Men's Water Polo Preview

The U.S. men’s water polo team qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games by merit of winning gold at the 2019 Pan American Games, and now it’s expected to bring one of the youngest teams in the world to Tokyo this summer.

Coming off a 10th-place finish at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, head coach Dejan Udovicic returns, along with team captain Jesse Smith, who is preparing for his USA Water Polo record-tying fifth Olympic Games. After Smith, however, no athlete on the U.S. team has taken part in more than one Olympic Games.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. lacks for quality experience, though. The national team has a core of players in some of the top professional leagues in Europe such as Alex Bowen, Luca Cupido and Alex Obert, all key members of Team USA since 2013. The U.S. also has an experienced Olympic head coach in Udovicic, who led his native Serbia to a bronze medal in 2012 before joining the U.S. program.

The men’s Olympic tournament consists of 12 teams with a group stage followed by a knockout round. Joining Team USA are host Japan, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Greece and Montenegro. The U.S. will contest Group A against South Africa, Hungary, Greece, Japan and Italy. 

Updated on June 16, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer

• A variety of changes are at play in the Tokyo Games. Roster sizes have been trimmed down from 13 to 12 with an additional athlete expected to be allowed to substitute in prior to each match. Also, several new rules will make their Olympic debuts, including the six-meter line, increased penalty shot opportunities and “hockey” substitutions.

• After disappointing performances at the Rio Games (10th) and recent world championships (9th), the U.S. men have an opportunity to make some gains in Tokyo. A U.S. men’s water polo team hasn’t won a medal at the Games since taking silver in 2008, and hasn’t won a gold medal ever.

• Longtime U.S. captain Jesse Smith will look to add to his legacy as one of the most reliable players for Team USA. A father of four and a four-time Olympian, Smith is aiming for a USA Water Polo record-tying fifth Olympic Games. Smith has long been considered one of the best defenders in the world and has played for top clubs around the globe.


• One of the top scorers for Team USA, Alex Bowen has been playing professionally in Europe since 2016, most recently with Apollon in Greece. Bowen, 27,  scored more than 200 goals at Stanford University and was named a First Team All-American all four years. Bowen made his Olympic debut in 2016 and won two Pan American Games gold medals with Team USA in 2015 and 2019. 

• Hannes Daube is one of the youngest members of the team at 21, and plays for Olympiacos in Greece, one of the powerhouses of men’s pro water polo.  Daube won an NCAA championship at the University of Southern California and was named a First Team All-American during his freshman season as a Trojan.

• Formerly of the Italian national team, Luca Cupido made his Olympic debut with Team USA in 2016. Cupido, 25, was a four-time All-American at Cal and led the Golden Bears to a 2016 NCAA title. A high scorer, Cupido is known on the U.S. team for scoring buzzer-beating goals. 

• Johnny Hooper has been known as a scorer since his days at Cal when he scored 245 career goals. Hooper, who turned 24 on June 24, led Team USA in goals with 24 at the 2019 Pan American Games.  Tokyo would be a special Olympic stop for Hooper who is half Japanese on his mother’s side and has made multiple visits to Japan in the past. He has his mother’s name tattooed in Japanese on his rib cage. 

• Ben Hallock, 23, is a center from Stanford University who made his Olympic debut in 2016, fresh out of high school. He won the Cutino Award in 2018 and 2019 as the top player in the collegiate game, and was a two-time All-American.  Now playing for Pro Recco in Italy, Hallock and Pro Recco won the 2021 LEN Champions League title as the top team in Europe.

• July 25, 2021: U.S. vs. Japan (Group A)
• July 27, 2021: U.S. vs. South Africa (Group A)
• July 29, 2021: U.S. vs. Italy (Group A)
• July 31, 2021: U.S. vs. Hungary (Group A)
• August 2, 2021: U.S. vs. Greece (Group A)
• August 4, 2021: Knockout stage begins
• August 8, 2021: Bronze- and gold-medal games