Reporting from Las Vegas, Nevada -- As they have done in years past, the USA Men's Basketball team is holding a portion of this year's pre-Olympic camp in Las Vegas. Monday marked the opening of what is an especially crucial time for this group, as they are merely weeks away from the opening of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Despite the absence of a number of notable names such as reigning Finals MVP LeBron James, two-time back-to-back NBA regular season MVP Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard, the players that were on hand did not disappoint on this opening day of the weeklong Las Vegas leg of training camp.
The overall pace and intensity during the proceedings on the first day of camp were evident to all in attendance.
If the first practice was any indication, Team USA Head Coach and longtime Duke stalwart Mike Krzyzewski could be leaning towards a starting five featuring Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, alongside Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt, with Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls being the first reserve to come off the bench for the Team USA White Team.
Coach K's second unit, at least on this first day, consisted of the Toronto Raptors' backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, with Paul George, Draymond Green, and DeAndre Jordan rounding out the group. Harrison Barnes was the reserve for the USA Blue Team.
Matched up for the week and serving as the opposing competition for Team USA were the Team USA Selects, comprised primarily of first and second-year NBA players, and some collegiate standouts. On the first day, Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, Victor Oladipo, and the Lakers' Julius Randle were some of the youngsters that stood out the most from the Select Team.
As for the main team, Jimmy Butler definitely seemed to be looking to solidify his hold on a spot in the rotation, as his jumper was really working well, both in the main training session and in the surprisingly competitive one-on-one games that followed.
Post Practice Spotlight on: Paul George
I interviewed Indiana Pacers' star Paul George during this first practice. Below are excerpts from the interview:
On his personal mindset during this training camp:
"More so it's just finding my way. We got so much talent here it's just figuring out where I'll be most useful at. That's just my mentality. You know, I'm going to bring effort, bring the intensity, bring the defense, its just about finding my way . . . I wouldn't say fitting in, but just you know, learning how to play alongside a lot of pure talent."
On his road to recovery from a catastrophic leg injury:
"It was just to get healthy. To start the season out that was really my main goal it was just to remain healthy. I wasn't trying to rush into things got off to a hot start, and that was just based off of, I was working out, and I was away from the game for so long. It was just more so just exciting for me to be back, but the whole last year until playoff time was just to get back to being who I was, it was a gradual buildup. Once I got to the playoffs, that's when it was time to reclaim my spot back at the top."
On the hardest part of his rehab:
"It was both. It was not being able to be a part of the team, not being able to travel with the team. Not being able to practice, so mentally it was tough, emotionally it was tough just being emotionally involved. Physically it was hard, just having days where it was excruciating pain. But, it builds character, makes me a strong person."
On who he enjoys being with on the team:
"It's fun to be with Jimmy, Melo, KD, you know these are guys that are at my position, that I've been battling against for many years, it's just fun to team up with them right now, I learned some things from them."
By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for TheDailySportsHerald.com