Before I start, I’d like to thank everyone for your support, and for checking out the website and reading the blogs. It’s been a lot of fun doing these so far.
I’m extremely excited to still be a part of Team USA. We’re entering the second stage of camp, which is taking place this week in Chicago. We play Brazil in a few days. (I’m hoping to have more family there since Chicago is so close to Indianapolis.) Playing for the national team against another national team is something I’ve never done, and should be really cool.
If I’m able to make the final roster, I’ll probably feel a greater sense of pride, and probably a little relief as well. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Right now, my mindset is just on continuing to compete, doing whatever I can to make the team, and hopefully, trying to help us win gold.
Going into this experience, I didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t tell us how many cuts they were going to make, or when they were going to have the team finalized. So I didn’t want to get my hopes up coming out of the week in Las Vegas.
Spending some time the last three summers at the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas did help me understand what the coaches were expecting of me. I think it also kind of helped them to know how I play, and how I could help them.
Playing for and learning from coach Mike Krzyzewski during camp has been a phenomenal experience — especially ever since I got over the whole fact that he coaches at Duke. I try to be a sponge, and soak up everything he and our assistants have to say.
There’s an extreme amount of respect for him within the ranks of Team USA. Over the years, he’s harnessed the talents of LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Dwyane Wade and KD, among others, which is amazing. You can see how much those players appreciate it in the way they all respect him. Guys are willing to listen to him, and to do whatever they can to help the USA win a gold medal.
But Coach K says he doesn’t want us to get rid of our egos. He wants us to play like the players we are. That’s the reason they invited us, so he doesn’t want us to change. That said, he also wants us to utilize everyone’s strengths. Everybody does certain things well and I learned a lot more about those things during the week in Las Vegas.
GOING AGAINST THE BEST
For me, training with Team USA has been a way to get better and improve my game. Playing with players of this caliber — even when I did it in college — has given me more confidence. Each year, I’ve taken that confidence back to camp with me. It’s made me feel like more of a leader. And I think it’s a difference you can see in others who have played for Team USA, too.
Playing against players of this caliber is probably one of the best parts of this opportunity. I see these guys a few times a year when we play against them, but it’s a little different to watch them, play off of them or go one-on-one with them day in and day out.
Stephen Curry has been really impressive to me. Everybody knows he’s a really great shooter. But the thing that separates him is his ability to handle the ball and shoot extremely well off the dribble. He’ll do a crossover and you might not think that he’s open. (He might not even think he’s open.) Then he fires off a shot in the blink of an eye.
It sure does go in a lot.
So he’s really impressed me. So has Derrick Rose. It’s been really good to see him moving the way he has been. The knee injury that knocked him out last season made his status for this summer kind of a question mark. But all the reports that came out about his health early in the summer were true. To me, he seems to be back where he was before the first knee injury. He has another level of speed and athleticism over everybody in camp. It’s pretty incredible.
The competition with everyone has been intense, and we’re very focused on preparing for the FIBA World Cup and winning the gold medal. But we’ve had some fun, too. One of the ways we break up the time between practices is by playing a shooting game called In the Bank.
How it works is, guys line up around the three-point line and shoot consecutively. If one person makes it, it goes up on the scoreboard as one. If the next person hits, that’s two. If somebody else hits, that’s three. And then, if the next person misses, that person gets three points. If there’s seven points on the board and you miss, you get all seven.
We all keep shooting until somebody gets 21, which knocks them out. Then we keep going until only one person is left. I used to play that game in high school and junior high. Now I’m just competing against some of the best shooters in the world.
Paul George was another guy who really stood out in camp. He’s a great player, and he’s an easy guy to play the game with. He does a little bit of everything, which is what makes him an All-Star. He’s a good shooter, an excellent defender and a pretty good rebounder for the wing position. He also plays bigger than his size.
I’ve known Paul since we were drafted. I actually got to know him right before that at the Chicago Combine. I remember going out to dinner with him right across the street from our hotel. I also spend most of my summers at home around Indianapolis, and I’ve seen him training there. So we’ve always had a connection. It was really unfortunate to see what happened to him in Las Vegas.
Since the injury, people have not only been praising his game, but they’ve been praising his character. I can tell you that they’re not just saying that because it’s what you say because you feel bad for him. He really is a great guy.
When the injury happened, I was on the bench. I saw him go up for the block and when he landed, I saw his foot and his leg go the opposite way of his body. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, that seemed like it was bad.” But the way he kind of just rolled over and wasn’t screaming or anything — I didn’t know at first how severe it was.
For a second, I thought maybe he twisted an ankle or something, and he’d be fine. We were all just kind of wondering what happened. But when everyone rushed over, you knew it was bad. Some of the players came back to the bench, and said they saw bone sticking out. All I could think was, “I hope he’s okay.”
After it happened, it was crazy how quiet it was. The crowd was just shocked. You could hear little murmurs, and that was about it. For there to be that many people in the arena and for it to be that quiet, it was kind of an eerie feeling.
As they treated him and put him on the stretcher, our minds were so focused on Paul that none of us really wanted to play after that. We were all like, “We’ve got to be done. We’re not playing anymore.” It would’ve been just too hard to shake that feeling. When we walked off and went into the locker room, it was still really eerie. Guys really didn’t say very much.
We all sat there with towels over our heads, thinking and praying for Paul. You hate to see somebody go down like that. When an injury like that happens, it puts things in perspective for you. So I think everyone was just reflecting a little bit. A lot of prayers were said. We were hoping for the best for Paul.
When Coach K and Mr. Colangelo came in to talk to us, what they said was basically all about Paul. Guys were still in shock about what happened. We were all quiet the entire time. They told us they weren’t going to make any roster decisions at that time. Instead, they were going to take some time and reflect on the situation, think about it, and get back to us. They encouraged us to reach out to Paul and reach out to his family.
“He needs you guys right now,” they said.
Since the injury, Paul has been posting to Twitter and Instagram, and from the emails and text messages I received, it seems like he’s doing fine and is remaining pretty positive. It’s definitely good to see that he’s being so optimistic, and isn’t letting this setback get the best of him.
A lot of questions have been raised now about the risk of injury in a competition like this. I don’t think it’s something you can think about. You just have to go out there and play. As soon as you start thinking about injuries and you’re tentative, bad things happen.
That’s just the nature of sports in general. You go out and play.
There is risk wherever you are. During the offseason, guys play pick-up games all the time where they could get hurt. The only time I’m ever cautious is if I’m playing somewhere where I don’t know everybody playing, and somebody is trying to prove something, or do something that would hurt me. That’s where I would walk away and say, “I don’t want to risk it.”
But in a situation like Paul’s, where everybody is just trying to compete and guys aren’t trying to hurt anybody else, sometimes things happen, and there’s nothing you can do about that. I just wish him a speedy recovery and can’t wait to see him back out there playing again soon.