Paul on better terms with Coach K in Vegas
LAS VEGAS -- Chris Paul remembers Patrick Davidson, the Duke walk-on who came into a game two years ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium with the sole purpose of agitating the Wake Forest point guard.
"I was upset -- I felt like it was a cheap move to do stuff like that, to put a guy in who usually didn't play and come into the game to hit me with a couple of cheap shots," Paul said.
Davidson was out of the game after a few minutes, but the tone that he set irked Paul and Wake Forest.
Fast-forward to today, though, and the intensity of the rivalry with Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski is gone. Paul and Coach K are coexisting peacefully as the U.S. national team readies itself for the FIBA World Championship in Saitama, Japan.
"I used to see him on the other side of the court yelling at the refs and sometimes yelling at me," Paul said after Monday's practice at Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV.
Now the bitterness is gone. As new Houston Rocket and former Duke forward Shane Battier said, "We've all checked agendas and grudges at the door. This is way bigger than Duke-Carolina, Duke-Wake Forest. This isn't the time or place for that."Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesPaul won't have much time to rest when the U.S. goes to full-court pressure.
Paul, the NBA's Rookie of the Year with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, has a great shot to be the starting point guard on this team. That's how good Paul has become -- and how far his relationship with Krzyzewski has come.
"There are a lot of times that people would hold grudges, and one might think that I'm not going to listen to what he said, or do what I was taught at Wake or with the Hornets, but no way," Paul said. "We hit it off, and I've got a newfound respect for Coach K. I've gotten to know him. We've moved on. I'll crack jokes on Duke and he'll do the same on Wake. When we're on the court, it's all about USA."
The seeds of this blossoming relationship were planted as soon as Krzyzewski was named the head coach of the senior national team. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser called Paul to gauge his interest.
"I asked him if he [wanted] to play, and he said yes, so I told him, 'I'll call Coach K,'" Prosser said Monday morning. "I told Mike that Chris was one of the most intelligent guys you'll see. He's a very, very good player and the consummate leader. He's an excellent person, and I'm not sure who else you have, but he would be great for the face of USA Basketball."
Prosser said that as fierce as the rivalries and games are within the ACC, he has seen a closeness within the ACC family once the games are over.
"There is a collegiality about the league that you don't see [elsewhere]," Prosser said.
SuperSonics point guard Luke Ridnour said he was impressed with Paul's "composure, control of the game and, for going into his second year, he's very impressive."
"He's better. He's a star, a rising star," Krzyzewski said about Paul. "He really gets down the court quicker than anybody, and he won't have to play 40 minutes. He can really pressure the ball."
Their growing relationship is an example of how well this team is getting along after just one week. A number of college coaches have told ESPN.com that, after going to the early practices, they see that building a national program, with a steady roster, is clearly the right way to go about choosing an Olympic team. After Monday's practice, the players spoke about it having a collegiate feel, too.
"I pick on LeBron [James] all the time and tell him it's like a college practice -- and he said that's why he didn't go [to college]," Paul said. "In the NBA, nine times out of 10, we'll pick up your man half-court or at the 3-point line. This is a huge adjustment that we're going full-court, getting into the passing lanes -- and that's because everyone trusts one another."
James said this has been a true training camp -- unlike the few practices the national team had prior to the 2004 Olympics.
"The preparation is much better," James said. "We've got two weeks to prepare. We rushed into the 2004 Olympics. We had maybe a couple of days to get prepared. This is a training camp. We had only a few days in Jacksonville [Fla., prior to leaving for the Athens Olympics in 2004] and I don't think it was enough time."
The term "collegiate" shouldn't be foreign to this group, considering a number of them are still of college age. James, Dwight Howard (who didn't attend college, either), Paul and Adam Morrison would all be college-eligible if they hadn't gone pro, while Carmelo Anthony would have just finished his senior season if he stayed in college.
Regardless of the presence of an NBA Finals MVP (Dwyane Wade) and plenty of All-Stars, there haven't been any egos that need corralling. Krzyzewski said he has had to make some adjustments, but they centered around allowing media to watch the final 30 minutes of practice and wearing a microphone at times for NBA Entertainment.
"Everyone has been unbelievably professional," Krzyzewski said. "It's too bad more people couldn't see how hard they work and how professional they are.
"I'm not going to coach in the NBA ... I would have loved to have done this, too, but I love doing what I do more," said Krzyzewski of turning down a chance to coach the Los Angeles Lakers to stay at Duke. "Being the head coach is even better [than being a 1992 Dream Team assistant]."
The team is taking on the defensive personality of Duke -- which Krzyzewski said can be done because you can help more often off your man in international basketball -- and the high-octane offense of the Suns, under the direction of Phoenix head coach and USA assistant Mike D'Antoni. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is here tutoring the offense on how to attack zone defenses.
"Simplicity will be the beauty of the team," Krzyzewski said. "We're making the extra pass in practice. These guys are really excited about playing with each other because the guy on the other end can catch the pass. It's like a musician who is playing with other talented musicians and we're having a little bit of a jam session."
Everything is in concert with this squad so far. Even down to the clothes they will be wearing.
USA Basketball national team director Jerry Colangelo ordered tailored sport coats, shirts and slacks for the squad to wear during official functions in Asia. USA spokesperson Craig Miller said there was a conscious effort to have a uniform look after there were complaints when a few members of the team wore do-rags in front of a Serbian delegation in 2004.
This time around, there's no need to worry about a lack of harmony -- even between a former Wake Forest star and Duke's coach.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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