during World Cup downtime, so that his Pacers character from NBA 2K can step into the ring in that blue and yellow uniform and suplex any challenger. “Modded it,” he grinned proudly. “I learned 3-D modeling and all that stuff, so it’s pretty cool.”

Bridges typically plays MLB 2K on his console, but has started dabbling in PGA Tour 2K as fellow Team USA members and former Villanova college teammates Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart have been manipulating their body clocks by sparring on the virtual links. Hart has found staying awake between 4-8 p.m. the biggest challenge of the time difference, but that hasn’t stopped the Knicks wing from consistently blasting Brunson on PS5 with his created player.

“I’m great with my wedges. I put a nice spin on the ball,” Hart told Yahoo Sports. “JB is a good driver, but he doesn’t have the short game. He don’t have the ability to draw or fade the ball into the green, put a little spin on it. I’m better.”

“Yea, sure, whatever. I actually won the last game, and that’s all that matters,” Brunson said. “I got witnesses.”

Win or lose, New York’s star point guard and Team USA’s lead ball-handler said the underlying theme of his altered sleep routine has been spending time with the group. Brunson, Haliburton and Hart went to dinner Thursday evening with their people who made the trip to Southeast Asia. “If you’re by yourself, you’ll probably just throw on the TV and fall asleep,” Brunson told Yahoo Sports. “It’s part of the experience for sure. Some days you wake up knowing you have practice and you’re like, ‘Jesus …’”

Whatever tips and tricks they’ve used, Kerr has seen no tangible lag when the Americans have taken the court. “These guys are hungry and committed,” said Kerr. “Every practice they’re going hard. I just know from a coaching standpoint, this is a great team.”