Day One: Time to Start Getting Familiar as a Team
With all of the talent running up and down the court at the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus, it could be easy to get caught up in the star power of the USA Men’s National Team’s first practice leading up to the Rio Olympic Games. But any correlations between this week’s work and an NBA All-Star atmosphere miss the mark.
“All-Star practices you don’t do much,” said guard Paul George. “This is a training camp. It just so happens that we have the best players in here.”
The roster is set and the first practice is in the books as the National Team began its pursuit of another gold medal on Monday in Las Vegas. The 12-man team, with help from a 24-man Select Team, has four days of practice here before Friday’s exhibition game against Argentina (9 p.m. EDT / 6 p.m. PDT / NBA TV).
After that it’s exhibition stops in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago and Houston and then on to to Brazil. But before any of that the process of building team chemistry starts here.
“Just getting them accustomed to one another,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the first day’s practice.
The team was split into two six-man squads to maximize their time on the court, and for the last 40 minutes of practice each squad went through a little scrimmage against waves of the USA Select Team. With the first preliminary game nearly three weeks away, Monday was a calm beginning to a journey that will crank up to a frantic pace.
“We have to be careful that we’re not doing too much (too early),” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski highlighted historic four-time Olympian Carmelo Anthony, who is going for his third Olympic gold medal, as the vocal leader of the team on day one. He also commended DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant for their efforts to lead practice and set examples for other players to follow.
“That’ll spread to the rest of the team,” Krzyzewski said.
The work is just getting started, and as the week progresses in Vegas the intensity will continually tick upward. No one on the court needs to be reminded of what’s at stake this summer.
“You’re playing for Team USA,” said DeAndre Jordan, “and that’s bigger than each and every one of us.”
Added Durant, “We’ve got one goal and one goal only, to win.”
Sometimes when the USA Men’s National Team gets together, the biggest question is which players will make the final roster. This year, like they did in 2008, Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo figured that out almost a month before camp.
“The angst that you go through in that week of determining from 16 to 12 takes away from your preparation,” Krzyzewski said. “We have had none of that. That’s a huge advantage.”
The full roster includes Anthony, Durant, Jordan, Cousins, George, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Harrison Barnes. Since at least June 27, when the roster was announced, “they’ve been completely focused on being on this team,” Krzyzewski said, as opposed to years when only a handful of players seemed like roster locks.
The coaching staff (head cach Krzyzewski, and assistant coaches Jim Boeheim, Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams) believes that certainty can only help their work on the court, because barring injury those 12 players know not only what’s on the line but that they’ll be a part of it.
Rotations and specific roles will be developed over the coming weeks, but no matter how it shakes out Krzyzewski is confident he’ll have a good defense on the floor.
“Each team has its own personality,” he said. “… This one I think has the capability of being as good a defensive team as we’ve had, because we have a lot of interchangeable parts.”
Four players on the roster — Green, Jordan, George and Butler — were named first- or second-team NBA All-Defense last season, and other guys like Thompson or Durant have shown the ability to cover multiple positions at an elite level. Scoring points has almost never been a problem for the USA National Team, so if the defense is there to match then Krzyzewski and his staff will have a lot of fun.