Men's National Team Goes Full Speed Ahead In Return To Practice
The overriding theme of USA basketball’s practice at the Quest Multisport Center in Chicago was getting back to business.
The first practice after Paul George’s injury was an unknown going in. Would the specter of that injury keep the other stars vying for a spot on the USA roster from going at it full force?
It certainly was a concern of USA Basketball National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo and the coaches, as they got together with the team prior to taking the court. The message conveyed was that injuries are a part of the game and they can happen in any setting, including an NBA arena, a summer league or even a pickup game.
There was no hesitation on the court as the 16 finalists vying for a spot on the team went at it hard. If Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski or assistants Tom Thibodeau, Monty Williams and Jim Boeheim had any fears of players holding back, those issues were quickly put to rest.
The hard play produced one scary moment when DeMarcus Cousins and Kenneth Faried collided and both went down. While Faried bounced up rather quickly, Cousins stayed down for several uncomfortable seconds before trainers helped him to his feet.
They helped him walk to the sidelines and he remained out of practice through the rest of the scrimmage with ice on his knee, and a precautionary MRI will determine if there is anything serious.
“I am hopeful that DeMarcus is fine and he did not suffer anything major,” Colangelo said. “I don’t know, however, and that’s why he is getting checked out.”
While the Cousins scare stopped action for a few moments, the rest of the scrimmage was a full-speed event.
Kyrie Irving drove the lane at full speed and James Harden was playing forceful defense in addition to taking his signature outside shot.
Harden may not be known for his tendency to guard one-on-one, but he was not giving any room in the scrimmage. Big men Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond were making every effort to secure rebounds as they went to the boards hard. Kyle Korver was blasting through screens to get open, and Klay Thompson was throwing his body around in an effort to get to loose balls and make plays
This was no walkthrough, in any sense of the word. Stars like Derrick Rose and Steph Curry were practicing at full tempo as well, and that’s exactly what Thibodeau expected.
“Injuries are a part of the game and everyone here has seen them before,” Thibodeau said. “Once everyone starts playing again, instincts take over. These are great players who want to work hard, get better and play for their country. It’s an honor to be on this team and I think everyone knows that. It’s no surprise to see guys going at it hard.”
The practice, two days prior to the USA’s meeting on Saturday with Brazil in an exhibition, or “friendly,” at the United Center, gave players a chance to run the sets that Krzyzewski and his coaching staff will most likely be running throughout its international matches and the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The stamp of the team is likely to be a tenacious defense that makes the USA one of the favorites to bring home the gold medal.
Krzyzewski believes that his team will have its work cut out for it against Brazil. “They are a great team and they are very well coached,” Krzyzewski said. “They have been together longer than us and I believe they have played four games. It’s a concern because they are a team that knows each other quite well.”
But once the action begins, Krzyzewski and his coaches are expecting that they will have a cohesive and powerful team at their disposal.
Thibodeau pointed out that Rose was a part of the gold medalist USA World Championship squad in 2010 prior to his MVP season, and that helped propel him and move his game forward.
“You’re playing with players who are at the top of the game,” Thibodeau explained. “When you are out on the court with these type of players, you can’t help but get better when you are working hard and listening to your coaches.
“It’s also a point of pride for these guys. They are playing for their country, and that means something special.”