The return of the Nike World Basketball Festival to our nation's capitol last weekend paid ultimate homage to the game of basketball and its performance, lifestyle and culture. Washington D.C. marked the first stop for Nike, Converse, Jordan Brand and USA Basketball before the team heads abroad, first to Manchester, England, then to Barcelona, and ultimately on to London.
Members of the USA men’s and women’s national teams made numerous appearances throughout the weekend. James Harden and D.C. native Kevin Durant showed their support for the local street ball Goodman League in a game against Team Nike 1 from NYC at the recently Nike-refurbished Barry Farms outdoor court; the women’s team hosted a youth clinic; LeBron James, Diana Taurasi and newest U.S. Men’s team member Anthony Davis served as Dunk Contest judges; and finally, in honor of USA Basketball’s Hoops for Troops program, the men’s team held an open practice for U.S. military personnel and their families.
“Every day with USA Basketball is different, but today was different in a spectacular way,” remarked U.S. men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski after the men’s open practice. “I didn’t know how much we’d go up and down the court; I thought we might do a little bit more X’s and O’s, but the guys said, ‘Hey, let’s play, coach.’ We haven’t had a chance to play against each other in a practice except once, because we’ve only had 9 guys.”
After warming up and running through some ball movement drills, all 12 members of the team went 5-on-5 in a scrimmage—Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony faced Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Deron Williams, James Harden, and Anthony Davis.
So now that they’ve gotten in some actual game experience, how is the squad strategizing for the Olympics? Coach K noted that many of the guys will be playing interchangeable positions to make up for the “lack of size” on the team, compensating for the loss of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin with superior athleticism.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said, “The key to success in London is finding a way to combine each and every one of our games; then we compete and defend.” Westbrook reiterated how the team’s youth (under the tutelage of veteran Kobe Bryant) will provide an advantage. “This group of guys can build upon the ’08 team,” he said. “All of us have developed those important leadership skills; we know what it takes to win." New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony added, “If scoring is a problem on this team, then something is wrong.”
LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul described the team’s collective preparation with just one word: "trust." With so many talents to choose from, “First and foremost it’s about trust," he said. "Learning to trust and hold the utmost confidence in your teammates.”
Even with the surplus of talent on the U.S. team, gearing up for the global stage of the 2012 Olympics will be a challenge. To finish off the weekend, on Monday night the Team USA women blew out Brazil by 32 points. The men also defeated Brazil, 80-69; however Brazil got off to a fast start and led by 10 points in the first half, before the guys regrouped and came back for the win. Still, Brazil outrebounded them 38-to-30.
There are still some kinks to smooth out and more work to be done. “Our toughest matchup is…everybody,” said point guard Deron Williams. “We know we have a target on our back, but we’ve got to be ready to accept all of those challenges.”
Check out photos from the weekend.