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United States men’s basketball downs Cuba in World Cup qualifier

There were some cheers for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before USA Basketball’s match in Cuba on Independence Day.

And then the Americans celebrated the holiday with a big victory.

Xavier Munford scored 24 points and the U.S. defeated Cuba 87-64 on Monday night to close the first round of qualifying for next year’s Basketball World Cup — improving to 31-1 all time versus the island nation.

“It’s emotional to play on the Fourth of July,” said Jim Boylen, who coached the U.S. in all three of the two-game windows in the opening qualifying round. “It’s emotional to be here with this group of guys, with USA across our chests. It’s a big day. Our country is 246 years old today and we’re just thankful for this moment together.”

Munford was 10 for 12 from the floor for the Americans, who got 13 points from Justin Jackson, 12 from John Jenkins — all from 3-point range — and 10 apiece from Will Davis and Langston Galloway.

“It’s July 4th. No better feeling than to get a win tonight,” Munford said.

Jordan Bell concluded with eight rebounds and six assists for the Americans, whose spot in the second round of qualifying was previously secured. They’ll take a 5-1 record into the second round, well on their way to clinching a spot in the World Cup and moving a big step closer toward getting USA Basketball qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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Yoel Cubilla led Cuba (0-6) with 15 points.

The Americans will start the second round of World Cup qualifying on Aug. 25, with the expectation that the first matchup will be versus Uruguay in Las Vegas.

The U.S. will also play Aug. 29, probably on the road and likely against Colombia, though FIBA has yet to confirm that as the matchup.

The two road wins on this trip — the Americans beat Puerto Rico on Friday — puts the U.S. in a prime position to qualify for the World Cup. The roster was primarily composed of G League players, as is always the case for the Americans in World Cup qualifying, and Boylen said this group came together quickly.

“We came together 11 days ago and our team was focused, our guys were great, we worked on the basics, we got better every day and I thought we played the right way,” he said. “The ball moved, we grew together, and we cared for each other.”

The U.S. will be grouped with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia in the second round. Also grouped from the Americas region will be Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Both of those groups will send three teams to the World Cup; the best fourth-place team from either of those groups will also go, with the Americas region sending seven teams to the tournament that will be played in the summer of 2023 in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Cuba led 16-14 after the first quarter Monday night. But the Americans scored 14 points in the first 2:19 of the second quarter to take command.

“We lost the first quarter, but I thought the second quarter, we responded,” Boylen said.

A 3-pointer by Jackson opened the second quarter and put the U.S. ahead for good. The lead was 49-32 early in the third — ending what was a 35-16 run by the U.S. — and the Americans remained ahead the rest of the way. “The Cuba team was great,” Munford said.

“They came out with a great effort. They made us work for it. They had strong guys. We played well tonight. We executed, took care of the ball, ran our offense and played USA style of basketball.”

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Indians clear outfielder Franmil Reyes to rejoin workouts

Cleveland Indians outfielder Franmil Reyes has been cleared to return to the team after attending an Independence Day party without a mask.

Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters Reyes was tested for COVID-19 and isolated himself from the team after it became known he was maskless around other people.

“I want to make sure everybody understands that there was nothing egregious,” Francona told reporters Tuesday. “So we called him and told him that he needs to test again when it’s appropriate, and that’s for the medical people to tell us, before we can let him back to practice. Again, he’s not in the penalty box—I want to make that perfectly clear—it’s just the way we have to operate right now.”

Unlike the NHL and NBA, MLB is not having its players convene in a “bubble” format. They are free to go home when workouts end, and MLB will be traveling via plane, staying in hotels, etc. over the course of its regional 60-game campaign.

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Francona said the team spoke with its players after video of Reyes attending a party made rounds on social media.

Reyes, 25, is heading into his first full season with Cleveland after a midseason trade from the San Diego Padres in 2019. The right fielder played 150 matches last year, hitting 37 home runs and driving in 81 runs with a .249/.310/.512 slash line. 

Also, outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., who tested positive for the coronavirus, is traveling to Cleveland after he had one negative test. The team says DeShields experienced minor symptoms from the virus. He’ll be tested again when he arrives and can rejoin his teammates as long as he doesn’t test positive again.

“He was obviously excited. Said he was planning on traveling like the Michelin Man today through the airport,” Francona stated DeShields is in his first campaign with Cleveland, which obtained him in December from Texas in the trade involving ace Corey Kluber.

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