LAS VEGAS – The job description certainly isn't sexy. Members of the USA Men's Select Team are asked to swallow their egos, practice in an adjacent gym for a while, scrimmage against the Olympic team when called upon, and compete hard without inflicting bodily harm.
The latter part? Very important. DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, John Wall and their teammates are supposed to prepare Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant for the London Games, not knock them out of competition before they board their overseas flight.
The younger players also are here to make friends, influence the USA Basketball officials who choose future national team squads, and score points when they can. Tuesday, they forgot the swallowing-ego part. They scored and they won and then they pounded their boyish chests.
"We got the best of them today," a visibly excited Cousins volunteered after the scrimmages at UNLV. "Yeah. Select Team. We won most of the quarters. We just outplayed them. We made them turn the ball over, make tough shots, take tough shots. We rebounded better and got out and ran."
Twenty years ago, this was the stuff of legends. In the first of these Select Team/Olympic team training camps in July 1992, college stars Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Chris Webber showed up for the first day of practice and stunned the Dream Team.
Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles. Those guys.
It was great drama at the time – and the late Chuck Daly deserved an Oscar for his post-practice grousing. But current USA coach Mike Krzyzewski recently revealed the session was a setup. In author Jack McCallum's chronicle of the Summer of '92 – and "Dream Team" just happened to be released Tuesday – Krzyzewski, an assistant at the time, said Daly deliberately neglected to call timeouts, made bizarre substitutions, kept Jordan out of the lineup for long stretches.
The plan was to keep his future Hall of Famers from becoming overconfident for the Barcelona Games, and as history has recorded, Daly was a genius. The Dreamers never lost again and never even huddled for a timeout.
"I always knew something was off," said Christian Laettner, the only collegian on the 1992 squad. "Something just didn't feel right. It was interesting to hear what Coach K had to say."
Nonetheless, the episode has provided motivation for future Select Team members, including the current players who were in diapers in 1992 and know the Dream Teamers only from videos. Elite competition apparently maintains an appeal, even in Las Vegas, in the middle of the summer.
Cousins, who hopes to return for future team tryouts, jokingly says he beats the heat by hiding indoors and cranking up the air conditioning. The Kings' center, in fact, was in great spirits Tuesday, fully recovered from Jerry Colangelo's earlier (and admittedly excessive) criticism. And while Cousins and his teammates were sketchy on the details, and unable to remember the exact scores or even exactly how many of the four-minute quarters they controlled against the Olympians, it was their story and they were sticking to it.
"I think we beat them twice, or three times," said Irving, Cleveland's Rookie of the Year. "It was pretty balanced, more than the first couple days, I can tell you that. Throwing us out there against All-Stars is hard. It's like a video game ."
Not to place a chill on the kids' party, some perspective is needed. The Olympians on Tuesday played without Deron Williams and Chris Paul, and with Krzyzewski tinkering with offenses and defenses and otherwise experimenting for encounters with Spain, Lithuania and France. The session was more of a controlled scrimmage than anything else and, according to USA Basketball long-timers, nothing resembling Daly's wake-up call to the Hall of Famers.
Of greater significance to the Kings is the fact Cousins continues to impress.
"I've done it all," he said matter-of-factly, meaning rebounding, scoring, passing and maintaining his poise.
During the remainder of an entertaining 30-minute conversation outside the gym, the 6-foot-11, 290-pound center (his numbers) was animated, frisky and chatty. And since he was feeling so powerful, so full of himself, he announced his one-man campaign for the re-signing of Terrence Williams.
"He's a defender, he's unselfish, he's a team player," Cousins said. "I use the term 'dogs.' I like to have dogs on my team. Terrence has a lot of dog in him."
With that, he laughed and tugged on his sweat-soaked shirt. He isn't leaving training camp, he added, without plenty of USA Basketball gear.