Vegas: Day One

LAS VEGAS – First he tried to recruit them, then he had to coach against them in the Big East Conference. Now, finally, Jim Boeheim gets to put his hands on Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Monroe and Drummond went through the paces for Monday’s opening day of USA Basketball’s four-day minicamp and Boeheim, longtime Syracuse coach and Mike Krzyzewski’s national team assistant, saw the growth in the two young Pistons big men who played for Boeheim’s two biggest rivals, Georgetown and Connecticut.

“Andre has got such a physical presence on the court,” Boeheim said. “You forget he’s still young, but he’s got such a presence out there and he’s going to get better. People have to remember, the Olympics is still three years away. How much better is he going to get in three years?

“Greg Monroe is a tremendous, skilled big guy. He can shoot the ball, he can pass and he’s got just a great future.”

In his time with Krzyzewski, who has been men’s national team coach since 2005 and has led the United States to Olympic gold in 2008 and ’12 and to the 2010 World Championship gold medal, Boeheim has seen young players’ growth accelerated time and again by the experience of competing against peers hoping to land Team USA berths.

“The thing about them being here, this is a great measuring stick for young players to come and play,” he said. “You get a different message from new coaches, different coaches. Sometimes that resonates with young players. They listen to their coach, but then they come here and they get it from three or four different coaches and they’re going, ‘Yeah, this makes sense.’ It’s a very valuable thing for those guys to come here, particularly the young guys. They’re going to benefit from being here.”

Krzyzewski and his staff installed a rudimentary offense in the first hour of Monday’s practice and then the 28 players were split into four seven-team units for full-court scrimmages on the two courts inside the Mendenhall Center on the UNLV campus. Monroe and Drummond were teammates, rotating at the two interior positions with Anthony Davis of New Orleans, the No. 1 pick in 2012 when Drummond went ninth to the Pistons.

Also on their team were Cleveland teammates Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Marcus Smart, one of only two college players and the only minicamp participant younger than Drummond.

Monroe and Drummond both said they benefitted from having participated in Summer League in Orlando earlier this month. Monroe didn’t play in games, but took part in five practices. Drummond practiced and played in four of the five games.

“Summertime, you don’t really play (five-on-five) that much, especially in the early part of the summer,” Monroe said. “So to go down and practice and play with those guys definitely helped me get a little bit of my feel back, get into a rhythm as far as playing with nine other people on the court.”

“Playing in Summer League was great,” Drummond said. “I got my competitive edge back. My conditioning is a lot better, too. I was running up and down the floor with no problem and preparing for tomorrow. It was exciting.”

Monroe said he expects the composition of the scrimmage teams to be different over the next few days, but for a first day it helped the comfort level of the two young Pistons to get to play together.

“It was fun for me,” said Drummond, who played for U.S. national youth teams three summers in international competition. “I played with Greg. We already know how to play off of each other. I’m thankful Greg’s on my team.”

The message from Krzyzewski before the 28 players took the court was that the only team affiliation that mattered now was Team USA.

“He said, ‘Right now, you’re with Team USA,’ ” Monroe said. “ ‘We know you all play for your respective teams, but right now we’re all together. So come out, just compete and understand that even though it might not be an official tournament, you’re still representing your country right now.’ ”

Whether Monroe and Drummond will make the 2014 roster that competes in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain will depend partly on the impression they make over the next four days but, perhaps to a larger degree, it could come down to the participation of Team USA veterans like Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Tyson Chandler. But, as Boeheim stressed, there are many future competitions to come and Monroe and Drummond are now in the pipeline.

“Those two young big guys have got unbelievable upside and when you look forward, you have to remember the Olympics is still three years away,” Boeheim said. “You have to gauge these guys by what you think they can be down the road and those are two guys that are really going to keep getting better.”