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John Wall and Kyrie Irving

USA Roster Overflowing With Gifted Guards

  • Author:
    Taylor Bern
  • Date:
    Jul 31, 2014

Las Vegas, Nevada

If you believe the talk, USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski could see the future for Kyrie Irving since the guard was a freshman for Krzyzewski at Duke during the 2010-11 season.

“He was destined to be a great player,” Krzyzewski said this week. “He has not only ability but he has character and great intelligence.”

What Krzyzewski, the Men’s National Team coach since 2006, couldn’t see is how competitive the backcourt would be for this year’s team that will compete at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Everyone from managing director Jerry Colangelo on down agrees that guard is this team’s greatest strength.

“What we have to determine at some point is how many point guards can you carry,” Colangelo said.

Krzyzewski, who has already called the position the “toughest call” that the coaching staff will have to make, doesn’t like to call them point guards. The group is too talented, too multi-dimensional to limit them to just the point position. And by the sounds of it, leaving any of them off the 12-man roster will be like leaving behind an argyle sweater on a winter vacation to the Antarctic.

“Coach K never really gives those (roster) hints away,” said Stephen Curry, “because I’m not sure even he knows.”

Curry won gold at the 2010 World Championships, as did Derrick Rose. Irving was on the 2012 Select Team and has a history with Krzyzewski. James Harden, a gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics, figures to have an advantage, but there’s also John Wall and Damian Lillard vying for spots.

It’s easily the most competitive group out on the practice court in the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus. Krzyzewski put Kevin Durant and Paul George on the same team during Wednesday’s scrimmage not so much to see what they could do together but to see how the guards coexist with guys who are practically guaranteed roster spots.

“We wanted that with different guard tandems, like with Harden and Rose, Irving and Curry and Damian Lillard,” Krzyzewski said. “So you get them all a chance to play with those two guys and with Anthony (Davis).”

The guards all seem to understand the situation and are doing whatever the coaches ask. Curry has developed immensely since that 2010 championship in Istanbul, Turkey, which he called the highlight of his career, but he knows that his added skills as a player might still need to be adapted to this team’s needs.

“There’s only one basketball,” Curry said. “We have to be versatile and have to be able to adapt.”

Even guys like Wall and Lillard, who have limited USA Basketball experience, have bought in completely in hopes of sticking around long enough to represent their country in international competition.

“I have to be able to leave it all out there whether that’s picking guys up full court and wearing them out or trying to cause turnovers,” Lillard said. “I’ve just been trying to let (the coaches) see what I can do to help this team.”

Although he’s coming off a knee injury, Rose has been one of the most impressive guards in training camp. Like the other players he’s talking about defense and doing what the coaches ask, but Rose is also focused on the smaller details such as learning where the team’s shooters like to get the ball and the best ways to set up his post players for success.

“As a point guard I’ve got to read all that,” Rose said.

Krzyzewski and Colangelo know it won’t be an easy decision at guard. Some extremely talented players won't be back when the team reassembles August 13 in Chicago, and that might include players with an impressive track record in the organization or even with Krzyzewski himself.

For his part, Irving carries a quiet confidence. It’s been an exciting offseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers guard — one that he hopes includes an international business trip — but he also recognizes that everyone in camp, even those he’s competing against, want the same thing.

“We all come together for one goal,” Irving said, “and that’s gold.”

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