Las Vegas, Nevada -- Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic) shut down the opening day of the USA Men’s National Team minicamp this week with a dunk off the wall, so it felt appropriate that it was another one of his highlights that brought the crowd to its feet for the biggest cheer of the night at Thursday night’s USA Basketball Showcase.
Lined up one-on-one at the top of the key against Michael Carter-Williams (Milwaukee Bucks) in a close game, Oladipo crossed over and drove hard into a powerful right-handed slam that wasn’t really finished until Oladipo’s post-slam shimmy under the basket. Oladipo and the Blue squad got the highlight but Carter-Williams’ White squad got the 134-128 win in a game that lived to its billing as an NBA All-Star game type of performance at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“We had a great crowd, which is very appreciated, and I think the guys put on a nice show,” said USA Basketball chairman and National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo.
The roster of 34 that started this week’s lighter camp thinned a bit by the Showcase, but four players were added to the rosters for some extra depth. One of those was Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton, who was working out when he learned there was a chance he could be added and then was on a 6 a.m. flight Thursday to get to Vegas.
“It means a lot that they thought about me,” Payton said. “It’s always an honor to play for your country, whether it be overseas or at home. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were among the players who attended camp but weren’t in the game. Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), who won a gold medal at last year’s FIBA World Cup, acknowledged that meant less star power at the end of minicamp but he knew that plenty was accomplished this week.
“We didn’t have everybody for the game, but guys were at the camp,” Faried said. “We were going hard, we were competing, not against each other, but we were competing, period. And, we were having fun.”
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said even players limited by injuries had already done more than they were asked to during their time in Vegas.
“We had so many guys who could not play for a variety of reasons, but even those guys throughout the week were at practice,” Krzyzewski said.
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) led everyone with 27 points and 16 rebounds for the Blue squad, while Oladipo poured in 25 and Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors) fiished the night with 21 points and 10 rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) led the White squad with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Mason Plumlee (Portland Trail Blazers) tossed in 20 and grabbed 11 boards. Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors) was credited with a game-high 10 assists.
“We got the chance to come back and rekindle the fire that we had from last year, winning the (FIBA World Cup) gold medal,” Drummond said. “Being out here with the guys again, getting the chance to work out with them, get up and down, laugh and kind of celebrate the win that we had last year, it was a good time for me.”
Just like an All-Star Game, the players were generally focused more on offense than defense. But as the clock wound down in a tight contest the competitiveness started to really come out.
With a little more than three minutes left, Carter-Williams soared in for the type of dunk that hadn’t been contested all night. This time, Faried was up there to meet him for a powerful swat that was either a great block or correctly called a foul depending on which bench you asked.
DeMar DeRozan’s (Toronto Raptors) 360 dunk in the final seconds served as a final exclamation point and several fans left with mini autographed basketballs that the players tossed into the crowd while leaving the court.
USA Basketball Will Name 12-man Roster In June
Prior to the 2012 London Olympics, the USA Men’s National Team held a training camp in Las Vegas in order to pick its final 12-man roster. That meant that before the team could begin its journey, Colangelo had to sit down with several players he had invited and tell them they wouldn’t be coming along.
“That’s a killer,” Colangelo said. “It always has been and it always will be.”
Partly because of that, for the 2016 Rio Olympics the organization will return to its plan leading into the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After the NBA Draft in June, Colangelo will announce the 12-man roster instead of bringing 16 or more players in for a tryout camp.
USA Basketball’s leaders are aware of the time commitment required, so not only does the shorter schedule avoid some unnecessary conversations but it also takes a smaller bite out of the calendar. Even with that it’s more than a month from the time the team will assemble to the gold-medal game, which they fully intend to be a part of.
Krzyzewski pointed out that they could still make any changes as needed after announcing the roster. Also, putting together a USA Men’s Select Team to practice and train against the Men’s National Team will remain an important part of next summer’s camp.
“That’s the beginning of the next wave of players,” Colangelo said.