Anthony Davis: 'I love playing for USA Basketball'

by Jim Eichenhofer

From Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to countless sports columnists across the country, the second-guessing was widespread in early August, after Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George sustained a broken leg that’s expected to sideline him for the entire 2014-15 NBA season. Is it worth it for NBA players to risk injury by participating in international competition, particularly when there is no direct financial gain for them or their NBA franchises?

New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis never doubted his decision to join USA Basketball this summer, even though the commitment meant that instead of having extensive time to himself, he’s essentially given up a seven-week period of his offseason from late July through mid-September.

“I love playing for USA Basketball,” Davis said in a conference call from Spain with reporters. “I think some guys look at it is as you don’t get paid, so you don’t have to play, or whatever. But that’s their own opinions. I love playing here, I love playing the game of basketball. Any time I get a chance to represent my country, especially for our servicemen and women who do so much for us, it’s a great opportunity to kind of show your appreciation. I love doing things like this. I look forward to future years when I get a chance to play with USA Basketball.”

Davis and Team USA will begin competition at the FIBA World Cup with Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. (Central) game against Finland. The matchup will be televised nationally by ESPN, which is also carrying the Americans’ other four pool play games Sunday through Thursday. Due to the time difference with Spain, all five games will be broadcast in the U.S. during morning or afternoon hours.

Davis played sparingly during the 2012 Olympics as a 19-year-old fresh off winning a national title at the University of Kentucky, but due to his rapid development and the departure of several USA veterans this summer, his role has become drastically larger. Several commentators have noted that the now-21-year-old may be America’s most important player, partly because the national team is loaded with talent in the backcourt, but has far fewer proven big men.

The FIBA World Cup will be another chance for Davis to demonstrate his improvement, after he has looked superb in Team USA’s exhibition games. He also views it as an opportunity to build momentum going into the Pelicans’ upcoming season.

“I think that by me being here, I’m definitely hoping that it will make me take a leap coming into the season next year,” said Davis, coming off an 18-point, 11-rebound, four-block, four-steal friendly vs. Slovenia. “I need to make sure to keep working. There are a lot of great coaches here, who definitely are willing to work with us and teach us new things we might not know. The good thing about it is, I have Coach (Monty Williams) here working with me, so for things I need to work on to get ready for the season and the team, I’m kind of getting a head start now.”

During Team USA’s exhibition tour, the Chicago native led the club in scoring average (13.8 points) and blocks average (3.8), while finishing one rebound shy of topping the squad in rebounding (Kenneth Faried grabbed 27 boards; Davis had 26). That’s a marked difference from two years ago, when he was the 12th man at the Olympics, getting on the floor primarily for mop-up time of blowout victories.

“It’s a big jump, especially because I didn’t play in 2012 that much, but I learned a lot from just being there and being around all those guys,” he said. “To get my opportunity to be one of the main guys on the team, that means a lot.”