Thunder Trio Has Exciting First Day with Team USA
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all were active in the practice, each trying to make one of the 12 spots on the roster that will be brought to London for the Olympics. There are 15 total players in the pool for Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski to select from, and the Thunder trio hopes to get the chance to compete for their country by proving their mettle on the court this week.
“We tried to get our legs into it,” Harden said. “I think all the guys are trying to get their legs back and get into a groove and get on the same page. It’s fun.”
While Durant talked about using this time to get back into his basketball form after the brief respite between the NBA Finals and now, Harden said that he wants to use this time to continue to get better as a player and Westbrook said he hopes to learn and find ways to help his team win, no matter what the role.
“It feels good, especially for me to be able to run up and down a little bit,” Westbrook said. “It’s a great opportunity for us and it’s a blessing. I’m just trying to learn. These guys won an Olympic gold medal before in Athens so I’m just trying to learn and get better.”
With Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks in attendance, all three players made an impact on the floor as they took on Select Team members like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward and DeJuan Blair. Seconds after the scrimmage started, Harden made a steal at the top of the key and slammed it home which earned a standing cheer from National Team member Tyson Chandler.
Later, Harden was seen talking strategy with Rudy Gay and taking some advice from LeBron James. Simply having that collection of talent and basketball knowledge in one spot was a thrill for Harden.
“It’s fun, you’re playing with the best guys in the world, just competing against them,” Harden said. “Obviously I go against Kevin and Russell every single day in practice, but now you have LeBron (James) and Carmelo (Anthony) and Chris Paul and a different variety of guys that are great. It’s definitely been an exciting experience for me.”
No quarter was given on either side during the scrimmages, as Irving wrapped up Kobe Bryant to prevent a fast break opportunity, players dove on the floor and Blake Griffin took a charge. Westbrook was seemingly all over the court as well, getting out in transition on back-to-back plays for layups, then setting up a nice run of play for Durant, who knocked down consecutive buckets before getting a "hockey assist" on a post feed to Griffin who found Carmelo Anthony for a layup.
The most exciting part of the Team USA experience, however, is the fact that he gets to share it with Westbrook and Harden.
“Just being here with USA basketball is an unbelievable honor,” Durant said. “I’m just glad I got this opportunity... Those are my teammates and my brothers. To have them out here going through this whole experience with me is a blessing. So I’m looking forward to the next day.”
While Durant and Westbrook have international basketball experience from their playing days in the World Championships in 2010, this is Harden's first time working with the National team. The ever-so-slightly older duo of Durant and Westbrook helped Krzyzewski's squad bring home the gold medal in Turkey two summers ago, and each have confidence that the 22-year old Harden will work as hard as possible to presumably join them on the final 12-man squad.
“He knows what he has to do, he’s a basketball player and he’s a smart basketball player,” Durant said.
After tomorrow's practice, Team USA will hold a press conference at the Wynn Hotel to announce which 12 players from the pool of Durant, Westbrook, Harden, James, Anthony, Paul, Chandler, Bryant, Gay, Griffin, Anthony Davis, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Deron Williams will be on the team moving forward. Regardless of whether all three of the Thunder players will be joining the team in London, getting to experience this together as teammates and friends means a ton to the trio.
“These are my guys,” Harden said. “I’m with them every single day and now being with them and with the other best players in the world, it’s definitely a dream come true. Hopefully I can make the team and enjoy that experience with them.”