Bucks center Larry Sanders began workouts with the United States Men’s National Team on Monday at the Mendenhall Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The four-day, invitation-only evaluation period brings together 28 of the country’s most gifted young players – including two collegians: Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Creighton’s Doug McDermott – to begin preparation for the World Cup in 2014 (Spain) and the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
Sanders is one of eight promising big men at the minicamp – described by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo as a “look see” – joining Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe of the Pistons, Derrick Favors of the Jazz, the Cavs’ Tyler Zeller, the Clippers’ Deandre Jordan and the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins.
Of the group, only Davis has any National Team experience, having played in the 2012 London Olympics prior to his rookie season. While Davis may have been last man off the bench for the 2012 gold medalists, he figures to play a major role in sustaining the success, especially considering Minnesota’s Kevin Love is the only other big man from the London squad expected to participate going forward. However, it’s very possible Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin will join Love, as the trio would have been members of the 2012 team had it not been for injuries.
Outside of Davis, it’s difficult to predict which of the group has the best chance of making the cut for the World Cup team next summer. Cousins is arguably the most talented, but his well-documented character and attitude issues that came to light at Team USA minicamp prior to last summer’s Olympics may have left a sour taste in the mouth of the Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.
Regardless, the team is expected to select three or four interior players for the World Cup team next summer, as most of Team USA’s current top players are likely to hold off on participating until the 2016 games. It’s difficult to project exactly how many spots will be available for the 2016 squad, but the number is likely to be low. Much of the London roster is forecasted to return, as well as some players from the 2010 World Championships gold medal team that featured Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay.
So, how does Sanders think he fared on his first day?
“It was an exciting first day,” Sanders told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “A little jittery, a little jumpy, extra active. But my motor was going so it was good.”
Of the group, Sanders is the top defensive player and was considered by many to be a top candidate for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award last season. His offensive game – particularly outside of the paint – remains the biggest question mark, but Sanders is not worried about his doubters.
“The goal is just to perform the best I can and let them worry about the rest,” Sanders told the Sentinel. “They’re waiting for that new wave to come through. It was a good experience, a good start.”
A humble, veteran answer from a guy who has made major strides as a basketball player, as well as a leader, since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2010. Sanders has been in Las Vegas for nearly two weeks and was a fixture on the Bucks’ bench during summer league games. He also attended team practices, offering knowledge and encouragement to the young players looking to break into the NBA – some of whom find themselves in the same shoes Sanders was in as a rookie playing in the Vegas League.
While at the minicamp, Sanders and the other 27 invitees will practice Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for Thursday night’s USA Basketball Showcase – a full-speed, intra-squad scrimmage held at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Full Team USA Minicamp Roster: Ryan Anderson (Pelicans), Harrison Barnes (Warriors), Bradley Beal (Wizards), Mike Conley (Grizzlies), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), Ander Drummond (Pistons), Kenneth Faried (Nuggets), Derrick Favors (Jazz), Paul George (Pacers), Gordon Hayward (Jazz), Jrue Holiday (Pelicans), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), DeAndre Jordan (Clippers), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats), Ty Lawson (Nuggets), Damian Lillard (Blazers), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Greg Monroe (Pistons), Chandler Parsons (Rockets), Larry Sanders (Bucks), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Dion Waiters (Cavaliers), Kemba Walker (Bobcats), John Wall (Wizards), Tyler Zeller (Cavaliers).