Deon Thompson knows as well as anyone how hard it is to beat Serbia on its home court, but the USA World University Games team did just that in a thrilling 68-66 victory on Tuesday that featured 14 lead changes.
"This gives us confidence, but we're going to see them again," Thompson said in an exclusive phone call to TarHeelIllustrated.com after the game from Belgrade, Serbia.
The USA (4-0) will play Bulgaria (3-1) in the July 9 medal quarterfinals. The winner will advance to the July 10 semifinals. The gold medal game will be played on July 11.
In the other quarterfinals contests, Serbia (3-1) will play Turkey (4-0), Lithuania (5-0) meets up against Russia (4-1), and Israel (5-0) will tip-off against Germany (2-2). Should the U.S. continue to advance, the American men will face the winner of the Lithuania versus Russia quarterfinal contest.
This USA team has improved each night out, with different players providing the key scoring in the various games. Thompson has lead the team in scoring at times, although he scored just six points against Serbia to go with five big rebounds.
He said that he can see the team merging each day.
"We're starting to grow together and get better," Thompson said.
Thompson remains cautious, though. His USA team defeated Serbia on the same court early two years ago only to lose to the home team in the gold-medal game.
Thompson is the on returning American on this team from that experience; whereas, Serbia has much of its team still together.
"They've been together for two years," Thompson said. "They have a lot of experience and plenty of depth."
Playing on a team that is representing his country is a unique and special experience, Thompson said.
"It means a lot to me," Thompson said. "From where I came from to wear a basketball a basketball jersey with USA on it for a second time is really special."
Thompson has a shot at a rare double. He already has a national championship ring coming from North Carolina's title in April. Now he has the opportunity to add a gold medal.
"It would be good," Thompson said. "It would be quite a year for me."