Paul George Returns to Form With USA Basketball
• Las Vegas
In the blink of an eye, everything changed for Paul George. Yet two years later, almost miraculously, things are about the same for the 6-foot-8 guard as he prepares for his first trip with the USA Men’s National Team.
George recently turned in another stellar season for the Indiana Pacers, and now he’s a key piece of the USA Basketball team training for the Rio Olympic Games. The fact that George has so quickly recovered from a freak accident at the 2014 USA Basketball Showcase to return to NBA All-Star status is not lost on managing director Jerry Colangelo.
“We didn’t know when he got hurt if he’d ever be back. Not just with us, in terms of his career,” Colangelo said. “We just prayed that he was going to be able to come back and continue with his career.”
On Aug. 1, 2014, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, George went up to contest a shot and landed awkwardly, suffering a right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture. They were playing an intrasquad exhibition in preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and suddenly everything came to a halt.
There were fears that George wouldn’t be able to be the same caliber player, and then he quickly put those to rest. Still, some questioned whether George would return to USA Basketball, but he never had any doubt.
“I did it for the inner Paul George, the kid Paul George who always dreamed of winning a gold medal,” George said. “I wasn’t worried about no injuries. I wasn’t worried about getting back on the court and how would I fare out there. It’s about fulfilling that childhood dream and representing that country.”
George’s first experience with USA Basketball was on the 2012 Select Team. Two years later he returned to training camp as an All-NBA level player ready to be one of the USA Men’s National Team leaders.
Then the accident happened, but instead of a possible tragedy George has worked himself into a triumph. Colangelo always said they would hold a space on the Men’s National Team for George, but the gesture wasn’t necessary after George proved that he’s just as good as ever.
“He’s here on merit alone, he belongs here. This is not a gift,” Colangelo said. “We’re so thankful that he’s back.”
Training camp at the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus is only a couple of days in, so like most players George is still figuring out his role on this roster. But after being around coach Mike Krzyzewski over the past six years, George is confident he’ll have an easy assimilation.
“I feel like I am just adding on to the environment and DNA of this team,” George said. “Coach made it very clear of what he expects from me and I just need to be myself.”
In fact, George credits Krzyzewski for creating an atmosphere that makes it easy for him and many other players to commit their time and effort even in non-competition years.
“He’s the reason guys want to come here and get better,” George said. “It’s bigger than just coming here and playing basketball. We’re actually learning from one another. We’re creating a chemistry with one another.”
The group’s time spent together off the court is invaluable, but George is eager for more time on it, too. The USA National Team will play an exhibition against Argentina on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena on the Strip.
That game will be George’s first appearance with USA Basketball since the accident. It’s a uniform and a moment that he’s earned, and George is ready to move forward and focus on winning gold.
“This is like redemption for myself,” George said. “All the bad that happened that night and now I have this opportunity again to represent my country. It’s special.”