Durant Improved From Team USA Experience
This summer Durant has taken steps in that process by continuing to hone his craft after a long and grueling season that featured a two-month-long NBA Playoff run. A major boost to his development was the 39 days he spent with Team USA as a member of America’s Olympic team that won the Gold Medal in London. Under the tutelage of Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and surrounded by some of the best talent the world has to offer, Durant learned quite a bit about the game of basketball and about himself as a player.
In addition, Durant had the opportunity to spend quality time with his Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden, both of whom joined the three-time NBA scoring champion on Team USA’s roster. The Thunder trio even got the chance to play against Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, who represented Spain during the Olympics and helped the Spanish national team bring home the Silver medal.
Durant started every game for the Americans, averaging a team-high 19.5 points en route to becoming the United States’ all-time leading scorer in one Olympic games with 156 points. By shooting 52.3 percent from the three-point line and adding 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, Durant was a force to be reckoned with for opposing countries. Despite not playing the exact same role he does for the Thunder, the American side called upon Durant when it needed a scoring punch, as evidenced by his 30-point outburst in the Gold Medal game versus Ibaka’s Spanish squad and 28-point and 22-point games against Argentina and France.
On Tuesday, thunder.nba.com got an exclusive sit-down interview with Durant to discuss his exhilarating summer, what he learned and how he and his teammates developed from their Olympic experience.
On how he was able to improve as a player this summer with Team USA:
I worked a lot when we didn’t have games and after practices and stuff like that. My role was a little different playing with Team USA as opposed to when I’m on the Thunder. So I learned a lot about myself as a player. I think half the game is mental. Watching other guys and approaching the game like I did, I think I learned in that aspect. I also learned how to be a better leader and hopefully I bring it back to OKC and become a better player. I know I have a long way to go, I just have to keep improving.
On some of the biggest things he learned from a mental and leadership standpoint:
Just the focus and the energy that you have to have every single day. The details you have to pay attention to every day. That’s why we won the Gold. For every winning team, it’s the small things that win, not how many points LeBron scores or Kobe scores or me. It’s about the deflections we get, the steals, the blocked shots, the charges we take. Small things like that that we do is going to separate us because everybody at this level is good at the major things in the game. That’s what I learned and hopefully we do it in OKC every game.
On what he saw from his Thunder teammates, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, this summer:
I know James and Russ sacrificed a lot, and also Serge sacrificed a lot for the betterment of the team. You like to see that in guys, main pieces to a good team. Serge came out and did his role really well, played hard for Spain. James didn’t play as much as he would like to, but when he did, he made an impact. He was also a great teammate when he wasn’t in the game. Russ was playing out of position but still going out there and playing as hard as he could. So those guys did a great job and they got better throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to having them in OKC this season.
On what that moment felt like when he stood on the Olympic stage and received the Gold Medal:
You don’t just think about the prior two months, you’re thinking about working hard as a seven, eight-year old. People telling you that you can’t do it... It was just great to finally reach the goal that we had been working for for a long time. It was like a sigh of relief, that we finally won something. We achieved the goal that we’ve all been wanting to have for a while. So it was great. Also to do it with that group of guys, so many classy guys and selfless guys, that’s what it’s all about, playing with your country.
On what it meant to share the Olympic experience with three of his Thunder teammates:
It was special because it’s kind of like you’re seeing the maturation process of us all. Me not playing on the Olympic team and Russ not being on there (in 2008). We’re all growing and playing in the Olympics. I had to sit down and think about it that we’re all playing in the Olympics. That’s an amazing accomplishment just to be there. But to get a Gold and a Silver and bring them back to OKC, that’s just on another level. So we’re excited that all of us had the opportunity to experience that, and we had fun.