Blake Griffin Among a Number Of USA Basketball Veterans Chasing Olympic Dreams
Las Vegas, Nevada -- The Dream Team poster hanging above his bed gave Blake Griffin a clear goal. Of the many things he wanted to accomplish as a basketball player, from an early age one of them was winning a gold medal for the USA Men’s National Team at the Olympics.
“Seeing that all the time, seeing what they represent and not just playing for the U.S. but how they represented themselves, how well they did and how polarizing they were,” Griffin said after Wednesday’s practice in Las Vegas. “That’s something I definitely dreamed about as a kid.”
Three years ago, Griffin was living that dream. The former NBA No. 1 overall pick came to Las Vegas for tryouts, made the 2012 USA team and was practicing for a week before a knee injury the day before the team’s first exhibition game ended his run.
Another No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis, slid into Griffin’s spot and helped the team win its second straight gold medal. At the time, Griffin was much more concerned about getting ready for the NBA season than the next Olympic cycle, but that dream has started to inch its way back to the forefront.
“Now we’re almost there,” Griffin said.
This week’s minicamp is nearing its end, with two days of practices in the books and only Thursday night’s USA Basketball Showcase still to go. The Blue squad vs. White squad exhibition, which will feature four 10-minute quarters, will start at 10:30 p.m. ET at the Thomas & Mack Center and it will air on ESPN2.
This week has been a purposefully lighter one for the players’ workloads, though that might change a bit at the Mack. Men’s National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said he wanted everyone to make sure they’re careful but he’s not telling anyone to not play hard.
“A lot of the younger guys who haven’t been here, they’ll play their butts off,” Krzyzewski. “They want to show themselves.”
The majority of the 34 players in town for the minicamp have USA Basketball experience, but just nine have won an Olympic gold for USA Basketball. Having such a competitive and dominant group means that some players, even some great ones, are going to get left out.
Everyone wants their chance, though, something LeBron James said is obvious just by looking at the long, talented minicamp roster.
“It’s an unbelievable turnout we have,” James said. “This is a thing that people want to be around. You see how many NBA All-Stars, superstars, champions that we have here, that just shows what type of program we have.”
It’s a program Griffin very much wants to be a part of. Injuries have kept him out of camp (2009 and 2010) and competition (2012) but Griffin keeps on coming back for more.
A year from now the USA Men’s National Team will be competing in Rio. Griffin has been close before and knows nothing is guaranteed, but he sees himself being there because of a process that’s been building physically for three years and emotionally since childhood.
“Injuries happen, but to be on the cusp of going to your first Olympic Games and then to have it all taken away was tough mentally,” Griffin said. “I want another shot at it.”
Durant plenty confident in himself
It was a rough year for two-time gold medal winner Kevin Durant. First he pulled out of the USA Men’s National Team’s run to the top of the 2014 FIBA World Cup because of fatigue and then an injury wiped out the majority of his NBA season.
Injury issues have been rare for the Oklahoma City Thunder forward so a lot of eyes have been on Durant to see how he would respond. The answer at this week’s minicamp has been that Durant is more than just fine.
They’re light workouts, sure, but Durant has put in a lot of time in shooting drills and staying after practice. So far there haven’t been any signs of rust and Durant certainly isn’t lacking belief in himself.
“I feel like I’m the best player in the world. That’s how confident how I feel. No disrespect to other players here, but I’ve always got that confidence,” Durant said. “I didn’t come here hoping to do good. I knew I was going to come out here and shoot the ball well, work hard and learn.”