USA Basketball Men’s National Team Hoping To Find Shooting Touch Against Nigeria
Carrying a 4-0 record entering their final USA Basketbll Showcase presented by Verizon exhibition game before heading to Rio for the real thing, the USA Basketball Men’s National Team is hoping history repeats itself.
Coming off an 80-45 win over Venezuela on Friday night in Chicago, the team is hoping to find the shooter’s touch in Houston when they face Nigeria on Monday night. Despite their 35-point rout of Venezuela, the players weren’t happy about the way they shot the ball, especially from beyond the arc, where they went just 4-for-25 for a paltry 16% clip.
But if there’s anyone to bring back memories of hot shooting, it’s Nigeria.
The last time the two countries faced each other, the U.S. shot a blistering 71% from the field and went 29-for-46 (63%) from the 3-point line to overwhelm Nigeria 156-73. The U.S. set a slew of Olympic records in the game, including most points, most made 3-pointers, most made field-goals and highest field-goal percentage
“It was a bizarre game,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Carmelo Anthony went nuts, so that was a different game. Nigeria is well coached, they have a commitment, their players to their country, and we’ll have a good game against them tomorrow night. They’ll be good preparation for us before the Olympics.”
Anthony set the U.S. single-game scoring record with 37 points and went 10-for-12 on 3-point attempts. Incredibly, he did all that in 14 minutes.
“The ball was going in,” Anthony recalled before Sunday afternoon’s practice. “Once I hit that first one, they (his U.S. teammates) knew. You could see that from a mile away. Their goal was just to get me the ball, that’s what they were telling me.”
Anthony is optimistic that the team’s shooting woes won’t last long but added that it was also a learning lesson for several of the team’s first-time Olympians.
“I don’t think we’ll shoot the ball that poorly again,” Anthony said. “But that’s the fun part, that you can shoot the ball that poorly and still win by 30-40 points. That’s the luxury of being on a team like this.”
The only other current player on the U.S. team who played in that 2012 game with Anthony is Kevin Durant, who remembered the game vividly. Durant entered the game mired in an 0-for-14 slump to start the Olympics before hitting a 3-pointer 11 seconds into the game. He went 4-for-7 from 3 in the game and had 14 points and six assists in 17 minutes.
During one conditioning drill at Sunday’s practice, the team was challenged with scoring 115 points in a full-court drill in just four minutes and 15 seconds. An assistant put the time on the clock, and despite hot shooting and tireless effort, the players fell short, scoring just 108.
When asked what he would like to get a better sense of in the final rehearsal game on Monday night in Houston’s Toyota Center, Durant mentioned the team’s rotations, including who starts, what chemistry works best and how the team can improve upon that. But regardless of Krzyzewski’s approach, Durant said one of the most refreshing things about this roster is how selfless and team-oriented each player is when it comes to playing time and opportunities.
“We have a bunch of low-maintenance players,” Durant said. “When you have those types of personalities on the team, it makes things so easy. Everybody is unselfish and cool, and it’s just a great vibe and a great environment.”
As part of their team-building, Krzyzewski has made constant vocal communication a point of emphasis. When the players are running drills, they’re constantly calling out each other by name or, most frequently, nickname. The practice often sounds like alphabet soup because of the constant -- and loud -- nicknames the players use for each other, most often letters and initials.
Most of the coaches and assistants use full first names. But amongst each other, the players are known by their nicknames. Here’s a list of each player’s most frequently used nickname in practice:
Kevin Durant: “K” and sometimes “KD” but not as often as you might think.
Carmelo Anthony: “Melo”
Harrison Barnes: “HB” which is one of the hardest nicknames on the team to say but still quicker than using his full first name.
Kyle Lowry: “K-Lo” but sometimes just “Kyle” which causes confusion with the next guy.
Kyrie Irving: “Ky”
Paul George: “PG” and has retained his No. 13 with the U.S. team, keeping up his “PG-13” nickname in Indiana.
DeAndre Jordan: “DJ”
DeMarcus Cousins: “Cuz” and sometimes “Boogie”
Jimmy Butler: “JB”
Draymond Green: “Day-Day” (not sure on the official spelling) and sometimes “Money”
DeMar DeRozan: “D-Bo” and sometimes “D-Ro”
Klay Thompson: Just “Klay” -- no nicknames overheard
Nigeria earned a qualifying berth in the 12-team 2016 Olympic basketball competition after winning the 2015 AfroBasket Championship. Finishing the 2012 London Olympic Games in 10th place with a 1-4 record, Nigeria is led by 6-foot-6 guard Chamberlain Oguchi was named MVP of the 2015 AfroBasket after leading Nigeria to the title and averaging 16.6 points and shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point. Also look for 6-foot-10 center Shanei Lawal, who at the 2105 AfroBasket contributed 9.3 points and 9.0 rebounds, and veteran forward Ike Diogu, who played collegiately at Arizona State University and played 225 games for multiple NBA teams between 2005-2012. Diego scored 27 points against the U.S. in a preliminary round game in the 2012 Olympics. Interestingly, Diogu actual represented USA Basketball as a member of the 2003 USA Pan American Games Team and in fve games averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds a game. Every member of the Nigerian roster played collegiately in the U.S.