Like Players, Thunder Trainer Honing His Skills

Like the 23 NBA players who will be there, Thunder Head Athletic Trainer Joe Sharpe is headed to the USA Basketball National Team mini-camp this week in Las Vegas for a specific reason.

“Work for a couple of days and continue to hone my skills,” Sharpe said.

And, of course, hopefully do a good enough job to be selected as a trainer for the USA Basketball men’s team that will compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Sharpe will participate in the three-day camp along with Thunder players Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, each of whom will be vying for a spot on the Men’s National Team.

The Thunder will have the largest team contingent at the mini-camp.

“It will be kind of fun,” Sharpe said. “I like seeing our players go against the best young guys in the NBA and to be a part of that is kind of neat in itself. I don’t think it will be challenging because for me, they’re NBA players. So it will be kind of fun to watch their players compete against our young guys, too, or with each other, too.”

This marks Sharpe’s third go-round as a trainer for the USA Basketball National Team program, and it’s the third and final step in the process to become eligible to work at the Olympics. The process included three assignments: a two-week stint at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., and an international assignment in Bangkok in 2007, when he was a trainer for the University World Games.

Sharpe also served as the head trainer for the 2008 USA Basketball U-18 team that captured the silver medal at last year’s FIBA U-18 Championships in Argentina.

Sharpe didn’t know he’d be a part of the mini-camp until May. While in Vegas, he will be introduced to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who will make the final decision on personnel matters.

Sharpe said he’s had plenty of preparation for the camp.

He’s spent time getting in touch with the team trainers for all the USA Basketball participants to find out the needs for each player, from braces to sleeves to mouthpieces. Some players want a specific tape job or treatment rub.

“These players are used to walking into a room and people knowing what they need, so it’s a little different,” Sharpe said. “It’s kind of a give and take.”

Once that’s settled, Sharpe’s duties are similar to those he has with the Thunder: be available to players before and after each practice, as well as be on-call 24-hours over the next three days.

Sharpe said he left 10 bags of training equipment and tools in Vegas from the week he was there for Summer League.

In his trainer’s bag are items such as over-the-counter medication, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, gauze and gloves, eye wash, hand sanitizer, band aids, ointments for cuts, a sling, blood kit and tape.

His mission: provide the players with necessary training services.

Should Sharpe not be selected as a trainer for the Men’s Team, he could still end up in London three summers from now as a trainer for another USOC sport.

“If it’s outside of basketball, it’s a new realm for me because I’ve been so engrossed in men’s basketball for the last 16 years or so,” Sharpe said. “But the fun part is, to work at that level, I’ve always strived to work with the elite athlete and that’s the elite of the elite right there in their fields. That’s the interesting and challenging and fun part about it, to work with athletes of that level, to not so much test our skills but to improve their skills or to assist them to gain what they want to do.”

Contact Chris Silva