LAS VEGAS – If they only had the 28 players on this week’s mini-camp roster to choose from, the decision makers at USA Basketball would have plenty of talent for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball competition in Spain.
The beauty of what’s been built under the watch of managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski is that they have plenty of other NBA superstars eager to claim a spot on the roster for the summer of 2014. All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kevin Love were the first two do so, making it official at the end of Wednesday’s mini-camp practice at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
Durant and Love won gold medals in Turkey in 2010 and in London in 2012. They’re aiming to repeat that feat in Spain next summer and will do so as cornerstones of a team that won’t take complete shape until a year from now. They are the first of what could be several other returnees from London to make the commitment for next summer, though Miami Heat four-time MVP LeBron James is not expected to join them.
“I’m excited for this opportunity, to play for Coach K again and to get to play with some of these guys I’ve played with in the past,” said Durant, who suggested that Russell Westbrook and James Harden have also expressed interest in joining the crew that will play in Spain next summer. “This whole program is first class. And I want to be a part of it. We’ll see, hopefully we get some more names added to the list and some of these great young guys out here as well.”
There was a buzz in the gym from the start Wednesday with Durant and Love, two seasoned All-Stars, observing all of the 25-under mini-camp stars from seats between the two courts. Colangelo and Krzyzewski knew Tuesday night that Durant and Love were on board.
“Kevin [Durant] told us [Tuesday night], ‘Coach I wanted to come here and look you in the eye and tell you what I’m doing.’ I get chills thinking about it … a guy of his stature and his accomplishment, for these two guys to come here shows what they think of the program and the people involved. To do it face-to-face, we appreciate that very much.”
Colangelo referred to Durant as “kind of the face” of the USA Basketball program going forward, a distinction Durant will likely carry through to the 2016 Olympics as well.
“Kevin Durant coming out like he has and saying I’m going for it and I want to play, is a tremendous statement,” Colangelo said. “He’s his own man. I understand guys talk and influence one another. But Kevin is going to be the face, he’s going to be a leader going forward and I think others are going to respond because of his presence.”
That’s why the, the impact of Wednesday’s announcement, speaks to the continuation of Colangelo’s larger plan, which was to turn national team work into a privilege and a duty that all players covet and not the drag or burden it appeared to be for many members of the previous generation of stars.
“It starts with infrastructure,” Colangelo said. “You have good leadership in place and then you lay the ground work and then you ge the guys to buy in and then it starts to snowball. And right now, I mean where it was,no one really cared. So it’s totally flip-flopped to a point now where I get calls from guys during the [NBA regular] season from guys saying, ‘How am I doing? How am I playing?’ And that’s kind of neat. My job is to keep encouraging all of them.”
Peer pressure works as well. When the elite stars invest their time the way James, Durant, Love and so many others have in recent years, it becomes a movement among the players. There is a prestige involved with the program now that wasn’t there as recently as a decade ago. An invite to a mini-camp this summer could turn into a roster spot one day, if not next summer maybe in a few years.
“Listen, not everyone is going to be on our team,” Colangelo said. “That’s impossible. It’s a numbers game. But I think these guys that come through our program, at every level and certainly the Select Team, they are better players for it and better people for the experience because they are being exposed to this environment, which I think is very healthy for all of them.”