Wearing Red, White and Blue Special for Oladipo and Harris
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By John Denton
July 28, 2014
LAS VEGAS -- At various times throughout Monday’s first practice for Team USA, Victor Oladipo was matched up against superstar point guard Derrick Rose and Tobias Harris was asked to check Kevin Durant, arguably the best scorer on the planet.
But the `wow’ moments for the two Orlando Magic players came not so much when they were in action against some of the best players in the world, but instead when they first tugged on their red, white and blue uniforms. For Oladipo and Harris – members of USA Basketball’s Select Team – glancing down throughout the practice and seeing ``USA’’ across their chests carried special significance.
``No question about it, this will always be special for me,’’ Oladipo said of his first session with Team USA. ``Being able to be a part of something bigger than yourself, it’s always a great story. I’m looking forward to the rest of this week and I’m keeping my focus on getting better.’’
Added Harris: ``It was definitely a great experience being in this type of organization and with these types of players. I’m just taking advantage of it.’’
Oladipo and Harris are part of the Select Team that practices daily against the USA National Team for four days. The Select Team’s job is to prepare the National Team for the World Cup Games in Spain in August. Just getting chosen for the Select Team is an honor, but it could also lead to something much greater down the line for Oladipo and Harris considering the history of the Select Team.
Seven players from the 2012 Select Team – Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and DeMar DeRozan – have been invited to the tryouts for the National Team this year. Durant and Rose were products of past Select Teams, and the most famous Select Team of all – the 1992 squad that upset ``The Dream Team’’ – included Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and Chris Webber.
USA Basketball Executive Director Jerry Colangelo pointed out that the bulk of the Olympians have matriculated through the system by getting their starts at the Select level. Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted that Oladipo and Harris could be strong candidates to the 2020 National Team if their games continue to blossom.
``We think giving our young players an opportunity in the Select Team process it gives them an introduction into USA Basketball and our culture. They’re all very excited to be here and we’re very excited to have them here,’’ said Colangelo, the architect of the 2008 and ’12 gold medal-winning teams. ``Most every player on the senior team here came through the Select Team process and that’s a pretty good indication of how we like to bring them up through the ranks. And I think all of the young guys held their own today, including (Oladipo and Harris).’’
Added Krzyzewski: ``With this Select Team, they were called at a moment’s notice and they all said, `I want to be there.’ That says a lot for them and it says a lot for what USA Basketball is that they want to be a part of it. A lot of our guys, from Rose to Durant, they were on Select Teams. A lot of the guys won World Championships or the Olympics were on Select Teams. So that’s an important part of getting into the program.’’
Oladipo, who thrived as a rookie for the Magic last season despite playing both point guard and shooting guard and splitting time as a starter and a reserve, had one of the early highlights to the scrimmage when he drove down the lane and dunked with two hands. Harris looked on with glee at the enthusiasm that the electrifying guard was playing with on Monday.
``He was active, like he always is when he plays. He had a lot of energy and passion,’’ Harris said. ``He was getting up and getting a few dunks in there. Really, it’s nothing new for me to see.’’
Oladipo said the moment of playing for Team USA was made even more special by having Harris alongside of him on Monday. The two played well together last season for the Magic, whether it was Oladipo finding Harris for open looks for Harris passing out of traps to a cutting Oladipo. On Monday, that chemistry carried over to the court for the Select Team.
``It’s fun having him out here. He works hard just like me. For him to get recognized, it just shows how hard he works,’’ Oladipo said of Harris. ``This is only going to better us and build our chemistry for the season. We just have to continue to keep growing as players and people.’’
Magic assistant GM Scott Perry was in Las Vegas on Monday to watch the workout and monitor the progress of Orlando’s two young standout players. Perry was impressed with Oladipo and Harris’ conditioning and their level of play and the seriousness they took the drills and scrimmage session.
``I’d say they both held their own,’’ Perry said. ``They both made some nice plays out there and came with good attitudes. This will help them.’’
Oladipo had a triple-double last season, scored a career-best 35 points in a game and was twice named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. He said that Monday’s first practice as a member of USA Basketball will also go down as a special moment in his first season as a professional.
``I used to watch this on TV when I was younger, so to be out here and in it now, it’s kind of surreal and humbling,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m just flying around and playing D. I’m trying to help my team and get those guys ready for the World Games. So I’m just going to keep playing hard and getting better.’’