One look at the current pool of players in the USA Basketball senior national team, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and president Jerry Colangelo immediately see a glaring need: big men.
No Dwight Howard, no Chris Bosh, no Tyson Chandler. In their places are newcomers Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Larry Sanders (Milwaukee Bucks), Greg Monroe (Pistons), DeAndre Jordan (L.A. Clippers), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland Cavaliers), Derrick Favors (Utah Jazz), and DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings). All of them are young and inexperienced, and one has already earned a reputation for being immature.
Krzyzewski and Colangelo — as well as assistant coaches Jim Boeheim, Monty Williams, and Tom Thibodeau — evaluated all seven big men as well as 21 other players at a four-day minicamp in Las Vegas.
“No question we’d like to see more big guys involved, and healthy big men,” Krzyzewski said on Real Training Camp.
Cousins, who turns 23 in August, was an intriguing choice given his recent history with Colangelo. The two had a minor spat during the pre-Olympic training camp in 2012 when Cousins was on the U.S. select team, but both men seem to have patched things up and Cousins is ready to make amends for his poor behavior.
“I’m glad I had a chance to come back,” Cousins told USA Today. “I’m going to make the best of opportunity and hopefully it comes out well.”
Despite the lack of bigs in the program, the man who coached the United States to gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics is not too concerned based on his experiences at the international level where teams can get away with not having a true center.
“In the NBA, you kinda move up a spot. In other words a five [center] plays a four [power forward], a four plays a three [small forward]. In international you move the other way,” Krzyzewski said. “In the gold medal game our four and five in London were Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.”
At the World Cup of Basketball in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2010, Coach K pointed out that Kevin Durant played the entire tournament at power forward and Lamar Odom played mostly at center.
One big man who could get a serious look is Drummond. The Detroit Pistons center doesn’t turn 20 until September, but he has tremendous size (6-11, 270 pounds) and loads of raw ability. “He’s young but he’s got the potential to be a real good one down the road,” Colangelo said.
Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Kyrie Irving, New Orleans Pelicans All-Star Jrue Holiday, and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the 2012-12 NBA Rookie of the Year, are the most accomplished players in camp. Pelicans forward and 2012 top draft pick Anthony Davis is the only player from Coach K’s 2012 squad that took home the gold medal in London.
Other minicamp participants include Mike Conley (Memphis), Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Pelicans); Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried (Denver); Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson (Golden State); John Wall and Bradley Beal (Washington); DeMar DeRozan (Toronto); Gordon Hayward (Utah); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte); Chandler Parsons (Houston); Dion Waiters (Cleveland); and Kemba Walker (Charlotte), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), and Doug McDermott (Creighton).
“What we’re trying to do is start a new four-year cycle,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what this camp starts. For the World Cup in Madrid and the Olympics in Rio. So all these guys are being considered for what we call a pool of 25 to 35 players, including the younger guys and veterans who have played or served but also veterans who have not played.
“We don’t use the word ‘cuts’, ‘replace,’ and all that. Let’s just all be part of a movement.”