USA Basketball Men’s World Championship Team Ready to Take on France, the World
“I’ll probably wear this shirt every day,” said Odom, whose Lakers won their latest title in June. “It symbolizes winning and that’s all we’re here to do.”
Exactly what Odom and the 14 other members of the 2010 USA Basketball Men’s World Championship Team are trying to accomplish is to take home gold at the FIBA World Basketball Championship, which kicks off later this month in Turkey. The two-week tournament pits this collection of NBA talent against International squads made up of fellow players from around the league and globe.
The USA National Team is in New York City practicing during the World Basketball Festival, which concludes on Sunday when they take on France at Madison Square Garden. Until then, their schedule is filled with practices at John Jay College, two days of special events in Rucker Park and a scrimmage at Radio City Music Hall.
“A lot of people make a lot of expectations for us but everybody in our lineup knows we have to take it one day at a time, definitely come to work every day and never take steps back,” Kevin Durant said. “We have to always move forward and play on from there. It's all about playing hard every day.”
Durant is currently one of three members – Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green included -- of the Oklahoma City Thunder on the U.S. squad (Three more cuts must be made by Aug. 24.). No other NBA franchise has more than one spot occupied. This comes as no surprise though, as the Thunder are regarded as one of the best young squads in the league. Durant, last season’s NBA scoring champion, admittedly sees this as an opportunity for the Thunder to improve.
“To play with these guys on this roster is a great honor, but so is playing with those great players during the season, too,” he said. “This will make us better.”
Teammates of the Thunder trio don’t see any problems with that many players from one team comprising this USA roster.
“They're all good; that's why they're on this team,” Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “They're like brothers to me now. Russ and K.D. and I work out every summer for half the summer. This is an accomplishment for our young careers.”
“We only got (to play) those guys twice, since they’re in the West, so that’s a good thing,” Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. “They are definitely young and talented. They’re funny human beings and great people off the court.”
This week, the USA team will do much of their practicing against the USAB Select Team, a group of 10 up-and-coming college basketball stars. The squad, which includes Duke’s Kyle Singler and Butler’s Shelvin Mack, are coached by Villanova’s Jay Wright. The National Team stars have nothing but respect for their partners in this goal for gold.
“We're all a family here,” Durant said. “They know their job is to come out and push us to our limits here, and they've done a great job at that. They have some really great players.”
“To have them come here is great for us,” U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They play really hard. It's an unbelievable opportunity. It's good for USA Basketball.”
At this point, the focus is on Sunday’s meeting with France, which boasts NBA talent such as Boris Diaw (Charlotte Bobcats) and Alexis Ajinca (Dallas Mavericks). Some players, like Rondo, admit they don’t know much about their opponent, but expect to come the weekend. Others, including Durant, call them a good defensive team.
“We have our work cut out for us, but I think everybody's going to come together and we're going to do the right things to try and win,” Durant said.
The two oldest players on the American team are the Denver Nuggets’ Chauncey Billups (33) and Odom (30). Titles alone, Odom’s two bests Billups’ one, which he picked up with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. The average age of the rest of the roster is just under 25, meaning Odom and Billups are automatically dubbed leaders, and can dole out experienced advice.
“All these guys are individual leaders on their teams,” Odom said. “I guess I’m the leader through experience though.”
Don’t expect Odom to offer up all of the hints he’s learned since entering the NBA in 1999.
“I can’t give away all my secrets,” Odom said with a smirk.
Instead he’s just going to let his T-shirt do most of the talking.