Men's National Team Gets Back To Work
East Rutherford, New Jersey
While Monday’s Hoops for Troops practice at West Point was more of a “feel good day” as proclaimed by coach Mike Krzyzewski, Tuesday’s practice for the USA National Team at the Brooklyn Nets facility was more about feeling things out.
With the team still needing to reduce its roster from the current 16 players to the FIBA limit of 12, the tempo was frenetic in the mostly offensive focused afternoon as players on the bubble attempted to prove themselves while others emerged as leaders on a team still finding its way. Of the latter, no more so than James Harden.
“I love James,” said Krzyzewski. “We have a great relationship and that communication translates to even better communication with the guys on the court.”
Krzyzewski’s sentiments are not something Harden disputes, citing his international experience when he closely observed the star-power while on the London 2012 USA squad, and also from going from a supporting sixth-man role with Oklahoma City to being a dominant force with the Houston Rockets.
“I think that I’m capable of leading the team,” said Harden. “Obviously I’m still learning and have a long way to go, but the first couple of steps is deserving to be here and being vocal is part of my leadership role — especially because this team, the guys have the talent but can be shy and may not want to talk as much, so it’s about making sure you’re vocal.”
Another player who made an impact at practice was Andre Drummond who did everything he could to bolster his case as one of the big men to make the final 12 by ripping down rebounds and hitting one handed baskets all while being manhandled under the rim.
“It just happened to be of those days where the shots were falling,” said Drummond. “I also feel like as we go on, I know my role and am comfortable in it. I try and go into every practice with intensity and show what I can contribute.”
Drummond will have extra incentive to showcase that intensity when USA takes on the Dominican Republic at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), having grown up close by in Mount Vernon, N.Y. , and says he’s looking forward to having his family and friends supporting him in the crowd. The same goes for Newark, N.J., native Kenneth Faried, Montclair, N.J., native Kyrie Irving and also Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets, who was quite comfortable taking the court at his organization’s practice facility Tuesday with familiar surroundings and staff.
And while the Dominican Republic isn’t as high on the depth charts as some of the other squads heading to Spain (currently ranked No. 26 by FIBA), it doesn’t mean that Krzyzewski is taking them for granted. Housed with the U.S. in Group C, they’ll face each other Sept. 3 in their penultimate preliminary game at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, so Krzyzewski was anxious to get back to the tapes and scout them as “they would any other opponent.”
One of the biggest focal points of practice wasn’t someone who was on the court, but someone who wasn’t. Derrick Rose was given another rest day to recoup, but could be given a five-star Yelp review in full body massage as he stretched out on the sidelines and worked the foam roller, resistance bands and rubber balls with aplomb.
“No matter what, there’s a level of rust, but he’s done a real good job so far,” said Krzyzewski.
A synopsis Rose himself doesn’t dispute. While he attests his knees are good, it’s more about getting back into premier game shape.
“The only thing I can do is go out there and play hard and then I’m going to end up playing my way into shape,” said Rose. “The last thing I need [back] is my wind and the way that we play, that should come pretty soon.”
And while Rose is slated to be in the lineup for Wednesday’s game, the other injury concern involved DeMarcus Cousins who is more pragmatic after his knee-to-knee slam with Faried last Thursday.
“I’m basically through the pain and now it’s just about getting my strength back in my knee,” said Cousins, who participated in the full practice for the first time since the injury occurred Aug. 14. “So, as of right now, it is better, but it’s still not 100 percent. I also don’t really want to rush into anything. I would say it’s about 50-50.”