Going for Gold
Monroe, Drummond eager to open eyes at Team USA minicamp
“It’s going to be fun,” Drummond told me this week as he and Monroe took part in practices leading to the five-game Pistons Summer League schedule. “We most likely will be playing for the same spot, so we’ll push each other to get the best out of ourselves. Hopefully, it’s both of us. We’re just going to be excited to be on the same floor together and to work hard.”
The two franchise cornerstones of the Pistons are among 27 young NBA veterans who have been invited to the Team USA minicamp scheduled for July 22-25 in Las Vegas. The next big international competition comes in August and September 2014 in Spain, the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Monroe and Drummond could put themselves in position to be part of the national team with strong performances in Las Vegas before USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.
“I was hoping, but I wouldn’t say I expected it after last year,” said Monroe, who admitted his disappointment over being bypassed for the 2012 minicamp. “This was something I was hoping for and I was definitely excited to get the news. I don’t know exactly how they run it, but I’m pretty sure (he and Drummond) will be competing against each other, so it’ll be good for both of us.”
Among the other young centers and power forwards looking to make an impression are DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Derrick Favors, Taj Gibson, DeAndre Jordan, Larry Sanders and Tyler Zeller. In addition, older veterans like Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Tyson Chandler could still be in the mix for either 2014 or the 2016 Olympics.
“At the end of the day, we’re out there trying out,” Monroe said. “Going in, you know that they’re going to be watching. You know they’re trying to pick a team to represent the country, so it’s a very serious thing and I take it seriously. You know you’ve got to go in there focused and ready to compete. I don’t know exactly how it goes, but at the end of the day, it’s basketball. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
“Just go out there and try to take spots – try to take somebody’s spot is really what it boils down to,” Drummond said. “I’m not out there for fun. I’m out there for business, so come out there to play as hard as I can. Hopefully, I get noticed and will be on the team. That’s my goal.”
Team USA considerations aside, Monroe and Drummond say they hope to use the intense level of competition to push themselves to a higher level.
“It’s some of the best young players in the league right now, so the competition is going to be something rare,” Monroe said. “You don’t get to be around that many great players at one time in the gym competing like that, so I’m definitely looking forward to the competition. It’s almost certain that just by playing, you’re going to get a lot better. I’m looking forward to it.”
Monroe came to Orlando directly from Georgetown, where he finished one summer session of classes. He would have signed up for another, but the Team USA commitment eliminated that option. He’s been working on his mid-range shot, he said, in preparation for his move to power forward to accommodate Drummond’s move to the starting lineup at center.
Drummond spent all of June in Los Angeles training under Robbie Davis, he said, with a heavy emphasis on “conditioning and explosiveness. I feel great right now. Looking forward to Summer League and Team USA camp.” Drummond, who has played in South America and Europe during three previous stints with Team USA national youth teams, had planned to see the back specialist who examined him in March, while the Pistons were on the West Coast, but it never happened because “I didn’t need to. Everything’s fine.”
In Orlando scrimmages, Drummond has shown off a back-to-the-basket game rarely in evidence during his rookie season. It will be a work in progress, he acknowledges, but he says he feels much more comfortable with the ball in his hands now.
“I’ve had more time to work on my back-to-the-basket game this summer,” he said. “Working on being more comfortable with my jump hook. As you can see, I’m putting ’em up a lot more and feeling a lot more comfortable with it. You’ll definitely see it a lot more this year. Absolutely.”
If he shows it to the Team USA honchos, he might be tough to keep off the national team. And if Monroe shows range and consistency on his mid-range jumper to go along with his skill around the rim and proven rebounding acumen, the Pistons might have two players chasing gold medals.