The reluctant face of Team USA
With the Redeem Teamers sitting the summer out, this is Kevin Durant's squad now
LAS VEGAS -- Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski calls him the only player guaranteed to make the final cut. USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo says he will be the face of the American team throughout the summer of 2010.
Kevin Durant is having none of it. At least, so he claims.
Team USA: Warmup Games
Here's Team USA's remaining schedule of exhibitions leading up to the 2010 FIBA men's basketball championship slated for Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Istanbul, Turkey:
• Aug. 25: USA vs. Greece, Athens, Greece, Noon ET, ESPN2, ESPN3.com
After learning late Monday night that they would be without Amare Stoudemire (uninsurable contract) and Robin Lopez (back injury rehabilitation), the Americans lost another big man Tuesday when David Lee jammed his right middle finger against the bottom of the backboard while blocking a shot. It is too soon to say how long Lee will be out, but when he looked down at his finger, it was facing sideways.
Lamar Odom is now the sole remaining team member who has represented the United States in a major international competition, having been a member of the Olympic team that lost three times in Athens in 2004 en route to a bronze-medal finish.
But that equation might have been different if the head honchos in the U.S. federation had decided to bring Durant to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. They didn't say so at the time, but Durant was in the mix when the debate over the final roster spot came down to three names: Tayshaun Prince, Tyson Chandler and Durant.
Prince got the spot, and Durant had to watch from afar.
"He performed so well at such a young age, he did have that sort of serious consideration relevant to being on the club, but we made a decision to go another route," Colangelo said. "He was very committed to the program, and he was going to have his opportunity in the next quad.
"And almost immediately after Beijing, we started talking about Durant being one of the premier players in the league, and here he is in '10 as the guy we're going to build a team around, it seems. And he's the leading scorer in the league, he's 21 years old and he is the full package."
Durant became the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring when he averaged 30.1 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder this past season, scoring 25 or more points in 29 consecutive games -- the longest such streak by any active NBA player.
He made news earlier this month when he announced his contract extension with the Thunder via his Twitter account, an utter contrast to the hoopla and hype surrounding LeBron James' decision to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat.
“"I keep telling people my situation was a little different than the other guys. It was just reupping my contract, and I'm a quiet guy, a low-key guy, so I chose that way," Durant said. "LeBron James is the biggest name in sports, nothing he does is ever going to be quiet, so you can't blame him for what happened and how he made his decision."
I doubt I'm the next face; I'm just another guy helping to bring a gold back to the U.S. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.” -- Kevin Durant
Some of the roots of what made Durant such an efficient scoring machine can be traced back to the summer of 2008 when he was trying to make the roster for Beijing and the team was given a day off in Las Vegas.
We'll let Durant pick up the story from there.
"We had the day off, but they said we could get some shots up if we wanted, so I decided to head over with [Oklahoma City teammate and Team USA hopeful] Jeff Green.
"Kobe [Bryant] was the only guy on the bus, and that spoke volumes to me -- he's the best player in the game, yet he's always willing to come work on his game, so that kind of motivated me and Jeff," Durant said. "He went by himself, he got a lot of shots up, and by the time he was done you could see he had gotten better over that hour. Like I said, it was a big inspiration to me and Jeff."
After getting cut for the first and last time in his life, Durant watched from the sofa as the American team waltzed into the gold-medal game and then was tested by Spain, ultimately emerging with a 118-107 victory that ended an eight-year gold-medal drought for the senior U.S. men's national team. But the gold-medal drought for the Americans in the FIBA World Championship remains intact, now at 16 years and counting as Team USA prepares to head to Turkey without any of the members of the so-called Redeem Team from Beijing.
Durant will be the team's stud, but he will not bring a wealth of international experience to the table. His passport bears only three stamps: one from Canada; one from a trip to Paris he made for a Nike all-star game when he was 16; the third from a promotional tour he made to China on behalf of the shoe company. When asked to name the most hostile arena in which he has played, he had to steer his memory bank to the single season of college ball he played at Texas.
"Toughest gym? Would have to be Oklahoma State, but I heard it's worse over there in Turkey."
But only when facing the Turks.
Team USA played before nothing but welcoming crowds in the run-ups to the 2006 world championship in Japan and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the team hierarchy wanted the American players to get a taste of something different this time around. Hence the exhibition games they'll play against Spain in Madrid (on the second night of a back-to-back after a game versus Lithuania, whose rabid fans are certain to be in abundance) and against Greece in Athens as they make their way toward Turkey.
As green as Durant is in navigating his way through foreign lands, he at least has the benefit of being in his fourth consecutive year of playing with Team USA in its Las Vegas training camps, giving him a familiarity with the nuances and rules differences that at times can make FIBA basketball seem like an entirely different sport than NBA basketball.
This year, instead of being a squad with too many superstars to fit into the starting lineup (Dwyane Wade was the 2008 team's sixth man), the Americans now have just one player worthy of that moniker -- a dynamic all the opposing teams will be aware of when they focus their defensive schemes on stopping Durant.
"I can't do the same here as I did for Oklahoma City," he said. "Got to tone it down a little more, sacrifice a little bit more, but I'm willing to do that. I can't wait to do that and be a leader. There wasn't one guy on that last team that was the same as he was on his NBA team. Kobe wasn't. LeBron wasn't. D-Wade. Everybody changed, and I'm happy to be a part of the same thing here.
"Hopefully it works out and I make the team."
Barring a calamity, he will.