Men's National Team Sets the Tone On Day 1 At Training Camp
Las Vegas, Nevada
If the final scrimmage of Monday’s practice is any indication, it’s going to be a highly competitive and entertaining training camp for the USA Men’s National Team.
The team started its month-long march towards the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Monday at the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus. Between the National and Select teams there were 31 of the country’s best players spread out between two courts, and for players with previous USA Basketball experience it was a chance to reintroduce themselves to the foundation built by head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.
“I learn so much and I soak it all in,” said two-time Ggold-medal winner Kevin Durant. “It’s an exciting time.”
The practices in Las Vegas culminate with an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 1, at the Thomas & Mack Center. Then on Aug. 14-16 the team continues its training camp in Chicago.
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau ran a majority of the first practice on one court. It started out with a lot of walk-throughs and some specific plays but it didn’t take long to get the group starting to resemble teammates.
“It’s not going to happen in one day,” Thibodeau said, “but when you have the type of talent that we do, if you get them committed to playing basketball on both sides as a five-man group that’s your best chance for success.”
The National Team went 2-0 in a pair of 12-minute scrimmages against the Select Team, although both were close and each required a comeback. In the final scrimmage, the teams were split up more evenly for one 10-minute game. The result was an exciting back-and-forth affair that went down to the wire. The Blue Team, featuring Durant, James Harden and Paul George, among others, held on for a three-point victory.
It was only one day — and an admittedly light one at that — but the highlights are already piling up. From Andre Drummond’s rejection at the rim to Kyrie Irving’s drive with a finesse finish, the competition figures to only pick up from here.
There’s a lot for the coaching staff to figure out as training camp pushes forward. One thing they know for sure, though, is that they have plenty of options.
“We have great versatility,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll find our style.”
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook announced earlier this month that he wouldn’t chase a third gold medal on the Men’s National Team. That didn’t mean he was going to stay away from training camp, though.
Westbrook dropped by Mendenhall for the majority of Monday’s practice, catching up with National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo, Krzyzewski and assistant coach Jim Boeheim, and also spending a lot of time on the bench with the current players. Westbrook even carved out some time for an old teammate, new New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher, and when he decided Durant had put in enough media time, Westbrook politely called for one last question before pulling his friend and Thunder teammate out to the court for more shots.
Including Westbrook, the first practice brought out a lot of basketball luminaries. It was also irresistible for a local like Chase Jeter, a high school senior-to-be who earlier this summer won a gold medal for the USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
While many players cleared themselves for takeoff towards the rim at Monday’s practice, upstairs a trio of fighter pilots who do that for real looked on.
USA Basketball extended a practice invite to United States Air Force pilots at Nellis Air Force Base, which is located about a half hour northeast of the UNLV campus. Three pilots, all members of the USAF’s elite Weapons School, and their families were able to stop by. While their kids ran around bouncing basketballs and playing hide-and-seek, Colonel Adrian Spain was watching the court and noticing a parallel between the USA team and the Weapons School, which takes already elite pilots and puts them through rigorous training.