Rudy Ready to Represent USA

Find out how No. 8’s versatile game and international experience make him a key addition to Team USA’s World Cup roster.
by Alex Kramers Contributor

Standing in front of a navy Team USA backdrop – minutes after putting the finishing touches on a 13-point, three-block and three-rebound performance in Wednesday’s exhibition contest at Madison Square Garden – Rudy Gay took a deep breath and smiled proudly, relishing the opportunity to once again don a red, white and blue jersey.

“It means a lot,” said Gay, a 2010 USA National Team member and 2012 Olympic Team finalist. “The fact that I was one of the options, the fact that they trusted in me to be ready and they thought I could help.”

Two and a half weeks ago, the Kings forward was in the midst of his demanding summer workout routine – which ranges from weight training to basketball drills at all hours of the night – when, at the recommendation of Sacramento’s ownership group, he reached out to USA Basketball National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo to express interest in adding his name to the World Cup roster.

“I was (encouraged) by the ownership of the (Kings) and also my agency … but it was pretty much an easy decision,” he said. “Since my (shoulder) surgery (in 2011), I haven’t been able to really play competitive basketball during the summer, so (I wanted to) get my rhythm back and get better.”

While he’s renowned as one of the NBA’s primary scoring threats – holding a career average of 18.2 points per outing, including 20.1 in Sacramento last season – the UConn product has strived to utilize his combination of length, quickness and athleticism to make an impact on both ends of the floor.

“I can guard different positions, make it easier on my guards and also just make the game easier for the whole team,” said Gay.

“I’m just trying to learn the spots they want me to be at and also how I can be effective at them. (I’m playing) more like a ‘stretch-four’ … I think that’s what (Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski) wants from me and the kind of game they want to see me play.”

No. 8’s entire repertoire was on full display at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” against the Dominican Republic, as the fluid, 6-foot-8 forward glided to the basket to finish in traffic, effortlessly elevated over defenders to release smooth, high-arching perimeter jumpshots, and came up with timely defensive stops. 

“Rudy is a great player – he can score the ball, defend, rebound,” said Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis. “He’s so tall and athletic, he can guard (point guards) through (power forwards) and maybe some (centers). He’s a big part of this team.”

Despite being a late addition to the roster, Gay has quickly impressed his teammates, who deem his ability to stretch the floor and sound defensive instincts perfectly suited for USA’s frontcourt.

“He’ll be a mismatch (against) any team we play because he’s usually a small forward, but … he’s a great mid-range shooter, so (playing power forward) is perfect for him,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson.

“Rudy being (6-foot-8), being able to move his feet, he’ll be able to switch one through four, (which) takes away a lot of ball-screen threats teams pose.”

Gay’s familiarity with the national team program, philosophy and expectations intrigued the executive and coaching staffs, who’ve come away pleased with the ninth-year forward’s versatility and scrupulous preparation.

“He’s so athletic, he gives you a number of options on offense and defense and he has experience with the team,” said Team USA Assistant Coach and Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams. “I think he tried to fit in the first few practices and the game in Chicago, but (Wednesday), he was more like himself – driving to the basket, knocking down threes. Defensively – (being) so long and athletic – it gives us a couple of options in our defense.”

No stranger to international competition, Gay helped lead the Under-21 World Championship Team to a 7-1 finish in 2005, recording 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in the tournament.

During the 2010 USA National Team’s gold-medal-winning finish in Turkey, Gay averaged 7.0 points and 2.9 per outing as a key reserve on the undefeated, 9-0 squad – a vital experience that facilitated his development as an overall player and shaped his strong-minded approach.

“I had a chance to be a champion and also just being around some great guys,” said Gay. “It helps improve your game because this is a time when you’re usually just working out by yourself or playing pick-up. To play competitively and also a lot more structured, it helps you going into your season.”

Accustomed to the rigors and worldwide attention surrounding the demanding, international tournament from his previous participation, the 28-year-old has served as a valuable leader and mentor to younger teammates, while continuing to refine his expanding skill set.

“(I’ve taken on) a leadership role (as) somebody who’s been there before,” he said. “(There are) a lot of young guys on this team and a lot of guys with not that much FIBA experience, and that’s something I can help them with.

“I think it’s more of a learning experience because obviously, we’re used to playing one way of basketball. You go over there and see how these guys are playing (and if there’s) something you can add to your game.”

Whether it’s joining 15 of the League’s top stars in physical, intra-squad scrimmages or suiting up for tune-up matches against some of the world’s top contenders, Gay has vowed to make the most of his latest go-around with Team USA, showcasing his two-way proficiency and perseverant mindset with no guarantee or assurance he’s a lock to make the final roster.

“I’m just playing hard – playing my way into basketball shape mentally and physically – and also just trying to be competitive,” he said.

“That was agreed to upon me coming – I told (Team USA staff) I didn’t want anything. I want to prove my way.”

Free Throws

- Upon participating in Tuesday’s practice, DeMarcus Cousins (knee) returned to action and notched two points and a team-high eight rebounds in 16 minutes of action against the Dominican Republic, scoring on a tip-in for his only basket.

“I did my job,” he said. “Rebounding and defending as well as I could – that’s my job.”

After diligently rehabbing since suffering a knee-to-knee collision with a teammate during an
Aug. 14 scrimmage, the Kings center revealed the injury is gradually improving.

“It feels a lot better from a couple of days ago,” he said. “It’s still not where I want it to be – (I’m) still kind of scared to push off of it and bend too much – but a lot better than it was.”

- For Nos. 8 and 15, an added benefit of World Cup competition has been the chance to develop a tightknit bond, allowing the pair of Kings teammates to enter the 2014-15 season both closer and better than ever.

“This is good for Rudy and me (because) we can go back to Sacramento and take what we learned here back to our team,” said Cousins. “Rudy and I being the leaders of that team, it’s going to help us out tremendously.”

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