JORDAN LEARNED ABOUT LEADERSHIP WITH TEAM USA
Center DeAndre Jordan bounded around the pregame layup lines on July 25 inside Thomas & Mack Center for Team USA the same way he does 82 times a year for the Clippers–those same long, looping strides that seem so effortless leading to an explosion at the rim.
He was the same guy, bouncing up and down with frenetic energy, waving a towel, eyes wide and teeth glimmering. And when 28 of the best young players in the United States lined up on opposing free throw lines spanning the court before Team USA’s blue-white scrimmage, the reaction among fans when Jordan was introduced sounded similar to most arenas in the league. He was greeted with one of the loudest ovations.
Over the better part of four days in Las Vegas, Jordan looked a lot like the guy who has become one of the most popular young players in the league, the one whose dunk on Brandon Knight turned Twitter into a two-day DeAndre Jordan love-fest and the one labeled, somewhat unabashedly, as a key to the Clippers’ championship aspirations for three consecutive years.
For all of the things about Jordan that looked similar, though, there was something different. Frequently referred to as one of the Clippers’ youngsters, the recently turned 25-year-old was the fourth oldest player in Team USA camp. He was put in the position of being a veteran leader for the first time.
“It’s crazy,” Jordan said about being one of the eldest players in camp, adding that it was easy to build relationships with players viewed as his peers.
Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who is entering his seventh NBA season, agreed saying it was “weird” to go from rising young player to ‘old head.’ “It was fun to kind of take that role, a different leadership role,” Conley added.
That’s what Jordan tried to do in just four days, becoming more vocal and acting as a positive influence. Three people involved with Team USA, including Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, referred to Jordan as “upbeat,” which likely comes as little surprise to longtime observers of Jordan. Still, he was intent on making the most of the experience, something he mentioned well before heading to Vegas and again after camp wrapped.
|“[We heard] different stories about leadership and the correct way to work hard, about putting your ego aside and about really playing for what’s on the front of your chest,” - DeAndre Jordan|
“Working hard, working the right way and not taking anything for granted. We had a lot of guys come in and tell stories and I’m learning from a lot of Hall of Fame coaches, so you can only listen to that and you’ve got to go with what they say,” said Jordan.
Past Olympians and members of the coaching staff, led by Krzyzewski, presented a constant message: team first.
“It’s always a tough process when you’re always the best guy on your team, in high school, in middle school, AAU and things like that,” Jordan told USA Basketball’s official website. “Then you come together, and you may not be the best guy on the team. You may have to adjust. You may not be a go to scorer.
“You may have to be a picker. You may have to be a rebounder. You may have to be a decoy at times. But with this, you’re not playing for the Clippers, you’re not playing for the Warriors, you’re not playing for the Trail Blazers, you’re playing for your country, and I think that’s what really Coach K has embedded into our minds already.”
BACK TO L.A.
Jordan is the longest tenured Clipper. He’s entering his sixth season in L.A. He’s worn two jersey numbers. Doc Rivers will be his fourth coach. But he likely has never had the kind of demands that are coming in 2013-14.
For the first time, he won’t be looking over his shoulder. There is no Chris Kaman, no Kenyon Martin/Reggie Evans duo, no Lamar Odom behind him. In many ways the new season is more than a fresh start, it could be a revival. And Team USA was just the beginning.
“With a new coach, we’ve got a whole lot of new guys on our team, this is definitely just a kick-start,” Jordan said. “I’m trying to take that back to the Clippers. I learned so much here and I’m definitely going to try to take that back and incorporate it with our team.”
Jordan led the NBA in field goal percentage last season, setting a franchise record in the process at 64.3 percent. But he aims to be more than just a dunker (although he had 179 of those, which was good for third in the NBA). He was 16th in blocked shots, but wants to be more of a presence defensively and have a greater impact on games as a team defender.
One of his teammates in the blue-white scrimmage, Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, said, “DeAndre is a positive guy. He’s a guy who’s just too athletic for his own good. I’ve really never seen anything like the things he can do.
“The sky’s the limit with that sort of talent. He’s starting to figure his game out still. Like I said, he’s so athletic. If he can get that in control, he could be incredible.”