Bidding Adieu to the USA Select Team
Aug. 13, 2010 • New York, N.Y.
Imagine you’re a player trying to get better for next season. Do you play pick-up with a bunch of random guys in your neighborhood park? Go to summer school and practice against the guys you’ll be in the trenches with the coming year? Or do you see how well you measure up against a group of guys that include the 2009-10 NBA leading scorer, last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award winners, a pair of NBA champions, an Olympian, and players who are simply among the best in the country? If you’re smart, you go with C: a two-week date with the USA National Team.
That’s just what 20 college players chose this summer. And the opportunity afforded the members of the USA Select Team this summer was immense and immeasurable.
“It was a good learning experience,” said Purdue senior JaJuan Johnson of his first time in a USA Basketball uniform. “Anytime you get to play with the world’s best players, you’re definitely going to get better. It helps you raise your level of competition. You take away small things you pick up playing against these guys.”
They first spent a week in Las Vegas practicing against the USA National Team and then 10 of them were given the chance to continue their summer jobs as a scrimmage team in New York and eagerly jumped at the chance.
The Select Team worked out with the USA National Team on Tuesday and Wednesday, scrimmaged Puerto Rico on Thursday and then ran through plays again with the pros for the final time Friday afternoon at the Knicks practice facility.
The abbreviated 10-member version of the 2010 USA Select Team made the most of their opportunity, but like all good things, it had to come to an end. With the USA World Championship Team finalists ready to head to Europe following Saturday’s scrimmage against China and Sunday’s game against France, it was time for the USA Select Team to return to their respective schools and pass along what they learned to their teammates.
“They simulated what to expect,” said Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kevin Durant, the 2009-10 NBA leading scorer. “Especially the bigs, what the bigs are going to be like overseas. Also the guards, they had quick guards who can shoot it. They helped us out a lot. If we win, they’ll be a part of it.”
As was the case from their first practice together in Las Vegas, the competition was intense and everyone involved agreed on one thing: the USA Basketball pipeline will be gushing talent for years to come.
“You could see that every day they played with these pros, they got more comfortable,” said USA head coach Jay Wright, who has served on a number of past USA Basketball coaching staffs and heads up the Villanova Wildcats. “And this time, here in New York, they were getting more confident. The only problem is, the National Team was getting better, too. So it didn’t always show in the score, but in the level of the play in each individual guy on the Select Team, you could see was rising. I think every one of them felt like they got better here. It’s a great experience for them.”
Members of both teams also saw the benefits for each side.
“To come here and be put into an unfamiliar situation against some of the best in the NBA, it’s definitely going to help them out,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who won a silver medal with the 2007 USA U19 World Championship Team. “It gave them a lot of experience. Even getting in front of some NBA coaches, when the time comes for the draft, the coaches know what they’re going to get out of these players.”
Asked if he would like to return to USA Basketball in the future, there was no hesitation in Johnson’s answer. “Oh yeah. I would love to play for our country. My dad’s in the military, so to have the opportunity to represent your country in a positive way is good.”
The only person who left with a bittersweet view of the training camp is Wright. He has to face some of these guys in the coming season.
“Those were my parting words for each one of them: don’t play like this against us and kick our butt,” joked Wright.