Durant Keeps Focus on the Team

LAS VEGAS – It’s a story Kevin Durant has told before but it’s one worth repeating, especially now that it can be put into proper context.

Two summers ago, Durant and Jeff Green were training with the Men’s Select Team, preparing the National Team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was an off day and the two Thunder teammates still wanted to get some work in.

As they boarded a bus that would take them to an empty gym, Kobe Bryant was already in his seat, ready to go. Durant and Green, their pro careers still in the infant stages, knew they had to put in the time and effort if they wanted to become elite players. But to see Bryant, then a three-time NBA champion and one of sports’ most polarizing figures, on that bus, well….

“That spoke volumes to me – he’s the best player in the game yet he’s always willing to come work on his game, so that kind of motivated me and Jeff,” Durant recalled.

And Durant soon had a new motivation when he was one of the final players cut from that Beijing-bound team.

“I wanted to be on that team, I wanted to be a gold medalist,” he said. “But I’ve got to wait my turn, and I’m satisfied with that.”

Durant’s turn has arrived.

Durant rehashed that story on Tuesday afternoon inside the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, where he was about to go through his first practice of the week at the USA Basketball training camp in preparation for the FIBA World Championships later next month in Turkey.

To finally wear his USA jersey in international competition and help the U.S. win its first world title since 1994 is a humbling experience for the Thunder forward.

When told that head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was the only lock to make this summer’s roster, Durant looked to the ground almost out of embarrassment, gave a sheepish grin and said he indeed hoped to make the team.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Durant deserves to be treated as a focal point of this year’s team. But Durant took the same team-first approach he has always taken in Oklahoma City.

“One thing that really stood out to me from the coaching staff is it’s not a face, it’s not one guy being the face,” Durant said. “It’s all of us going out there and representing the U.S. That’s one thing I really like. Not one guy on that last team was the face. Kobe Bryant wasn’t, LeBron wasn’t, D-Wade wasn’t. Everybody was equal, so I’m happy to be a part of something here.”

Despite needling by reporters, Durant stayed true to his claim that this is about the team, not the individual.

“It really is like that,” he said. “Outside of the locker room or the meetings is where everybody says that I’m the face, which I think is untrue. But once I step in between these lines and step in the team meetings I think everybody is equal. That’s a great feeling to have and that’s a lot of pressure that’s off my back as well.”

Durant doesn’t feel much pressure because while this summer will mark his first foray into international play, this training camp also marks his fourth with the national team.

He might be young, but he’s a grizzled vet when it comes to knowing how things are done within USA Basketball. It’s a main reason why Colangelo hasn’t shied from praising Durant’s skills, commitment and persona.

“He’s 21-years-old, he’s the whole package, he’s the leading scorer in the NBA, he’s got the personality, the character, the talent, all of it,” Colangelo said. “It’s the whole package. And the equity that he’s already put into this thing, he’s been here every year – that all counts. That really means something to us. And so he should be a focal point.”

One thing the committee will covet this summer is roster versatility, which Durant, Green and Russell Westbrook each brings to the floor. Durant can play anywhere from three to four positions.

When talking about his role for this summer’s team, Durant keeps mentioning the word “sacrifice.” He said that everyone in camp has checked their egos at the door and that if he’s called upon to be a leader, he’ll do so by whatever means possible.

Point guard Chauncey Billups, who played for the U.S. in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships, is as natural a leader as they come. The Nuggets’ veteran said he planned to talk to Durant about the need for him to take a leadership role this summer. Whether it’s as a vocal leader or by example, Billups said that it’s up to him.

“This opportunity here can put him with guys that he really should be mentioned with, and that's the top players in the game today,” Billups said. “It's a great opportunity for KD.”

Another great opportunity for Kevin Durant. We’ve heard that story before, too – but it’s one worth repeating.

Contact Chris Silva