Opportunities Abound for Thunder at USA Basketball Training Camp

LAS VEGAS -- The Men’s National Team will have an entirely new identity when it begins its quest for the nation’s first World Championships title since 1994, and the Thunder has an opportunity to be a prominent part of it.

With USA Basketball training camp kicking off Tuesday in Las Vegas, this week presents several opportunities for the Thunder trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, who are among the 21 NBA players seeking a spot on the roster that will travel to Istanbul for the FIBA World Championships in late August.

It’s an opportunity to represent their nation, an opportunity to thrust the Thunder into the national spotlight and an opportunity to further become better players.

“We know that, more than likely, our guys are going to be playing somewhere during the summer, whether it’s in a gym in L.A. or D.C. or wherever it is,” Thunder Executive Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti said. “But given the opportunity to compete against the best players in the NBA in a structured environment is really a great development opportunity for the guys as a whole and it’s certainly better than any pick-up game they can find elsewhere.”

With no player from the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold-medal winning team participating in USA Basketball this summer, the Thunder has the largest contingent at camp and a chance to have three of its core players on the same court up until the weeks leading into the Thunder’s training camp.

Aside from its trio of players in camp, Head Athletic Trainer Joe Sharpe will serve on the Men’s National Team training staff. And they’ll see a handful of familiar faces throughout the week: Head Coach Scott Brooks, Assistant Coach Brian Keefe, Assistant General Manager Troy Weaver and Presti are all expected to swing through camp at some point to show their support.

As an organization, the Thunder’s pipeline to USA Basketball runs deep. Eric Maynor, D.J. White and Kyle Weaver were all team finalists for the 2007 Pan American Games. Green, Durant and Nick Collison started as members of the Select Team that same year. And Westbrook was invited into the fold the summer heading into his rookie season.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has already said he doesn’t anticipate the 12-man roster that will compete in Turkey to be finalized by week’s end; the team will still have a training camp in New York City, where it will cap another work week with an exhibition game against France before heading overseas for the next three weeks. So whether the Thunder will have three players on the roster might not be known for another month.

But two things are certain: For a Men’s National Team that will need to develop chemistry from the very start, the Thunder trio will have an opportunity to strengthen theirs.

And playing against some of the NBA’s top players, most of whom have been All-Stars no less, will only make Durant, Green and Westbrook better players for the 2010-11 season.

Consider that Durant will be playing against wing players such as Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala and O.J. Mayo for a week straight. Westbrook will be competing for a roster spot against Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose. And Green will battle against the likes of David Lee, Lamar Odom, Gerald Wallace, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kevin Love.

“It’s more competition, it’s the ability to see where their games are, where they’ve made some strides this summer and take a look at some of the things they’ve wanted to improve on individually and I just think there’s the added benefit of those three guys being together and again in a structured environment of high-level competition,” Presti said. “I think they’re going to continue to push each other to bring the best out of one another and hopefully it’s a carryover to our team when the guys come back.”

Contact Chris Silva