Day 2 At Men’s National Team Minicamp Brief, But Full of Competitive Action
Team bonding was again the name of the game as the national team concluded minicamp.
Unexpectedly, Day 2 of practice at the USA Basketball Men’s National Team minicamp commenced 15 minutes before the original scheduled start at noon on Friday. At the onset, assistant coach Ime Udoka led scrimmage, barking orders as if real international competition was just around the corner.
Similar to Day 1, teams were split amongst blue, grey, and yellow jerseys, and the guys went hard against each other. Peer pressure drills were plentiful, as players continuously missed free throws which forced the entire squad do suicides and pushups.
This last practice in 2018 lasted about an hour before it concluded. Since this was an off year of real in-game competition, it was logical to end on a light practice. Even coach Gregg Popovich got in with some action on defense. Nevertheless, several players on the team continued to go at it in a half-court setting, as the media scrum got underway.
With Kyrie Irving feeding the ball to the offensive player, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant went aggressively at each other in half court one-on-one for almost a 45-minute session.
Unlike the NBA All-Star Weekend, where guys would literally be playing “matador” defense, players competed at a high level given the stakes still on the table. The players, especially the ones without too much international experience, understand what’s at stake.
When asked about preparing to play at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China next year, Kemba Walker smirked as he replied, “Gotta make the team first, honestly ... right now the main goal is to make the team first.”
Although Isaiah Thomas hasn’t been able to practice full contact five-on-five with his teammates, he expects to be back next year competing in China.
“For sure, for sure,” Thomas said. “I think getting invited to something like this gives you that opportunity. I’m just happy to be here, happy to be a part of it.”
James Harden praised how minicamp was run this year.
“Yeah, it was a great two days, guys worked their butts off,” Harden said. “Coaches did an unbelievable job, a great structure, it was great.”
All About Bonding
Following Popovich stressing numerous times yesterday how this minicamp was more about bonding and building relationships instead of focusing on the X’s and O’s, it was pretty much the same response from the players about connecting.
“I mean these guys have all been a part of All Star Weekend, and I’ve been there a couple of times, so I’ve built relationships with most of these guys,” Thomas said. “They’re all genuine and down-to-earth guys, so everybody is out here to have a good time and to have that fellowship and camaraderie.”
Turner, a member of the 2016 Team USA Select Team that trained against the 2016 Olympic Team, echoed similar thoughts to what Popovich mentioned.
“I know a lot of these guys just through playing against them, but it’s pretty cool just to be around the whole crew, and just being able to learn from them,” Turner said.
When asked who he got to know better over the past couple days, Harden had someone particular in mind.
“Maybe Tobias Harris. Yeah, just the way he works, and he just loves and enjoys the game of basketball.”
Harris seemed to stand out for these past two games. He appeared to be impactful on both ends of the floor. From hitting fadeaway jumpers to cleaning up the glass for easy put-backs, he seemed determine to make a name for himself among the players assembled.
Anthony Davis did not attend Day 1, but showed up to converse with his teammates. Davis is on the 35-man roster, and was a gold medalist in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Russell Westbrook, who participated in practice for Day 1, was mostly on the sidelines for Day 2, bonding with some of the other guys on the bench. Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and Davis chatted it up for a bit. Occasionally, Westbrook would come on the court and imitate teammates, to hilarious effect.
Although retired from the USA Basketball National Team and international competition, Carmelo Anthony made an appearanceto the surprise of many. The most decorated male Olympian in USA Basketball history, Anthony has gold medals from the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, plus a bronze medal from 2004. Anthony also was a member of the team that won the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, also held in Las Vegas.