Intense Scrimmages Test National and Select Team Players on Day 2 of Training Camp
USA players competed hard but teaching and building chemistry remains the ultimate goal for coaches.
The official team photo kicked off Day 2 of training camp for the USA Basketball Men’s National World Cup training camp team along with the coaching and training staff.
The photo might help members of the public get to know the new faces joining this World Cup roster, something that has been a much-discussed topic.
Kyle Kuzma had an interested stance on addressing these issues.
“It’s kind of like the NBA, a lot of times you have different rosters,” Kuzma said matter-of-factly. “The past two years I’ve been on a lot of different rosters, chemistry obviously takes time, but we got a lot of great players and players that have been here and played at the highest level, so it should be easier.”
Kemba Walker thinks it has much more to do with getting acclimated on the hardwood.
“I think it’s mostly off the court,” he said. “On the court is pretty easy. I think we will get that. I think off the court is what we have to figure out and spend more time with each other and communicate more and just have fun with each other. Like Pop said, just love each other because it has to translate on the court if we want to do something special with this team.”
Pop is USA head coach Gregg Popovich, who started practice with full court drills of the no-dribble fast break drill — in which four players run a fast break without dribbling the ball for a finish at the rim.
The National Team soon moved onto a one-on-one full-court defensive drill, where the offensive player dribbled the length of the court against a defender full court to convert the possession. These drills seemed to be warm-up exercises in preparation for the upcoming hard-nosed scrimmages later on.
Similar to Day 1, two different sets of ten-minute drills were established on two ends of bordering half courts.
Assistant coaches Steve Kerr and Lloyd Pierce led one set of drills in a full court system with five players moving the ball decisively around the perimeter, setting up the most probable highly efficient shot, then a missed shot and rebound would set the five guys trekking to the other end to enact the same drill.
Court coach Ime Udoka led a half court set in a five-on-five matchup, where they never switched from offense to defense. Through a combination of pick and roll and threading the needle for shooters, Udoka would occasionally stop the drill to comment on certain things that players on either side of the ball could improve on.
At about the five minute mark of these drills, the players would switch to the respective drills they hadn’t earlier participated in. Popovich would observe both drills continuously and critique anything he found helpful for the players involved throughout the duration of the drills.
At times, both of these drills relied on players to help each other out by communicating and calling out switches and movements. This in part can only build the camaraderie and cohesiveness that the team needs heading to China.
Towards the conclusion of the ten-minute set, the Select Team started arriving at the Mendenhall Center and awaited instructions on scrimmages against the National Team.
Broken out in front of NBA player personnel and coaches, a group of seven or eight guys from the National Team roster matched up against the Select Team. Kerr and assistant coach Jay Wright continued to do an assortment of drills with the remaining players on the National Team who had not participated in the specific scrimmage on the other side of the gym.
Sporting gray jerseys, Derrick White, Jalen Brunson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonathan Isaac and Marvin Bagley III matched up against Brook Lopez, Donovan Mitchell, Walker, P.J. Tucker and Jayson Tatum. Manning the bench for the National Team were Joe Harris (from the Select Team roster), Harrison Barnes and Mason Plumlee.
The players from the National Team jumped out to an early 8-0 lead before the quintet swap of Trae Young, Jarett Allen, Pat Connaughton, John Collins and Torrey Craig rallied and took a brief 11-10 lead after Connaughton nailed a corner trey. Tatum soon countered and knocked down a three of his own, as the score held and finished with the National Team edging out the Select Team 13-11.
Following this initial scrimmage, Kuzma, De’Aaron Fox (from the Select Team roster), Myles Turner, Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton started against the same Select starting five sans Mikal Bridges for Brunson. Young, Marcus Smart and Bam Adebayo were the bench reinforcements for this scrimmage. Unlike the first scrimmage, the game flow for this seemed to move like molasses as the referees let them play through the physical screens and box outs. At one point, Brown and Issac ran full speed and dove for the ball. As Young missed a step-back three at the horn, the National guys edged out the Select Team 8-7.
The National Team players from the first scrimmage came back for the third duo with Plumlee and Barnes starting instead of Tucker and Lopez. Select Team coach Jeff Van Gundy bought back the same starting five as the second scrimmage. With Van Gundy barking orders like an intense international FIBA game, his Select squad played within themselves and, led by Young, played a more up-tempo, free-flowing style that made for an entertaining scrimmage. Similar to yesterday, with about 43 seconds left, Pop stopped the game plan and coached about being more assertive, popping out behind the perimeter for open threes. Again, the National Team managed to hold off the pesky Select Team for a 17-14 win.
After going down the previous three scrimmages, the Select Team seemed more focused and hungrier to finally come out on top with at least one. The starters from the second scrimmage made up the same with Kuzma and Young headed to the bench for Brown and Adebayo. Whether it was the Select Team finally clicking after more than 30 minutes of pure scrimmaging or the conditioning of some of the National Team players by this point, Young closed out the scrimmages with a step back jumper to lead his team to a win over the National Team.
Kerr addressed the expected inconsistency with the World Cup roster.
“It’s just so early, we don’t have a feel for the team yet. Guys are still not in game condition, so we got a long ways to go,” he said. “It’s only been two days, right now we’re just trying to get organized, and get everyone on the same page, see where we are and start to build something from the ground up.”
Make no mistake, scrimmage results don’t mean much, as the entire purpose of them is to help players develop and do away with bad habits in game-time speed. Kuzma understands this and discussed what he’s been working on to improve his game.
“Defensively, putting a big focus on locking it in on that side of the ball, just to help me out in my career and season,” he said. “Just being a team player, it’s not a team that you try and get 25, 30 every night, because we have so many great players, so just doing all the little things and whatever the team needs me to do.”
The third day of training camp continues tomorrow, with the Select Team expected to continue scrimmaging with the National Team.
Sam Yip is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.