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Olympics give Jazz players something to focus on following season's sudden end

Rudy Gobert of France reaches for the ball over Aron Baynes, left, and Joe Ingles, right, of Australia during their third placing match for the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.

Rudy Gobert of France reaches for the ball over Aron Baynes, left, and Joe Ingles, right, of Australia during their third placing match for the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (Ng Han Guan, Associated Press)



SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, during Joe Ingles' end-of-season media session, he received a text from the Australian National team coach.

With that, it was clear: There wouldn't be much rest for him or for other Utah Jazz players after the sudden end of the season Friday.

The dream of an NBA title is gone, but championship glory can still come at the Olympics.

Ingles will report for Olympic training camp Thursday, Bojan Bogdanovic will play for Croatia in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament that begins June 29, and Rudy Gobert will be representing France when the tournament tips off in Tokyo in July.

Donovan Mitchell was invited to play for Team USA, per multiple reports, but declined, choosing instead to focus on rehabbing his right ankle that caused him to limp through the playoffs.

"The guys that we have that play on their national teams, it's really something that they take great personal pride in," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "And as a result, I'm tuned in to all of them. I know how important it is to them. And more than anything you want to wish them luck."

Unlike the American team filled with NBA superstars that come and go during the World Cup and Olympic cycles, the teams from Australia, French and Croatia feature players with a strong commitment to the country. Part of that is there isn't a never-ending pool of talented players (Oh, LeBron James and Steph Curry opted out? How will the U.S. ever survive with a team led by Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard?!), and part of that is national team pride.

Ingles, for example, has been playing for Australia since the 2008 Olympics — and has never won a medal at the World Cup or Olympic Games. It's something that pains him just like a playoff loss does.

"Some of our older core of (Patty) Mills and (Aaron) Baynes and Delly (Matthew Dellavedova) and that group has been together for a little while," Ingles said. "It's been a goal of ours since we started."

Gobert, meanwhile, has won two bronze medals in World Cup competitions, but never has medaled at the Olympics.

"For me it's going to be another great opportunity to keep getting better, and at the same time try to accomplish something great for my country and for my team," Gobert said. "It's pretty soon. But because we lost in the second round. I have a little time to recover and get ready for these Olympics."

Bogdanovic wasn't so lucky to get some recovery time. Croatia has yet to qualify for the Games, and that means taking part in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament that'll begin early next week. It's a quick turnaround, but there's some good news: the tournament is being held in his home country.

The lack of a breather does concern just about every NBA team — and, yes, that includes the Jazz. Utah executive vice president Dennis Lindsey knows the positives of international basketball, and he's taken full advantage of it during his times in front offices at Houston, San Antonio and now Utah. His rosters have always featured prominent international players, but that doesn't mean he loves it when these competitions roll around.

"I don't want to be hypocritical in saying that I don't want them to participate but there's no question we're all holding our breaths that nothing happens," Lindsey said. "And that if something does happen, that the national team appropriately reports it to us."

Lindsey has a reason for fear: Former Jazz guard Dante Exum tore his ACL while playing for Australia in the summer of 2015 following his first season in Utah. He had played all 82 games, even winning the starting point guard spot in the back half of the year during his rookie campaign. He hasn't played a full season since.

The Jazz send personnel out to each country's training sites to make sure the players' training specifications and personal needs are met to try and alleviate the risk as much as much as possible.

As for the Olympics helping them forget about what happened in the playoffs? Ingles doesn't see much relief there.

"They (his Australian teammates) are gonna bring it up," Ingles said. "We talk about basketball. It's what we do; it's what we all do. Yeah, it'll suck bringing it up but I'll use that and the Boomers ever meddling as motivation to hopefully come home with a medal after Tokyo."

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