Remember the beginning of each school year when a teacher would ask you to share with the rest of the class how you spent your summer, the one chance you had to list all the cool things you got to do and places you got to visit, all in hopes of having the best four months of any of your classmates?
Well, imagine the stories that Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook will be able to tell their Thunder teammates when they reconvene for the start of training camp in October. No doubt the Thunder trio will have had the most unique offseason experience of any of their teammates.
By then, not only will the trio have spent half a month training with USA Basketball, but there's a good chance that all, if not a couple, will have traveled to Spain, Greece and Turkey to represent their country in international competition.
But what's most important is that Durant, Green and Westbrook will be able to say they've gotten better as players, which is precisely what every Thunder player set out to strive for once the season ended on the last night in April.
With the Thunder trio set to begin its second weeklong training camp with the Men's National Team on Tuesday in New York City, it will be another chance to improve, another chance to sharpen their skills and gain experience that will only help them come the start of the 2010-11 season. USA Basketball is very much a building block for Durant, Green and Westbrook.
"I think it's great that they're playing against some of the best players in the league," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said recently. "By doing that, you will gain experience, you will gain knowledge on how they do things also. Being in competition for a World Championship is a great experience. They're going to benefit from it."
Brooks said this a few weeks ago on the practice court of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, where he and the rest of the Thunder coaching staff took in the first week of training camp for the Men's National Team.
At that time, there were 19 NBA players vying to make the first cut for the U.S. squad that would play in the FIBA World Championship later this month. After a week of practice and scrimmaging, the roster was trimmed to 15 players, with all three Thunder players making the cut, leaving Oklahoma City as the only team to have multiple representatives headed to New York.
Playing for USA Basketball has added a different component to Durant, Green and Westbrook's offseason workout because they're not doing it alone and they're not doing it in an empty gym with friends or NBA hopefuls. They're practicing on a daily basis with and against some of the league's top players.
Durant, for one, said he hopes to pick the brain of Lakers forward Lamar Odom, a two-time NBA champion with whom the Thunder forward said has a similar skill set. The USA Basketball coaching staff is asking Westbrook to make his mark on the defensive end and make plays off the ball, two things he said he'd like to take back with him to Oklahoma City. It also doesn't hurt to be surrounded by talented point guards such as Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and veteran Chauncey Billups, all of whom he could learn from. And Green is taking advantage of the opportunity to continue diversifying his skill set; the Men's National Team values him for his versatility and now he's playing up to three positions on a daily basis in a professional setting.
If practice makes perfect, then repetitious practice against All-Star caliber players can only be better. And it can only mean good things when the Thunder opens training camp less than two months from now.
"I like what I see," Brooks said. "I just want them to play hard and play with intensity every time down the court and play for the team. And they have done that."
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