As World Cup Nears, Men's National Team Coming Together On And Off the Court
Cohesiveness. Chemistry. Continuity. Over the past week, these are the words that keep getting bandied about when describing the USA National Team. There’s no disputing that they’re young, athletic and supremely talented, but are they (to use another oft-used term) gelling?
Of course to achieve any of the above, it takes time to attain familiarity and we’re asking them to do it at an amped-up pace. Most of the international teams they’ll face in the FIBA Basketball World Cup have not only had at least an extra month of practices under their belts, but powerhouses like Argentina, Brazil and Spain return to international play with a core group of talent that has been together for several years. The majority of the U.S. squad, meanwhile, is new to the red, white and blue. And just to complicate matters are the still fluid adjustments being made around the exit of Kevin Durant and the injury to Paul George. But adjusting they are.
“We’ve only been with this group for four practices,” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Not four weeks. Four practices. In Vegas it centered around the team with [Kevin] Durant on it…This group is still evolving into a team.”
And while Krzyzewski and his coaching crew are steadily finding their formula with the current roster, the one thing he has made clear is that they’ve moved on and he is spent talking about Durant.
“A coach coaches who he has, not who he doesn’t have,” said Krzyzewski. “When you’re married, you’re with that woman. You don’t think about who you dated.”
But as evidenced in Tuesday’s lightning-paced practice filled with Stephen Curry no-look passes and a myriad of alley-oop feeds to the big men, that anticipation of not only where each player is but where they will be is coming along nicely.
“It takes time when you’re with your regular NBA team, but now we are all coming together and everybody is used to having the ball,” said Damian Lillard. “We have to get comfortable with how to move without the ball and how to make the next guy better. Over time, we’ve gotten better at that.”
Another way to achieve familiarity on the court is to obtain it off of it, which was the purpose of the team’s visit to West Point on Monday for the Hoops for Troops program. The group toured Krzyzewski’s old stomping grounds, observing cadets mastering the obstacle course and survival swim, while also spending time at the cemetery to reflect — an experience that resonated with the players.
“Some of the family members came out and told us about their loved ones that they lost,” said Andre Drummond. “It really touched me to hear their stories and realize the willpower that people have to defend this country.”
Those sentiments were echoed by James Harden, who surmised that the outing brought the team closer together.
“Just the experience of seeing what those guys go through every single day made us realize how grateful we are and while we were there we all kind of bonded all day,” said Harden. “As the days go by, we’ve been getting together during down time to just hang out. Bonding is really important to our success.”
Which was the whole goal for Krzyzewski as we steadily see the results translate to the court and the team … well, gelling actually.