Fresh off a 113-59 victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday night, the rock show that is Team USA basketball began their stint in the nation’s capital by practicing at the D.C. Armory on Saturday.
Several thousand fans, as well as a contingent of the U.S. military, were in attendance to watch head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his team prepare for the upcoming Olympics.
“It’s an honor to coach the USA national team,” said Krzyzewski in his opening remarks to the crowd before practice. “The thing that we as a group, that USA basketball is proud of is that in some way we can give something back to our country during this Olympic period.”
As expected, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant were the crowd favorites of the day, drawing loud cheers throughout practice.
Two things really stood out during the two-hour, up-tempo practice—communication and ball movement. As former Duke player Jay Bilas indicated to the crowd during practice, the U.S. team wants to take full advantage of their athleticism and defensive versatility, which relies heavily upon being vocal on the court at all times.
For the entirety of the practice, the team was intense, focused and sharp as they continue to become familiar with one another and develop cohesion as a unit.
James, however, is not worried about establishing chemistry on this team.
“It’s not hard at all,” said James as he addressed the challenge of meshing all of the talent on the team. “Everyone has to bring their same characteristics [from their NBA team] to this team. That’s why we were all chosen.”
Much of the practice was spent doing full court drills, going through out-of-bounds plays, as well as practicing defensive rotations and offensive sets.
The highlight of the practice was a 10-minute scrimmage, which saw the first six—Chris Paul, Bryant, James, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Durant— defeat the second unit of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Deron Williams and Andre Iguodala by a score of 26-23 in a highly entertaining and fast-paced matchup.
At 33 years old, Bryant is the oldest member of the team and his minutes were very limited in the scrimmage today as the staff likely wants to keep the five-time NBA champion fresh for the Olympics.
As the eldest player, Bryant carries the most wisdom and experience on the squad, which will be called upon as the young U.S. team seeks to win the gold medal again.
“[We need to] just prepare, be efficient every single day,” said Bryant in regards to the challenge of a young U.S. team as it faces international competition.
Davis, the youngest member of the team at just 19 years old, was recently added to the Team USA roster to replace the injured Blake Griffin. In addition to his youth and inexperience, Davis has also had to overcome an ankle injury lately, but he appeared to be fully healthy in practice.
Despite not having played a minute in the NBA yet, the No.1 draft pick in the last month’s NBA draft seems to be adjusting to the next level well. Davis scored four points, which came on two dunks, in the scrimmage.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Davis said. “I have to take advantage of it.”
For Anthony and Durant, the stop in Washington, D.C. is a bit of a homecoming. Anthony grew up in nearby Baltimore, Maryland and Durant’s hometown is Rockville, Maryland, which is also in the area. Needless to say, the opportunity to return to their old stomping grounds, while preparing for the biggest stage in sports is a special experience for both.
“I can’t put it into words,” Anthony said. “There is only a few people that can say they represent Baltimore [in the Olympics].”
“It’s great,” Durant said. “I don’t really get to play here a lot during the season, once a year. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy myself in front of my friends and family.”
Team USA will practice tomorrow from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. at George Washington University’s Charles E. Smith Center.
On Monday night at 8 p.m., Team USA will take on Brazil at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.