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After long wait, Durant returns to court for Team USA

Thunder forward hasn't played since injurying his foot Feb. 19

POSTED: Aug 11, 2015 9:52 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Durant and Anthony at USAB Camp

Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are on the court at the USA Basketball camp in Vegas.

— Seeing Kevin Durant on a basketball court again, after his out-of-sight, out-of-mind absence stretching back nearly six months, seemed to perk up a lot of the folks not merely watching but participating in Team USA's minicamp workout Tuesday.

Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder's All-Star forward and the NBA's 2014 Kia Most Valuable Player, had been sidelined by a right foot fracture that required bone-graft surgery. He played his last game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 19, limping into the sunset with more than a third of OKC's schedule remaining.

While the Thunder sank in the standings and missed the playoffs, while head coach Scott Brooks got scapegoated and fired, while teammates Russell Westbrook won the scoring title and attracted MVP votes, Durant was left to recuperate, rehab and reflect on the game he loved and missed like never before.

"You remember Christmas as a kid? It's like that," Durant told reporters after Team USA's first session Tuesday.

You remember Christmas as a kid? It's like that.

– Kevin Durant, on taking the court Tuesday

All of the 34 players on the current USA Basketball roster, from which the team of 12 will be drawn for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, are attending at least some of this week's program. Another "non-contact, non-competitive" workout, as USA coach Mike Krzyzewski described it, will be held Wednesday at the Mendenhall Center, followed by an intra-squad scrimmage Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Several players nursing injuries -- including Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and Indiana's Paul George -- won't be playing, though they are attending to demonstrate again their commitment to the program (George was at a Monday meeting before departing Tuesday). No one would have blamed Durant if he, too, had shown up only to spectate, but there he was, hoisting jump shots and looking in these limited circumstances like his old self.

"I saw him hit about 25 in a row, I think," coach-turned-analyst P.J. Carlesimo said. "Some things never change."

Durant is hoping that's the case and, so far, has seen or felt nothing to deter him.

"I can go 100 percent. I'm not going to play 5-on-5 just yet, but everything else is no restrictions," he said. "I've got to play against some guys to see. But I feel like I'm back to myself.

"I haven't played since February. So of course, I'm human. I'll go through a little bit of rust. But I think after two trips down, I'll be all right."

Derrick Rose and others whose injury comebacks held multiple peaks and valleys might differ. But Durant is optimistic, and antsy to find out.

USAB Establishing Positive Culture, Mindset

Matt, Steve and Stu discuss players becoming comfortable with teammates and establishing a positive culture at USAB.

"You take it for granted a little bit," he said of the game to which he's devoted so many hours. "I missed the routine the most. Getting up, going to practice, getting my shots up before practice, I missed all that part. Hanging out with the guys in the locker room before the game, I think that's what I missed the most. You can take that type of stuff for granted. I think I did and I learned my lesson."

OKC trainer Joe Sharpe is one of three NBA trainers working with Team USA. That should reassure Thunder fans that Durant won't overdo things even in this controlled environment. Besides, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn't want to go re-setting his own recovery clock.

"It's a long process, man," Durant said. "I just tried to stay patient with it. ... I have my days where I'm like, 'Man, it's not getting any better. I'm sick of working out. I've been working out for a year, I'm ready to play.' ... Feels good to stretch my legs a little bit."

Feels just as good to see him on the court, according to other Team USA members.

"He looks great. So I'm excited for him for this upcoming season," Krzyzewski said. "Kevin has been committed to USA Basketball since he got out of Texas. He almost made our team in Beijing and was the most valuable player in Istanbul at 21, and London."

Invariably, Krzyzewski said, injuries or contractual issues or personal matters can come between a player and USA Basketball in the NBA offseason. That's why the program casts such a wide net for a tight roster. Durant begged out last summer from the World Cup competition, rankling Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo at the time. But participating now in what still is his rehab process appears to have earned back brownie points.

As for his teammates, they were happy to see him on the floor Tuesday.

"It's great for basketball, it's great for KD," said Love. "I've always been a big fan of his, a good friend. You never like to see somebody go down. It's good to have him back out there, bouncing back.

"From my conversation with him, he's feeling good and wanted to get out here and do some light work, and represent USA Basketball the way he always has."

USAB - Team Building

Stu Jackson, Steve Smith and Matt Winer discuss how the USA men's team is trying to develop a winning culture at mini-camp.

Said new San Antonio forward LaMarcus Aldridge: "It means a lot. He's one of the top players in the league, and to have him here for this type of event speaks volumes for USA Basketball. Everyone's excited to have him here. He belongs here."

Durant, 26, said that his layoff has been made to feel even longer by the number of strangers or acquaintances who suddenly seemed interested -- with him way less than 100 percent -- in testing him.

"So many people been trying me though," he said. "I walk down the street, everybody wants to play me 1-on-1. ... The competitive juices are just boiling in my body and I'm just ready to play."

The Team USA experience, which turns rivals into teammates first, then into brothers, seems to be a draw for a lot of the players. It need not get in the way of fierce competition, however.

"Just having that friendly rivalry, that tough rivalry as buddies, that makes for a better game," Durant said. "Me, I always want to connect with guys and learn from guys and see what I can steal and put into my game. So I'm always looking forward to being on the court with the best."

Being on the court, period, was a terrific start.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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