• VIDEO: Men's National Team arrives for minicamp
• Additional Quotes From Day 1
• Photo Gallery
Las Vegas, Nevada -- Based on the celebrations and the joy exuded with each swish, it would be difficult to differentiate the shooting competitions that capped Tuesday’s USA Men’s National Team practice from those taking in place in driveways and parks across the country.
This week’s three-day minicamp in Las Vegas has a lighter workload than most because this is a non-competition year. What hasn’t changed is that the one-on-one, or two-on-two, battles often take center stage, and that’s often because it’s obvious how much the players are enjoying themselves.
“You’ve always got to have energy, have fun,” said Russell Westbrook, who had a quizzical look when asked if he tires of USA Basketball events. “Enjoy it, embrace the time while you’re here.”
At one point, Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were rotating through increasingly physical one-on-one challenges from assistant coach Monty Williams while at the other end of the court Kenneth Faried and Draymond Green celebrated a shooting drill victory against LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond.
Just because the overall competitive atmosphere is down doesn’t mean it can’t be found. Really, USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff couldn’t stop the players from going after each other even if they wanted to; that’s just what happens when highly skilled players enter the same gym.
“Most of them are shooting anyways somewhere,” Krzyzewski said.
Bringing them all together means the best get to spend time around others on their level while the coaches get to check in with the group of 34 a year ahead of the Rio Olympics. Even guys who knew they couldn’t practice, like Kevin Love, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery, came to Vegas so they could be a part of everything and hear the message from USA Basketball Chairman and National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo.
“There’s nothing quite like putting the USA on your chest,” Love said. “He’s excited for us to be here and create some sort of a brotherhood so that when we have those 12 roster spots all set it will be easy to get on the floor together and win.”
At the first team meeting, Colangelo showed a video highlighting the organization’s accomplishments over the last four years. Going back even further, to when Colangelo and Krzyzewski enter the picture, the results have been almost nothing but victories.
The idea is that a minicamp like this can help ensure that doesn’t change next year or beyond.
“This is a celebration of what we’ve done the past 10 years,” said Anthony Davis. “It’s a chance for guys to get back with each other, having fun and reminiscing a little bit about USA Basketball.”
Practice schedule not completely unique
Without impending roster decisions and a medal to chase, there’s a little less urgency in this week’s proceedings. However, Krzyzewski said he could draw on past experience to make sure it’s still productive.
Asked if he had ever had practices this light before, Krzyzewski thought immediately to the 2012 Olympics.
“In London, after the strike-shortened season, I had a practice plan every day and never used any of it,” he said.
The players’ NBA schedules had been scrunched together so some were even more fatigued than a regular offseason. Managing that and trying to keep everyone fresh yet prepared for a run at gold required a lot of flexibility.
It also required a trust that when they were needed most, USA Basketball’s stars would step up. And that’s exactly what happened.
Rest of the week
The Men’s National Team’s minicamp ends Thursday night with the USA Basketball Showcase, a Blue Squad vs. White Squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center. It starts at 10:30 p.m. EDT and will air on ESPN2.
Earlier on Thursday, Colangelo and Krzyzewski will join Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey for a leadership seminar at Nellis Air Force Base. The hour-long presentation, which is open to all U.S. service members, staff and their families on base, is part of USA Basketball’s Hoops for Troops and the Department of Defense’s Commitment to Service initiatives.