New Coach, Same Talent On National Team Roster On Display At Day 1 Of Minicamp
The men’s national team gathered for the first time with head coach Gregg Popovich for minicamp in Las Vegas.
In the blistering triple-digit heat, fans packed outside the Mendenhall Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Thursday, awaiting the arrival of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. Throughout the two-hour practice session, fans remained outside in front of the charter buses, waiting to catch one last glimpse of the players before they departed.
Why such dedication from the fans? This minicamp was the first meeting of the men’s national team since 35 of the top American players in the NBA were announced in April.
New USA head coach Gregg Popovichwill coach the national team through 2020, which includes all training camps, the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China (provided coach Jeff Van Gundy sees his USA World Cup Qualifying team through qualifying) and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“This summer in Las Vegas the NBA guys will be coming together again,” Popovich said. “It’s been a while since the guys have been able to get together and there’s no real competition this summer, but it’s still important for them to break bread together, enjoy and laugh with each other, feel that kinship so that we can be a team and be a family as we move forward.”
Out of the 35-player pool, 23 were in attendance at minicamp, joking and laughing amongst one another while working through practice. Using two full courts, the players engaged in stretching, suicides, light scrimmages and other basic basketball drills.
Divided into two teams of five by those wearing a yellow jersey and those not, the team put on a lively and competitive scrimmage for about 30 minutes.
Even the finicky coach Popovich was impressed with their effort.
“The thing that stood out to me was how competitive they were with each other,” he said. “I was going to go a little lighter, and they didn’t go for that. They wanted more, so we gave them more. And they were very competitive, very energetic. That was a great sign, they really showed they wanted to be here and want to be a part of this.”
And for the players it was an opportunity to show their commitment to the national team while renewing friendships with other members of the national team.
“With what Mr. Colangelo (Jerry Colangelo, USA National Team managing director) has done with the USAB program, having us all come out and be together and just get a feel for each other is important,” said 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kyle Lowry. “Now especially with Coach Pop being the head coach giving him a chance to get his hands on us and show us his vision for the program.”
Changing of the Guard
After three straight Olympic gold medals, coach Mike Krzyzewskiturned the keys of the USA National Team to Popovich.
“I talked to (Coach K) often, he’s been great. I would be remiss if I didn’t bug him to death, asking him billions of questions, trying to learn from him.” Popovich said.
Popovich joins a national team that put together several impressive streaks under Colangelo and Krzyzewski. Starting with the bronze medal game of the 2006 FIBA World Championships, the men’s national team assembled a 76-game win streak (53 official FIBA competition and 23 exhibition games) and 25 consecutive Olympic wins, including eight in Rio to claim a third consecutive gold medal.
Although, the change of the head coach is a pretty big alteration, the roster remains reasonably intact from the Rio gold-medal team and 2014 World Cup Team. Only Devin Booker, C.J. McCollum, Khris Middleton, Isaiah Thomas and Myles Turner were new additions to the national team roster.
World Cup Qualifying
Larry Drew II, Reggie Hearn and Xavier Munford are taking part in the minicamp after playing at an elite level for three different USA Basketball national teams the past 11 months. Hearn and Munford participated in the November and June World Cup Qualifying cycles, compiling a 3-1 record, while Drew was part of the November and February qualifying teams that went 4-0.
Players on the Mend
Still rehabbing from serious injury, DeMarcus Cousins, who attended the team meeting Wednesday, and Gordon Hayward did not attend the first day of minicamp. Kevin Loveand Thomas attended, but were mostly on the bench due to recent surgeries. Thomas did get some shots up, but he did not engage in contact play with his teammates.
Following knee surgery, Kyrie Irving attended minicamp in street clothes, and played some one on one. A highlight during the media session included Irving showing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo some of his personal moves.
Mike Conley did not participate in any full contact play, but he was getting shots up and participated in some of the team drills.
“In my mind, I feel like I can do it, my body feels like I can do it, but I know I have a regimen to follow,” Conley said. “But I’m not at that point where I can play five on five yet. So unfortunately, I have to watch that part.”