Paul George Becoming a Major Factor For the Men's National Team
Las Vegas, Nevada
Managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have created a clear path to success within USA Basketball since taking over in 2006. It’s the reason so many of the country’s best players are willing to show up to mini-camps or as practice players, because once you’re in the pool of players the future is bright.
Paul George was one of those guys. In the two years since he came to the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus as a Select Team player for the 2012 Olympics, George has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA.
His trip to Las Vegas last year to participate in the USA's mini-camp was a preview for his vault into the upper echelon and now George wraps up practices for the FIBA Basketball World Cup with one-on-one sessions against Olympic gold medalists Kevin Durant and James Harden. No one could legitimately say he doesn’t belong.
“I feel like I’m coming into my own,” George said.
The exact role George’s USA Basketball experiences have played in his precipitous rise is difficult to quantify but there’s no doubt it’s been a factor. Simply spending time around the other talented players and coaches would make just about anyone a better player, so when a guy like George really buys in to the lessons and the environment around the organization that impact becomes even greater.
“It’s all a process and it’s made huge strides for a lot of our games,” George said.
George is one of seven players on the 19-man National Team roster who started two years ago with the Select Team and returned last year for mini-camp. Other guys like Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson will likely join George at the World Cup in Spain, but more than anyone else from that group, George has put himself on another level.
Part of the reason for that, George said, is the bond that he’s developed with everyone else at USA Basketball. It’s that type of feeling that Krzyzewski has always tried to create.
“We feel that USA Basketball, and the word is used a lot, is a family,” Krzyzewski said. “It should be a little bit of a safe haven for being yourself, getting better, developing relationships with different guys in the league.”
Those relationships lead to great on-court chemistry, too. Although he’s emerged as a dominant player for the Indiana Pacers, George said he’s trying to be a do-it-all glue guy on this World Cup team.
That type of attitude is common up and down the roster, and it’s part of the reason Krzyzewski doesn’t want to label George and Durant’s roles on this team to “stretch 4s” or any of the backcourt guys to “point guard.” They’re talented enough to play all over the court.
“You have Irving and (Derrick) Rose out there, who’s the point guard?” Krzyzewski said. “Well, who cares?”
When the team got together Sunday at the Wynn for its first training camp meeting, Krzyzewski played a video showing highlights of recent USA Basketball successes and explaining the bigger meaning behind playing for your country. It mostly featured the teams that had already won medals, including guys who were sitting in the room like Durant
George said watching their celebrations and the way they were completely supporting each other reminded him of starting out with the Select Team. Back then it was just a hope and a dream to get to that point. Now that he’s put in his time and developed, George feels like he and the guys he’s spent years playing with can reach out and touch it.
“It’s all about pulling for one another,” George said. “At the end of the day, we’re all we really have going over to Spain and playing for a gold medal.”