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By John DentonJuly 30, 2014
LAS VEGAS -- Getting the opportunity to wear USA Basketball jerseys … hanging out with the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, James Harden and Kyrie Irving … signing autographs for hundreds of fans braving 106-degree temperatures … enjoying all that Sin City has to offer at night.
No, it’s not all fun and games this week in Las Vegas for Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris, but life’s certainly not too shabby either for the two Orlando Magic standouts right now.
Harris and Oladipo are living out a dream by playing for USA Basketball’s Select Team, a squad full of rising stars who drill and scrimmage against the National Team to help in the preparation for the World Cup Championships in August. The opportunity also gets Oladipo and Harris into the USA Basketball system, showcases their skills to Executive Director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski and makes them strong candidates for future National Teams for the Olympics and World Championships.
The week has been filled with highlights for both players – Oladipo had a nifty play where he crossed over Paul George and converted a layup over Anthony Davis, while Harris dominated in the low post on powerful moves against Kenneth Faried and DeMar DeRozan.
We here at OrlandoMagic.com wanted to take you behind the scenes in Las Vegas and give a detailed look at a ``day-in-the-life’’ at the USA Basketball camp as told by Oladipo and Harris to John Denton. So, in many of their own words, here’s a glimpse at some of the memories and the routines that both players have gone through while in Las Vegas.
TOBIAS HARRIS: I normally wake up about 9:30 and I head straight down to the training room to get my ankles taped. I had a really bad high ankle sprain last season that had me playing at about 75 percent all year, so it’s really important for me to get my ankles taped really tight before every practice. I’m finally totally healthy and that’s allowed me to really work on my game and get better this offseason.
I pick up my practice gear and change into it. It’s been amazing to me every day just putting on that Team USA gear. That’s the team that I used to watch as a kid on NBA TV and now I’m a part of it! It doesn’t get much cooler than that. Really, it’s a very surreal moment for me!!!
VICTOR OLADIPO: As soon as I wake up head down to get my ankles taped and then I try and get in some core workouts. Those exercises get my muscles firing and my juices flowing and it really wakes me up.
I’m always in the training room really early because I like to get in there when it’s quiet and do my own thing. Then, when I’m leaving, guys start trickling in to get their treatment and get their ankles taped up.
Then, I head back upstairs to my room to change into my red, white and blue gear. I hit the team breakfast downstairs, chill out and talk to a lot of the guys on the USA Select and national teams.
I’ve really gotten to know Dion Waiters really well while hanging out with him. We’re both guards and we’re on the Select Team together, so we’ve hung out a lot. Marcus Smart has been a good guy. Being away from basketball, it gives us a chance to just trickle around and really get to know each other on a personal level. That part of being here in Vegas together has been nice.
On the higher National Team, I’ve pretty much interacted with all of the guys at some point as I’ve tried to pick their brains for tips. I’d say that Kyrie Irving and Paul George are two guys that I have gotten to know the best from that squad. I have known Paul since my days at Indiana and Paul was first coming up with the Pacers. I always believed in him and knew he was going to be a star player some day. I’ve hung out some with DeMarcus Cousins and DeMar DeRozan some and a bunch of the guys, really. It’s pretty cool to be out there with these guys and share this experience with them.
TOBIAS HARRIS: After getting dressed, I’ll head down to our team breakfast and I’ll hang out with some of the guys and the coaches on the team. I’ve just mostly been hanging with Vic and we go just about everywhere together.
We catch the bus from our hotel over to the gym. While the National Team is practicing, we walk over to the other UNLV gym and go through our plays and our sets. After about 45 minutes, we’re ready and we head over to face the National Team. We go straight into scrimmaging. It’s great workouts and everybody here is going 100 percent. Everybody here is trying to either make the team or show what they can do, so you’ve got to bring it every day. That just pushes you to go even harder.
Even when I’m not on the floor, I’m sitting there watching the guys go up and down the court and realizing, `This is the best of the best in the world.’ And to be on this Select Team and be a part of this is an honor for me.
As far as on the court, these practices and scrimmages tell me where I am as a player and what I need to work on. I’ve still got a lot of growth to make as a player, but just getting the chance to be around Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Coach Thibs and Monty Williams – it’s an amazing opportunity to learn. You can never stop learning as a basketball player and it’s my goal to keep growing every day.
I had a really good day on Wednesday. The National Team was working on facing 2-3 zones, so everything the Select Team did in drills was straight offense. I was just playing my game, moving without the ball and taking the shots that I like to take. I was being really aggressive and doing what I do. Our Select guys are all new to each other, but we’ve been good about helping one another and playing together in the flow.
VICTOR OLADIPO: I am still getting used to the fact that as NBA players people recognize you when you go out. I don’t mind taking pictures and signing a few autographs because I used to be one of those kids wanting to meet a pro athlete. I’m just 22 years old and I’m still a kid at heart, so I’m not that far removed from my childhood days.
I’ve been shocked at how many people were waiting outside of the gym. It’s blazing hot out there, something like 105 degrees, and all these people are waiting for hours to get our autographs and take pictures. That just tells you the power of USA Basketball.
Being on the Select Team has let me team up again with Cody Zeller, my former teammate at Indiana. We went to dinner together on Tuesday night and talked about our old college memories. We had a few people who recognized us, but it wasn’t too bad. We went to a burger joint that was amazing! I’ve been surprised how many amazing places there are to eat in Vegas.
I haven’t done any shopping or gambling. I really don’t know how to play any of the games, so I’d rather just keep my money and watch from afar. I don’t need to be doing any of that.
Every time I was in Vegas before I was too young to really do much of anything. This is my first time being here when I was of age, but I still really haven’t even gone out much at all. I’m kind of focused on what I have to do on the court and getting better while facing the best players in the world.
TOBIAS HARRIS: I’ve have my father and my sister here all week watching the practices and that’s been great having their support. The last couple of days we’ve gone to lunch together.
I’ve been so tired at nights that I usually go to bed early. One, it’s too hot out there on ``The Strip’’ for me to go out there, and two, there are so many people around our hotel trying to get all of the autographs. So I’ve been just laying low. It’s hard to lay low in Vegas.
I did get on the black jack table at the hotel one time for a few minutes. I did not do any good at all, so I’m not going back!!! I do not like giving my money away.
My favorite on-court moment of the week has been the first day just getting on that court for the first time. Getting coached by Coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) and seeing all of the looks on the guys faces, it was need to see the focus and the seriousness. That’s what it takes to be one of the best players in the NBA. Seeing that attention to detail and that focus, it made me even more locked in.
This was a great start for me in USA Basketball being on the Select Team. I’ve been able to learn and showcase my game. At the same time, it shows that people are watching me and I want to keep improving and – who knows – maybe I’ll be on that National Team someday. All I know is that I am going to keep improving and working on my game and whatever happens, happens.
VICTOR OLADIPO: With the National Team scrimmaging against one another on Wednesday, I had some downtime to get in some extra shooting. I have worked hard to become a better shooter this offseason – both on the 3-ball and the midrange game.
After a year of experience and watching a lot of film, I’ve seen different ways I can score this season. Sometimes it’s not so smart to drive the ball all the way to the rim and face those 7-footers. So I can pull-up, shoot a floater and use my fakes – just smarter stuff that will give me more options.
We had kind of an impromptu dunk contest on the side court Wednesday morning with myself, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Marcus Smart. Those boys can really jump. I couldn’t ever get the timing down on the one where I was bouncing the ball off the wall. But I did finally finish a nice reverse where I threw in a couple of pumps along the way. It was feathery!
A lot of the star guys on the National Team are busy, they’re hooping and trying to get ready for games, but every now and then I’ll try to pick their brains. A lot of those dudes are my age.
Hanging out with Kyrie and Anthony Davis has been cool and a guy like Paul George is only a year older than me, so they are all right there in my age group. It’s easy to talk to them. They’ve been here with USA Basketball and they have experience in the system, so it’s cool to have those guys to talk to.
My goal is to use everything I’ve learned here in Las Vegas and take it back to Orlando with me. Every drill, every shooting competition and scrimmage is super intense. We have to be like that with the Magic. Tobias and I have built up a good chemistry here and we’re going to take that back to the Magic. We want to win this season and do something special. I already can’t wait for the season to start and I hope that we can improve every day and give Magic fans something to be proud of this season.