Team USA Basketball Convenes In Las Vegas For Select Training Camp
USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt on USA Basketball’s new talent pool of young, emerging players hoping to join 2016 Olympic Team:
LAS VEGAS — USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo’s plan to infuse the men’s national team with new talent moves forward this week.
Forwards Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets and guards Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and 2012-13 rookie of the year Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers are among the 29 players, including two college players, invited to Team USA’s four-day camp, which begins Monday and concludes Thursday with a scrimmage.
The camp is the first step toward preparations for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup (formerly the world championships) in Spain and, beyond that, a very early look at candidates for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
In Colangelo’s best-case plan, next summer’s team will be a mix of players from the 2012 Olympic gold medal team and players — who have minimal national team experience — from this camp.
“That’s part of this program, to keep the pipeline filled with talent and as new players are indoctrinated into the program, that’s when we go through the selection process,” Colangelo said. “This is bringing 30 players into a mini-camp that gives us an opportunity to get to know them a little bit.
“Obviously, we know them as players. But it goes beyond that. We need to see who fits in and what’s a good feel. And this year, we have a couple of new coaches to assimilate also. We want to just break them into our program.”
Colangelo told USA TODAY Sports that Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love have expressed interest in playing.
“I don’t solicit nor am I looking for early commitments or anything like that because time and circumstances change things,” Colangelo said. “But those two have indicated they would very much like to play next summer. I don’t know how many others at this point because I haven’t inquired.”
Colangelo has generated interest and continuity at USA Basketball. There is a balance of holdovers and newcomers in the system. For instance, LeBron James won’t play in the world’s next summer, but George, Irving, Westbrook and Love might, and all four could be on the Olympic roster in 2016.
Colangelo is enamored with George, who emerged as an NBA All-Star this season and a potential superstar with his outstanding performance in the playoffs.
“Last year he was on the select team and did a great job,” he said. “On more than one occasion, he mentioned our time together in Las Vegas last summer (practicing against the Olympic team). Players get exposed to our program, and if they buy into what we’re doing, then we know they’re really good candidates to represent us going forward.”
Colangelo said he would like to bring a roster of 15-18 players to next summer’s camp prior to the start of the World Cup.
Two groups of players to watch this week are point guards and big men. Irving, Lillard, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, the Charlotte Bobcats’ Kemba Walker, the Denver Nuggets’ Ty Lawson, and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley form a strong group of point guards, all with varying skill sets. Remember, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski, who in May re-upped for another three-year term as coach, look for good fits, not simply the best players.
The lack of height and size has given the U.S. problems in previous international competitions, and Colangelo assembled an interesting group of big men: Davis, the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins, the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried, the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors, the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Larry Sanders and the Cavaliers’ Tyler Zeller.
“The one thing we definitely have always had a shortage of in USA Basketball is bigs,” Colangelo said. “We have great athleticism. We use it to our advantage. We play to our strengths. But we have to be really careful about looking at bigs and who would fit in and how that would work. We have a lot of young bigs coming to this camp who we’re interested in looking at and getting to spend more time with them.”
The play and attitude of Cousins will be particularly interesting. As a member of the select team that practiced against the 2012 Olympians, the Kings center clashed with Colangelo, who said Cousins needed to mature as a player and a person. Colangelo said he welcomes Cousins into camp.
“I’ve said that was then, this is now. There’s a clean slate and I’m looking forward to having him in camp, and I wish he does well,” Colangelo said.
Colangelo also invited Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Creighton’s Doug McDermott, and Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson had to withdraw due to a sprained ankle. New assistant coaches Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls and Monty Williams will also get their first experience with the national team. They have replaced Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni.
“The fact that we have two new coaches and new players, we want to get them assimilated into the program and expose most of the guys who are going to be there to our program,” Colangelo said. “This is their first step with us, and I think we’ll have a competitive camp and we’re looking forward to seeing to it.”