USA Basketball Training Camp Great Learning Experience for Harris and Oladipo

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By John Denton
July 31, 2014

LAS VEGAS -- As much as Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris were honored to join USA Basketball and awed by competing daily against some of the best players on the planet, the two Orlando Magic standouts actually came to Sin City this week for selfish reasons.

Even though they were dressed in red, white and blue and took tremendous pride in peeking down at their shirts and seeing the bold ``USA’’ letters across their chests, Oladipo and Harris might as well have been spies on a tactical reconnaissance mission.

The core of their mission to Las Vegas was to better their games, pick the brains of some of the NBA’s top talent and pick up tips that will greatly benefit the Magic next season.

``Being around these guys, who are some of the best players in all of the world, and seeing how focused and serious they are in everything that they do, that’s something that I can learn from,’’ Oladipo admitted. ``Every drill, every practice, every scrimmage these guys are locked in and pushing each other. That’s the way I want us to be with the Magic next season – pushing each other so hard to make ourselves better individually and as a team.’’

Oladipo and Harris were members of USA Basketball’s Select Team, a squad filled with young and upcoming NBA players who are entered into the USA pipeline and strong candidates to play on future National Teams. Harris and Oladipo shined in the three practice sessions against the National Team before the Select squad was given Thursday off. The two Magic standouts gushed all week about all of the positives that they gleaned from being around the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Team USA’s illustrious coaching staff.

``To be on this Select Team and to be a part of this whole USA Basketball scene it shows me that I’m not far from where I need to be as a player even though I still have a lot of growth to make,’’ said Harris, a three-year pro who only recently turned 22 years old. ``To learn from Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski, Coach (Tom Thibodeau) and Monty Williams – they are all people that I have learned things from. You can never stop learning. I take it all as a big-time learning experience, but at the same time it’s quite surreal for me.’’

Both Oladipo and Harris reported to the USA Basketball drills in tremendous shape and that conditioning allowed them to thrive all week. Oladipo dropped 20 pounds earlier in the offseason and got in two weeks of work by playing the Magic’s Summer League team along with rookies Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble. As for Harris, the ankle injury that bothered him most of last season is gone, allowing him to add significant strength and endurance.

Oladipo had spectacular dunks in each of the first two scrimmage sessions, but his best highlight of the week came when he shook Indiana star Paul George off the dribble and then used his body to shield shot-blocker Anthony Davis from the ball as he converted a high-degree-of-difficulty layup. That move, in addition to numerous pull-up jumpers, showed off some of the expansion in Oladipo’s offensive arsenal that he’s looked to add this offseason.

``The work that I am doing here can help me a lot because these are guys who I will play against during the season and they are the best players in the world,’ said Oladipo, who averaged 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals a game as a rookie. ``It’s only going to better myself and better my game so that during the season I can better the (Magic) team.’’

Many of the NBA's elite were very observant of Oladipo's improvement and tenacity during the training camp.

"I didn’t know he could play like that, man," Rose said. "He’s ballin’ out here. I think he caught my attention a little bit, but like I said, all the other players they did, too. But he caught my eye a little bit.’’

At 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds and versatile in many ways as a forward, Harris has the kind of game that meshes perfectly with the international game. In one of his best scrimmage sessions, Harris drilled a couple of jump shots to draw the defense out. Later, he used his quickness to get around the likes of Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee to get to the rim for layups and free throw attempts.

Known among his teammates as ``All Business,’’ Harris was locked in and focused to prove himself among the great players at the camp. At times, he guarded perimeter players such as Durant, Paul George and Gordon Hayward and at times he was tested physically by bigger players such as Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Faried. Harris played so well that Colangelo called him ``the surprise’’ of the Select Team.

``The respect of being chosen here shows my hard work and professionalism is not taken for granted,’’ an emotional Harris said. ``For me as a basketball player, it’s about continuing to get better and continuing to grow. The biggest thing for me is winning and helping my (Magic) team to win.’’

As fiery competitors, Oladipo and Harris said that they hope the next time they are in the USA Basketball mix that they will be playing for spots on the National Team. Both know that they must continue to grow their games individually and are fully aware that some team success with the Magic will only enhance their chances of someday playing on an Olympic team.

``No question, that’s everyone’s dream when they grow up. I’ve always wanted to be a part of USA Basketball and I look forward to the opportunity to play for my country one day,’’ Oladipo said. ``But my focus is to just keep getting better and put our Magic team in a position to win more games next season. And if I keep getting better maybe someday I can reach that (Olympic) goal.’’