Team USA: Durant Better Than Advertised
Posted Jan 25 2008 2:03PM
LAS VEGAS, July 22, 2007 -- His name already belongs in the same conversation as LeBron James, Frank Robinson and Wayne Gretzky as being considered one of the most dominant teenage athletes of all time, but when it's all said and done, we might be mentioning Kevin Durant with the likes of Bobby Fischer, Mozart, Will Hunting and Doogie Howser as perhaps one of greatest prodigies to ever live.
Through the first two days of Team USA's mini-camp, Durant has without a doubt been one of the top six or seven performers despite being just 18-years old and playing with 16 other guys who all have been through multiple NBA seasons.
Admittedly the basketball world has been quick to honor greatness, sometimes before it's due. Harold Miner, Jerry Stackhouse and Grant Hill were all considered to be "The Next Jordan" early on in their careers, but with Durant the acclaim has been earned.
He did something that no other player in the history of the NCAA has ever done by winning the Adolph Rupp Trophy, the Naismith Award and the Wooden Award, and being named National Player of the Year as a freshman.
His 25.8 points per game average was fourth in the nation. Think about that for a second. There are approximately 330 NCAA Division I Basketball teams with each team carrying about 12-to-15 players. That means that Durant was ranked No. 4 out of about 4,000 D-I basketball players, or in the 0.1 percentile of all scorers in the NCAA.
Not surprisingly then, on Friday it was Durant's offense that got everybody's attention as "KD," as he's called by the team, stroked shot after shot during the intrasquad scrimmages, hitting somewhere in the neighborhood of eight of his 10 shot attempts by this writer's memory.
"Heís just shooting the [expletive] out of the ball,Ē Team USA tri-captain Carmelo Anthony said about his fellow Baltimore-area native and Oak Hill Academy product, Durant.
"I think he only missed about three or four shots in the last two days, so Iím pretty sure heís impressing a lot of people around here," Anthony added.
On Saturday, Durant showed his all-around game, quickly picking up the zone defense that assistant coach Jim Boeheim implemented and making several plays on defense. Those included closing out from the baseline to the wing in a nano-second to swat a LeBron James pull-up jumper on one possession, and rotating into the lane to dig out a steal from the hands of Dwight Howard on another.
ďKevin is only 18-years old and weíre all impressed Ė even the players are impressed Ė with the fact that at 18, he is not in awe," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Day 2 was over. "Now, heís real quiet, but heís tough and he really knocks down shots. Yesterday, his shooting was outstanding. Today, his overall play and a little bit of being physical was very good.
"Iím a little bit surprised of how advanced he is and he still has an 18-19 year old guyís body, but he doesnít have an 18-19 year oldís maturity Ö competitiveness Ö heís got all the other stuff," Krzyzewski continued. "When the body catches up to that, heís going to be a very special basketball player."
"[Durant] and Deron Williams, these are guys that should be involved with USA Basketball for the next decade. Wherever they fit right now, they will be key performers. And thatís part of having this program, to get some of these guys indoctrinated into our family, our USA Basketball family. And thatís where the growth of this has occurred. Again, I donít know whoís going to be on the final 12, but theyíve earned the respect of everybody."
Count the Sonics new head coach P.J. Carlesimo among the people showing respect for KD, who Seattle picked No. 2 in June's NBA Draft and are handing the reigns of the franchise to.
Carlesimo was at Cox Pavillion quietly observing No. 52 for the first two days of mini camp, and he likes what he sees.
"Weíve just been really pleased with this experience," Carlesimo said. "There really isnít a way that this wouldnít be good for him, but the fact that these guys have welcomed the way they have Ė the coaches and the players Ė and the fact that heís doing as well as heís doing is great. I just think itís going to help his transition a lot.
"Itís still going to be a difficult transition for any rookie coming into this league, but put this on top of his summer league experience, you couldnít ask for more. Itís like a little Ö no wait, itís not like a little, its like a major tutorial, so, itís been great."
That summer league experience, highly scrutinized by pundits that have been quick to point out that Durant only shot 33 percent from the field to discount his 24.0 points per game average, was just part of the maturation of the 6-9, 215-pound rookie with bean poles for legs and ice water for blood.
The way Durant sees it, playing with the best of the best is even easier than playing with rookies, free agents and fringe players during summer league -- a perspective that only a true prodigy could have.
ďItís a little bit different out here knowing that Iím out here with the best players in the world, versus me being with say a summer league team, because in the summer league I was kind of rushing things," Durant said. "People were in the stands knowing that I got to score, I got to play, blah, blah, blah and here Iím just playing basketball and having fun. I think itís less pressure here.
ďIím just having fun and I think on the defensive end of the ball in the zone, Iím more comfortable. I got a couple steals and got our team going a little bit, and we played pretty well.
"Thatís what Iíve been telling people for a long time; Iím not looking to have 30 points and 10 rebounds, Iím looking to get better and I think from yesterday into today, I think I did."
Both days, after practice was over, Durant was invited to participate in a shooting competition with Anthony and LeBron James. It's a simple gesture, just two guys asking another guy to come toss up some 3-pointers, but it says a lot about the esteem that Carmelo and LeBron have for their young teammate.
"We just got to keep him motivated, keep his confidence high," Anthony said. "How old is he? Seventeen, eighteen years old? I mean, coming onto a team with 12 stars, it can be hard on a person, so we just got to keep his confidence going, keep him motivated.Ē
The simple gesture is not lost on KD.
ďItís a dream come true," Durant said. "Iíve been watching and loving their games for three, four years now since they got in the league, since they were in high school and college. Just to be out here and have them teaching me things is a blessing. Iím just happy to be here.Ē