Gold Rush

Monroe, Drummond open 4-day Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas

Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe
Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will compete for a spot on Team USA this week in Las Vegas.
NBAE/Getty Images
LAS VEGAS – For Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the quest for Olympic gold begins in a city built on the fantasy of fortunes to be won. The two young Pistons cornerstones will participate in USA Basketball’s four-day minicamp here starting today, including three days of practice and concluding with a Thursday night scrimmage.

They’ll arrive fresh off of Summer League, where Monroe participated in five practices earlier this month and Drummond in practices plus four of the five games. As both made clear in Orlando, they’re aware of the stakes: This is a first hurdle on the way to being considered for a spot on the United States men’s national team for next summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain and the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil.

Drummond will be the youngest NBA player among the camp’s 28 participants – Indiana’s George Hill and Chicago’s Taj Gibson were late withdrawals – and second-youngest among all players only to Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart. He and Creighton senior Doug McDermott, the only collegians, recently competed with the national team at the World University games in Russia.

Beyond the individual honor of being chosen by USA Basketball to compete for a national team berth, the four days of intense competition can only benefit Monroe and Drummond’s growth as players, Joe Dumars believes.

“A couple of things it does for you,” Dumars told me last week. “One, from a mental, emotional standpoint, you feel good that you’re cited as one of the better young players in the game and that USA Basketball has tapped you as one of the better young players. From a basketball standpoint, to be in that environment physically on the court and have to compete in that environment is really good for both of those guys.”

Monroe was outstanding during the practices that led to Summer League play, not only flashing a more polished and varied offensive game but flexing his growing leadership skills as the longest-tenured Piston who took part in Orlando’s practices. He unofficially welcomed rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva to the club with frequent good-natured barbs.

“It’s good,” Dumars said of Monroe’s growth as a leader. “When you’re a rookie like KCP and you’re going through those first two or three days, it helps to break that ice. You’re sitting there, pressing, wanting to make a good showing and one of the veterans messes with you – that can break the ice. You can go forward.”

After nearly three seasons as an NBA starter and a player emerging as an All-Star candidate, Monroe might have respectfully declined to participate in Summer League practices. But he eagerly agreed to participate, along with Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, two other 2012-13 starters.

“It’s going into his fourth year and you certainly have the right to say, ‘I’m going to pass,’ ” Dumars said. “But when we asked him and Brandon and Kyle, they agreed immediately. It speaks to him, character wise, and to him growing. He’s starting to really come out of his shell and grow.”

Drummond, who won’t turn 20 until next month, played more than anticipated in Summer League games. In the four games he played, Drummond frequently dominated the boards and was a constant force defensively, his usual menacing presence in the paint but also disruptive away from the basket.

“Andre has an infectious personality,” Dumars said. “He brings a certain spirit to the floor when he plays. It was his call (whether to play or not) on a couple of those games. We thought initially he would sit out, but then injuries hit. Slava (Kravtsov) got hurt and that changed everything for Andre, but Summer League was never an issue for him. He was happy to out and be with his teammates on the floor in Summer League, which is what you would hope and expect from a 19-year-old.”

Maurice Cheeks and the new coaching staff made it a point of emphasis to push Drummond’s boundaries offensively, giving him the ball in the post far more than he ever saw it as a rookie.

I really like what Maz (Trakh, Cheeks’ assistant and head coach of the Summer League team) and the coaching staff did down there,” Dumars said. “They put him in a position where he had to make a lot of decisions with the ball. He has to start getting comfortable with getting double teams, a lot of postups. It was the right thing to do. He made some mistakes, but he also grew and learned from those things. You have to throw them out there and let them grow from those mistakes.”

Monroe and Drummond will be joined by several other promising young big men in Las Vegas hoping to catch the eyes of USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Among them: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Derrick Favors and Kenneth Faried. In addition, the national team could include Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler and Chris Bosh.

I’m in Las Vegas and will be here all week. We’ll have updates daily and insights from both Monroe and Drummond on their experiences.