Kings Stars Stand Out with Team USA
With the way the Kings excel at pushing the tempo, it’s only fitting that two of Sacramento’s franchise cornerstones sped up the timeline, zooming, in the blink of an eye, from the Team USA practice squad to the senior roster.
De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III originally arrived in Las Vegas as members of the Select Team, a pool of talented, future USA Basketball candidates chosen as sparring partners for the more-established stars on a main group that features Kings teammate Harrison Barnes.
But Sacramento’s 6-foot-3 point guard — and his “ridiculous” burst— earned a promotion to the National Team side at the start of training camp. Soon after, Bagley began to separate himself from other U.S frontcourt hopefuls with his polished interior scoring and sky-scraping alley-oop dunks. By the end of Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage, both players, along with Barnes, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, were selected as finalists to represent their country in the FIBA World Cup.
While Bagley – after using the week-long Vegas showcase to build his game and profile, and rub shoulders with some of the League’s top players – elected to withdraw from team activities in order to focus on his upcoming sophomore NBA season, Nos. 5 and 40 will join the other 13 contenders for practice stints in Los Angeles.
In the coming weeks, they’ll learn if they’ve been tapped on the shoulder to don red, white and blue in the China-hosted tournament, and while numerous outlets already consider Fox a roster lock, he’s not taking the unexpected opportunity lightly.
“It’s an honor for me to be here,” he said, “and an honor to be able to compete for one of these spots.”
The 21-year-old has been one of the young invitees shining brightest in lineups stocked with upside players, living up to his nickname by swiping opposing wings, and running circles around defenses with his quickness and arsenal of dribbling moves that left onlookers in awe.
In the Blue-White scrimmage, Fox showed his difference-making talent from the moment he checked in, finishing with 12 points, three assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 15 minutes on the floor.
“He has incredible speed, and I’m thinking and hoping that people have a hard time staying in front of him,” said Spurs and Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “He has a high intelligence level, he shoots it well enough and he wanted to be here. All those things came together in us inviting him.”
In 2016, Fox made a similarly positive impression as a member of the USA Junior National Select Team, tallying nine points and a game-high five assists in 15 minutes in a lopsided victory in the Hoop Summit. Among the fellow high-schoolers who joined him were current Kings teammates Wayne Gabriel and Harry Giles, a three-time gold-medalist who was named an honorary captain.
Although many veteran players have removed their names from consideration this summer, Barnes never vacillated from his commitment to Team USA, calling the prospect of playing for the National Team a “simple” decision and a privilege he wouldn’t decline.
The 27-year-old, a part of the U.S. program for nearly a decade, is one of the seasoned leaders amid a group of mostly newcomers. He debuted with the 2010 Junior National Select Team and graduated to the senior Select Team in 2014, before embarking to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The reserve forward appeared in four international games, averaging 4.3 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per outing.
All three Kings standouts in attendance emerged as key players for Team USA, likely well beyond the upcoming FIBA World Cup, and after Fox and Barnes moved another step closer toward representing their country, the duo is poised to join a rich history of Sacramento stars partaking in international competition.
“The Rock,” widely recognized as one of the preeminent shooting guards of his era, added an Olympic gold medal to a basketball mantle decorated with All-Star MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, a Hall of Fame trophy and a championship ring.
In 1996, competitors from across the globe discovered precisely what Michael Jordan meant when he named Richmond – a long-range sharpshooter with an equally-refined post-up game – his toughest opponent.
The Kings legend played in all eight games, starting three, in Atlanta, Ga., and finished fifth on the team in scoring (9.6 points per game); second in made threes (11) and free throw percentage (84.2 percent); fourth in three-point accuracy (42.3 percent); and fifth in steals (10). He scored in double-digits three times, including a team-high 16 points, to go along with five rebounds and three assists, in the preliminary round finale against 1992 silver-medalist Croatia.
Richmond previously suited up in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, with the last U.S. basketball team not to feature NBA players, and came home with bronze after averaging 8.9 points and a team-leading 2.1 assists per contest.
Too dominant, too physical and too skilled for international opposition, Cousins distinguished himself as Team’s USA best big man in the 2016 Rio Olympics, putting up 9.1 points on 61.4-percent shooting and 5.8 rebounds in only 14.8 minutes per outing. In the gold-medal game against Serbia, the big man turned in his most productive game of the tournament, racking up 13 points and 15 rebounds in 17 minutes to ensure he’d return to Sacramento as a world champion.
Two year earlier, Cousins, who wasn’t considered a shoo-in to make the 12-man roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, cemented his place on the team with a strong, team-oriented performance in exhibition play. Once the preliminary games tipped off, he continued to bowl over the competition with his powerful back-to-the-basket game, recording the second-highest field-goal percentage (70.2) in U.S. World Cup history. As the first big off the bench, Cousins contributed 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 13.8 minutes, playing a major role in the team’s 9-0 record.
No stranger to the international basketball circuit, Cousins participated in the 2007 Youth Development Festival, was a member of the 2009 USA Junior National Select Team and earned his place on the 2012 USA Basketball Select Team.
Gay, a gold-medalist on 2010 U.S. squad that won the FIBA World Championship, rejoined the roster in 2014, in the wake of Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from the team prior to the start of the tournament. Less than a week later, the late addition was the first player off the bench in the exhibition opener and soon joined Cousins as part of the final contingent.
The versatile wing embraced his role as a floor-spacer, secondary playmaker and defender, chipping in with an efficient 6.0 points on 47.8 from the field (41.7 percent from deep), 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 13.9 minutes per contest, including 11 points in the gold-medal showdown against Serbia.
Gay, a finalist for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, was also a first-place finisher with the USA U21 World Championship Team in the 2005 Global Games, where he played alongside future Kings teammate Rajon Rondo. In the FIBA U21 Worlds, Gay averaged 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and set a USA U21 tournament record with 12 blocked shots.
The all-time Sacramento-era assists leader helped guide the 2003 Men’s National Team to an unblemished 10-0 record, a gold medal and a qualifying berth for the next year’s Olympics at the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.
Arguably the USA MVP, Bibby finished with incredible 60.4/57.1/81.3 shooting splits, and, despite coming off the bench throughout the length of the competition, recorded a team-high 15 steals and 48 assists – two behind starter Jason Kidd. Consistent from start to finish, No. 10 notched 11 points and seven assists in both the tournament opener against Brazil and the gold-medal-clinching victory over Argentina.
Bibby’s prior USA Basketball experience includes an invitation to the 1996 USA Basketball Junior National Select Team, comprised of the nation’s best high-school seniors. In the second-annual Hoop Summit, he scored seven points and handed out two assists against a squad of top international players.
Along with his already renowned passing skills out of the high post, the then-Kings center impressed Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski with his deadeye outside shooting, drilling 6-of-7 from behind the arc in five exhibition games prior to the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Miller was named to the final 12-man roster that was trimmed down from nearly 40 candidates, and although he didn’t log as many minutes once tournament play commenced, the two-time All-Star’s ability to knock down 15-footers and toss textbook backdoor passes was once again a perfect complement to a team packed with isolation scorers. The big man logged 5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in four appearances – including five points, eight boards and three assists in a win over Senegal – and captured his second career bronze medal.
His first came in the 1998 World Basketball Championship, when Miller, an undrafted free agent fresh off a productive senior season at Purdue, anchored a U.S. team that was prohibited from sending NBA players overseas due to the impending lockout.
(Were it not for the work stoppage, Kings legend Chris Webber was in line to represent Team USA in Athens, Greece, and even participated in a photoshoot in the leadup to the event.)