“You go to practice the next day then you go the next game – it’s called life,” he said.
“These guys are grown men, they have families – it’s their job. If you have a bad day, what do you do? Jump in a hole somewhere? You go to work the next day.”
As for the Boomers, he spoke at length about their desire to win the game, and the shape of basketball in Australia as a whole.
“They’ve been building towards this for a long time, to be recognised as one of the best programs in the world – they have a chance to win the whole deal,” he said.
“They should be very proud of themselves.”
He described the warm-up games as a “great learning experience” for his young team to get acclimatised to the different rules of international basketball – while lamenting the loss of Kyle Kuzma, who will miss the World Cup with an ankle injury.
“He was a young, energetic guy who was really learning, who could play a lot of positions for us,” he said.
“Mostly I feel badly for him, because this holds him back for the season also. But he was wonderful when he was here, and we do miss him.”
Popovich, who also coaches the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, was asked about the cultural aspect of the team’s Australian trip – and said the increasingly multicultural nature of the league had been a huge positive for players.
Every year the Spurs recognise Mabo Day, with Boomers star Patty Mills giving presentations to the team about Indigenous history.
“It’s a beautiful history to remember – it wasn’t very pleasant in a lot of ways, obviously, we all understand that – but for him to acknowledge it is beautiful, and to not let it be forgotten,” he said.
“He’s been really important, not just here but in helping our players understand what a big world it is out there.”
“You even have gun laws that make sense … compared to some countries,” he added wryly.
A huge wine buff, Popovich joked that the pool of reporters had been ‘too cheap’ to offer him a bottle of Penfolds Grange.
Monday night’s game in Sydney will see the USA take on a Canada side coached by Nick Nurse, who led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA title this year.
“They’re a really fast team, more than anything. Nick does a great job with them, they pass the ball, they move, they’re hard to keep up with. It’ll be another really good test for us for sure,” Popovich said.
The USA remain firm favourites to win the World Cup, but have drifted slightly with the bookies since Saturday’s defeat.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.