In Kevin Durant, New-Look Team USA Has Humble Leader
Not that anything has changed about how much Durant is appreciated on the team that will play in next month's World Championship in Turkey, it now just won't be discussed as much.
"Well, he's probably more comfortable without it being said,'' USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Friday about the Oklahoma City forward's reluctance to be dubbed the face of the team. "So that's the bottom line. So we won't say it.''
Then again, Durant, 21, is so respectful he says he won't be bothered if Colangelo, who called Durant the "focal point'' of the team earlier this week, were to continue with such talk.
"That can cause tension in the group,'' Durant said about why he doesn't like being singled out. "I really don't like that too much. But if Jerry says it, I guess I got to go with it. I don't really like it too much, being singled out. I just want to be part of a group.''
Durant might be the most humble guy ever to lead the NBA in scoring, which is what he did last season by putting up 30.1 points-per- night for the up-and-coming Thunder. He talked during the season of not even wanting to win the scoring crown but apparently there's no mechanism for declining such an honor.
Whether he likes it or not, Durant probably will be the leading scorer on Team USA because he's that talented. Durant can start putting up statistics when his White team faces the Blue in the USA Basketball Showcase on Saturday night at Thomas & Mack Arena. The intrasquad game concludes Team USA's five-day training camp here, with the next one being Aug.10-16 in New York.
"That's who he is,'' Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who watched practice during the week, said of Durant's humility. "His mom and dad did a good job of raising him. He's very grounded. He's as grounded as I've seen from any player at that level, and it's great. Because it makes it enjoyable to come to work every day that you have a kid that respects coaching and respects the game and respects work.''
Durant, though, doesn't seem to respect the media as much. When asked if it's difficult to stay humble when he must deal with so many press requests, Durant gave an answer that seemed a bit out of character.
"No, it's not,'' he said. "I was always taught that people who like the media are going to build you up to break you down. And we've seen that with LeBron (James, after his joining Miami earlier this month). People are trying to break him down right now. I'm not ever worrying about the media hype. None of that. I'm just going to continue to play my game.''
Wait a minute. How is the media going to break down Durant, who has brought a refreshing attitude to being an NBA superstar and who announced his contract extension with the Thunder earlier this month on Twitter? That was quite a contrast to James, who came up with the "The Decision'' show to announce he planned to leave Cleveland after seven seasons.
"You'll find ways to do it,'' Durant said about the media. "LeBron is a great guy. You're all trying to find ways to (break down) him as well. It's all about being myself and staying positive. I'm not worrying about any outside distractions.''
Speaking of James, he worked out before Team USA's practice Friday with Heat teammate Dwyane Wade and New Orleans' Chris Paul. Those three, along with fellow star Deron Williams of Utah, then watched the first part of practice.
All four were 2008 Olympians who opted not to play this summer for Team USA. All of the 2008 players bowed out, but 10 remain on the overall roster for 2012 Olympic consideration.
"We had a chance to visit with LeBron for a bit,'' Colangelo said of James, who, along with the other Olympians, had departed when the media was allowed in for the last half hour of practice. "Shook hands. Hugged. Big smile on his face. We congratulated him (for joining the Heat). Seemed in great spirits. He was hugging a lot of people. It was good.''
Durant chatted with the Olympians. He said he appreciates that "they've been supportive'' in showing up to watch this summer's team.
Durant, then coming off his rookie NBA season, had hoped to join those guys on the 2008 team before being cut. He said being left out has inspired him for this Team USA run.
"I wanted to be part of it,'' Durant said. "I didn't get a chance to, and I guess it's my time now, and I got to go out and play as hard as I can to be a great teammate.''
Something else also figures to motivate Durant this summer. He's getting tired of listening to talk alleging the Americans, with most of the top players having bowed out, are sending a junior-varsity outfit to Turkey.
"A lot of people are saying we're not the favorite, that we're going to go over and lose,'' Durant said. "They're saying that the U.S. is sending their B team over. I'm hearing things like that. But we're going to go out and prove people wrong. I think we have a good group of guys that we are going to be able to do that.''
Durant, who made the All-NBA first team while none of his teammates made any of the three all-league teams, is no doubt the best player for the red, white and blue. But coach Mike Kryzewski doesn't want to put too much pressure on his young forward.
"I think the two leaders for this week were Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom, which it should be,'' Krzyzewski said of the team's only two players 30 or older. "They're the two veterans. But as the trip goes along, I think Kevin will emerge as a young leader. And he's not going to be the leader of this team because Chauncey Billups is a great leader and Lamar Odom can be. They've been through it. But he can become a leader.
"What Kevin has done is I think he's led by example. He plays so hard and he's always working. He's the first guy at a meeting. He has a real yearning to learn. But it will grow. He has to become comfortable with the situation.''
As long as Krzyzewski doesn't call Durant the face of the team, he figures to be comfortable.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson