Living Out ‘Any Basketball Player’s Dream’
Seven players joined the USA Basketball Men’s National Team to help them prepare for the Tokyo Games.
Imagine a U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team practice, and you’re the one guarding Kevin Durant.
Or trying to stay in front of Damian Lillard.
Or battling on the boards against Draymond Green or Bam Adebayo.
That was, in essence, the experience that several basketball lifers enjoyed over the summer.
With the U.S. men’s national team preparing for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 without several key players — including three - Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton - who were competing in the NBA Finals — USA Basketball made a call to the bullpen.
Or, technically, seven calls to the bullpen.
USA Basketball relied on the additional players - Saddiq Bey, Darius Garland, John Jenkins, Keldon Johnson, Josh Magette, Dakota Mathias and Cam Reynolds - in July to join the USA Men’s National Team for practices and four exhibition contests in advance of the Tokyo Games.
Of the seven, four had played in the NBA in 2020-21, and one of the seven, Johnson, ended up making the U.S. Olympic roster as a late addition. As for the other three, their resumes were sprinkled with international stops, including USA Basketball national teams involved in FIBA qualifiers, G-League appearances and glimpses of NBA action.
For replacement players such as guard Magette, the opportunity to train with the Olympic team was simply unforgettable.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Magette, a product of the University of Alabama in Huntsville who appeared in 26 NBA games between 2017 and 2020. “Something I’ll remember for a long time.”
The 32-year-old Magette has played professionally in seven different countries and currently suits up for the Tasmania JackJumpers off the coast of Australia.
That lifestyle is one Jenkins can relate to. The former Vanderbilt University star has seen action in 171 NBA games with five teams and currently plays in France.
Yet, the highlight of his year undoubtedly was getting to compete with some of the greatest players America has to offer.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Jenkins, 30. “When I got the call, it was a no-brainer. Just to be around the players that USA Basketball had this year — all-stars, Hall of Fame players. I was excited to see how these guys prepare every day and how seriously they approach the game.”
That was also something that caught the eye of Reynolds, a veteran of Tulane University and 24 career NBA games.
“That experience was one of the biggest moments of my career,” said the 26 year old Reynolds, who now plays in Italy. “Just to be able to play with the caliber of guys on that team, going to practice every day with Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Zach LaVine and the others — that was one of the pinnacles for a basketball player. It was my Mount Rushmore.”
Hoops History and Making Memories
One of the reasons Jenkins, Magette and Reynolds were chosen to join the team is because they all had previous experience with USA Basketball. All three had played for the USA in multiple FIBA World Cup and/or AmeriCup Qualifying teams over the past four years.
This experience, however, was uniquely different.
Not only were the newcomers thrust into practice with some of the greatest players on the planet, but they also played in the exhibition games in Las Vegas leading up to the Olympics. Additionally, all three accompanied the team to Tokyo, where the U.S. went on to win the gold medal.
The time spent training, practicing and playing with elite players afforded the trio an opportunity they never expected to have — the chance to get up close and personal with the stars of USA Basketball.
Jenkins took particular note of Durant — not just his size and skill, but the way he practiced and the way he prepared.
“He approached every rep like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals,” Jenkins observed. “Now that I’m home, I approach every rep the same way.”
Magette, as a point guard, was especially drawn to Lillard.
“Just seeing how he approached the game and what his mindset was,” said Magette, who added: “It wasn’t like, ‘Here’s the Olympic guys, and here’s these other guys.’ From top to bottom — players, coaches, trainers — they all treated us like we were equal.”
As for Reynolds, he boasted to his friends about competing alongside Durant in shooting drills, but perhaps his favorite experience came off the court.
“I remember being in Tokyo, playing dominoes with Draymond Green, talking about basketball, about life,” Reynolds said. “Those memories will stick with me the rest of my life.”
The Next Steps
Deep down, Jenkins hopes his exposure through the USA National Team helps him return to the NBA in the near future.
“It’s something I always want, obviously,” said Jenkins, a first-round NBA draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 2012. “Overseas is great basketball, but it’s not easy for my family to come over here. So, it would be great not only to be back in the NBA, but to be back with them full time.”
As for Magette and Reynolds, they would love to play professionally in the U.S., but both players are at peace with the current state of their basketball journeys.
“I think anybody that is playing overseas would obviously love to get back to the NBA,” Magette said. “It’s the best league in the world. But I’m enjoying where I’m at right now. I like the lifestyle in Australia. I like the style of play. I like the league so far. In year 10 of being a pro, I like to find the joy in basketball and have fun with what I’m doing.”
What about Reynolds: Could the spotlight of USA Basketball eventually facilitate his return to the NBA?
“I would like to think so,” he said, “but if it doesn’t, I’m cool with that also. I just hope I did enough so that when next season comes around, I might stick out in their mind. Someone might give me a chance to come into training camp. As a player, all you can ask for is an opportunity.”
Until then, Reynolds and the others can cling to their memories from USA Basketball training camp, exhibition games and the Tokyo Olympics. All they can do is hope that, in some fashion, one opportunity turns into another.
“It was such an honor to put on that USA jersey,” Magette said. “Every time I put on that USA jersey and hear the anthem, I get goosebumps. It’s always so cool to represent our country and to be a member of the team.”
“It never gets old,” Jenkins added. “Every time they call, it’s like the first time. Especially to get the call to be in Vegas and then to go to Tokyo, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
In fact, you could say that for basketball lifers who currently play internationally, returning home to play for their country is a definite career highlight.
“I wasn’t a five-star recruit or anything like that, so when I got the call from USA Basketball, that was the best thing,” Reynolds said. “To represent your country while playing basketball, that’s one of the pinnacles. I mean, it’s NBA championship, gold medal, playing for USA Basketball. That’s any basketball player’s dream.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.