Coach K Commends Thunder Trio

With the wealth of talent the spans the floor when Team USA takes the court, it might be easy for some players to get lost in the shuffle.

That’s not the case for Thunder teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, representing their team and city as one-fifth of the pool of players that could be selected for the final 12 roster spots on the US National Team. Led by Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the USA to the Gold medal in the 2008 Olympics and helmed the Durant-and-Westbrook guided squad that won the World Championships in 2010, the 2012 version of Team USA hopes to replicate that success.

On Friday during Team USA’s first day of tryouts, Krzyzewski reflected on what type of players will be successful candidates for this year’s squad.

“What we’re looking to have is multiple positions, no one-through-four,” Krzyzewski said. “You have guys who need to have the ball and you want to have the ball. LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant) and Kevin Durant. So we’re trying to put in a system where guys can play multiple spots on the floor.”

When asked about Durant, Westbrook and Harden, it’s clear that the versatility and ability to adapt to multiple roles is a skill that all three possess, making them worthy potential choices for the NCAA’s all-time wins leader. This is the first time that Krzyzewski had the chance to work with Harden in this type of setting, and even after two days, Coach K came away impressed by what he saw.

“(James was) good (today), and yesterday too,” Krzyzewski said. “We had a short workout, a shooting work out. James is very intelligent and obviously talented. He’s expressive, he’s a really good player.”

While this is the first chance for Harden to work with Krzyzewski and his assistant coaches Jim Boeheim, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni, the aforementioned experience coaching Durant and Westbrook has created a strong foundation between the 23-year old Thunder duo and the Team USA coaching staff. After the Playoffs, Krzyzewski talked to Durant and Westbrook a few times and said make sure they were getting their rest. He asked how the pair felt after the long Playoff run and Durant and Westbrook both said they felt great and were ready to go.

“They’re terrific,” Krzyzewski said of Durant and Westbrook. “They are what I call ‘no-maintenance guys’. They’re ready to play all the time.”

Krzyzewski, after utilizing Durant on the USA Select Team in 2008 and working with Durant and Westbrook in 2010, has seen the pair turn into grown-ups both on and off the court. He believes that Durant and Westbrook have both developed over the last few years thanks to their mutual success, but Krzyzewski thinks that both players have room for improvement, saying that it is a personal goal to help Durant improve on his verbal communication to become a better and more complete defensive player.

Similar to their consistent growth with the Thunder, the Team USA experience has also helped shape Durant and Westbrook into the players they are today.

“Obviously they were men a couple years ago, but they’re bigger men,” Krzyzewski said. “The experience of accomplishment has shown in their games. They’re already two very confident players, but with what they’ve done in the NBA, and being in those situations, they’ve grown more. I think they’re both more expressive vocally.”

Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski has had the opportunity to spend time with all three Thunder players, saying that it’s incredible to see the trio have “the whole package” at such young ages. While their abilities on the court are fantastic, Wojciechowski and Krzyzewski both confirmed that the type of people that Durant, Westbrook and Harden are off the floor has been the most pleasant aspect of coaching them.

In truth, the Thunder trio isn’t alone in their combination of basketball skill, leadership ability and understanding of team dynamics, because Team USA is full of great players and people. As a result, the competition for the final 12 spots on the team that will be competing in the London Olympics come August is heated to say the least. Players were getting after it on the floor on Friday, and players like Harden even continued to shoot and work out for an extra 45 minutes after practice ended.

Coach Krzyzewski values that hard work and dedication that he has seen, and wants the three players not selected to understand their value and importance to the USA Basketball program.

“With the selection of the 12 tomorrow (Saturday) in the afternoon, whoever is not selected will still be in the pool,” Krzyzewski said. “One of the things about this is we’re trying to put enough of our system in in two days, so just in case of injury, there might be somebody from the guys who were not selected who would still be able to join our team.”

“Stay ready,” Krzyzewski continued. “No one gets cut. They are a part of our group. Like Kevin Durant in the 2008 Olympics was not selected, (but then) he was the MVP of the World Championships and obviously he’s one of the top-5 players in the world. I’d say thank you for your commitment, and then stay with it.”