Scott Brooks on Kevin Durant's Gold Medal Play at FIBA World Championship
For once, Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks was just like the rest of us.
He watched Team USA in action from a distance, checking the local programming before plopping on the couch and enjoying so many outings that led to Sunday's win in the FIBA World Championship game over host Turkey. It was the first time since 1994 that the Americans won the gold, and they likely wouldn't have done it without the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant -- who used a six-game, first-round loss to the Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs as his personal postseason coming-out party -- took his already-rising profile to a new level in the tournament. He scored 28 points in the finale (an 81-64 win), finishing the tournament with a U.S. Worlds record scoring average of 22.8 points per game.
Westbrook made an impact off the bench as well, providing defensive pressure throughout while using his attacking offensive game to have the same effect on the other end. He wasn't the last of Brooks' boys to be representing their country either, as Thunder center and Serbian Nenad Krstic joined his national team. The Serbians suffered close losses to Turkey and Lithuania in their final two games to finish fourth in the tournament.
Krstic was the most productive member of his team when he actually took part, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in six games. He was, however, suspended for the first three games after throwing a chair during a melee between Serbia and Greece in a warm-up game before the tournament game. Thunder forward Jeff Green also tried out for Team USA but was among the last players cut.
Even still, Brooks took pride in all of his players' accomplishments. And with Thunder training camp just a few weeks away and the next decade looking brighter for his team than any other, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year talked with FanHouse about the value of his players' international experience and what it means for the the upcoming season.
Q: Scotty, I've got to think it's just a blast to watch your guys in action playing for their country. It has to be a little strange, though. What was the experience like?
A: I'm just excited to see both of them play such a big role. I've known them on a personal level, I know how they work. I know how much time they put into it. I know their heart. They've been perfect teammates, not only for each other but just for their team. And it's great to see that. Any time you can represent the United States of America, that's a great honor and they've done it very well.
When you're an athlete -- including myself -- you wish you'd had an opportunity to do that (Brooks was a mini-mite reserve point guard for 10 NBA seasons, including the 1994 campaign in which he was a key member of the Houston Rockets title team). It's great to play in the NBA, and it's great to play in this league, but I can't imagine how they feel not only representing their country but winning the gold medal.
Q: How much communication is there with you and your guys during the tournament?
A: I love just watching and seeing how Coach K (Team USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski) coaches the team. He's one of the best coaches in the world at any level, and he preaches the same things that we preach -- defend, and move the ball on offense to get a good shot. I don't care who gets the shot as long as it's a good shot. It's great for me and our team because it's just a continuation of what we do. Coach K is one of the best coaches, so that's great for (Durant) and Russell to be coached by them. But if I do communicate, the greatest thing is texting. Once I get off the phone, I'm going to text both of them and they communicate back pretty quickly. It's great that they played together, played so well, played so hard. It was fun watching the entire team -- all the guys. Seeing Chauncey (Billups) play, and Lamar Odom is a friend of mine, so seeing him play so well and playing a big part was great to see.
Q: I'm sure you wanted to give him some room and time to unwind after the season. But leading up to the Worlds, did you get the sense he was pretty inspired for this and where did you feel like he was at?
A: Well, Kevin is such a coachable kid. The only time he hasn't been coachable was right after we finished getting beat in Game 6 against the Lakers and the next day we had an exit meeting. I told him, 'Kevin, you've got to take two or three weeks off. Just let your body and mind decompress a little bit and just relax.' He took two days off. He doesn't listen to me all the time, but he's a guy who wants to get better and he wants to get better the right way -- through work, through effort, through being a good teammate. He's not a selfish player. He led the league in scoring, which is such an incredible accomplishment, but he didn't search out shots to get there. He shot a high percentage, and did a lot of other things. He rebounded, he blocked shots, he passed the ball. Those are the great things that I like about him. He's not just about one thing.
Q: Anything he do in this tournament surprise you?
A: I just know I've been with him since his rookie year, and he's diligent with his work. His approach has always been consistent. He doesn't deviate from that. I like the fact that every year he has become a better defender. He made a big jump last year and he's going to have to make another big jump this year. But he wants to be a two-way player. He doesn't just want to be known as a guy who's a prolific scorer. He wants, and he demands out of himself, to be a two-way player. And quite frankly, if he doesn't we can't win ballgames.
He has to be able to do that, and I have to be able to demand it -- and I do. I demand that he plays defense. It's one thing to run plays for him and so forth, but if you don't demand the guy plays defense then you don't have the respect from the other guys. Not only would I not have it, but Kevin wouldn't have the respect from his teammates. But he does, because he commits to the defensive end, which is great. Sam, the guy wants to be great on both ends.
Q: How big is this for him in the bigger picture, just in terms of leading a team of this caliber and winning a championship?
A: I think it helps on a lot of different levels. It helps that he understands the role that he needed to play to win a gold medal, and that the only thing that matters is winning. You have to be able to go through the process of what it takes to win, and he was able to do that. Coach K has done that with last summer and their work together, this summer early in Las Vegas and New York (for Team USA training camp). He has had to see this process, and now they've been able to see it through and win a gold medal and that's priceless.
For them to play all these one-and-done games -- what four of them? -- those are important games when you have to win these games or else you go home or you don't play for the prize that you're there for. Just being a leader on that team that has a lot of talented players. There are probably six or seven of those guys who could have been the leading scorer if they really focused on that. But everybody played their role, and it was good. Even Kevin played his role. He scored a lot of points but I like the fact that he was rebounding and defending.
Q: Did you have any hesitation at all as far as allowing these guys to participate? Any worry about the grind or injury risks?
A: No reservations at all. I love the fact that these guys wanted to do it, and they wanted to do it with all their hearts. It's a great honor to represent your country, and I never worry about players getting hurt. If they want to become great players, they've got to put in a lot of time on the court. And if you don't, you don't get better. They're either going to play a lot of basketball in Turkey or they're going to play a lot of basketball in Oklahoma City or wherever they're playing in the states. These guys are gym rats. They play twice a day, and they're not going to change their ways. And I don't want them to. That's how we've improved as a team is these guys coming back better players every year.
Q: With Kevin and Russell, does winning it all put them in a great mental place as far as your team and its title hopes?
A: I think all 30 teams go in -- every coach, every team, every player -- wanting to win a championship. We're no different. We're striving and we're working that. (Thunder general manager) Sam (Presti) put together a team that will compete and get better for many years. I have a team that we can develop and improve every year for seven or eight years -- 10 years even. I like that. There are other teams that this is their team, and it might get better very little or not at all. We have a team that should get better for many years to come, and I give Sam a lot of credit. He has put together guys who are coachable, guys who like each other, guys who are committed to the team.
Q: With Kevin shining on the international stage and (Miami's) LeBron (James) having more help than ever after going to the Heat, some folks are already pegging (Durant) for next year's MVP award? You see him making that kind of step?
A: I think Kevin is in the conversation of being one of the best players in the league, and I don't really pay much attention if he does (win MVP). I just know that he's about the right things. He's about winning, and if we win games everything seems to take care of itself. He's proven that he can win games in this league and also perform at a high level. Obviously he's in the conversation for all those talks, but he's only in there because he works extremely hard to get better and he has the talent to be one of the best players. I don't know if there's a guy in the league who outworks him.
Q: With Kevin, Russell and even Nenad putting in some serious floor time in the tournament, will you tweak anything for them as far as how you handle training camp?
A: I'm very confident in our medical team ... and we'll get together in the next couple of days. We've talked about it, but we haven't really pinpointed a plan on what we're going to do but we've definitely had conversations about it. I just like the fact that they're playing for the country and it's a great opportunity. They're all young enough that I don't see any residual effects on their bodies and their minds. But we will definitely talk about it and go with a plan. I don't know if we're going to tweak it much at all. We're just capitulating right now, but we'll be talking about it soon.
Q: There was a lot of attention on Kevin obviously, but what did you think of Russell's play?
A: I liked it. I love Russell. That's a guy who I have a lot of respect, a lot of confidence in. I respect the fact that he just battles every day. He wasn't a big name player out of high school. In college (at UCLA), he was kind of under the radar when we drafted him at the pick that we thought was best for us (fourth overall in 2008). He's making an impact, not only on our team but on Team USA, with his effort, his toughness, his ability to defend the ball. And he's getting better in his playmaking ability. Every year he has gotten better, and I expect the third year to be even better. He's a great kid who works extremely hard, and another guy who's a guy teammate and gets along with everyone on our team.
Q: What about Nenad? He had some good moments, but are you going to have to make sure you put all the chairs away at the facility when camp starts after that fight?
A: (Laughs). Oh, man. That's so unfortunate that that happened, because it's so out of character. That kid -- I love Nenad. Everybody loves Nenad. He's such a great teammate. It surprised all of us. It was such an unfortunate incident, and totally out of character. We don't worry about that happening. I'm sure he wishes it didn't happen, but we're looking forward for him to get back. He represented their country very well. That would've been fun to have those three guys (Durant, Westbrook, Krstic) get after each other in the gold medal game.
Q: Did you catch up with (Krstic) at all after that whole thing went down?
A: Yes, I did the same thing with him. I texted him. I'm proud of the way he played, and the way his country played. I think they were one of the surprise teams to make it to the Final Four. That Turkey loss was a tough loss to take but they represented themselves very well. I'm looking for him to be getting back in a week or two.
E-mail Sam at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @samickAOL.