The 20 top young talents who gathered last week in Las Vegas have all known pressure—the pressure to make the right pass, a clutch shot or a big defensive stop. But at the three-day minicamp run by USA Basketball to evaluate candidates for the 2010 FIBA World Championship roster, these rising stars faced a pressure with which they were wholly unfamiliar: the pressure to make a team. And it seemed to bring out the best in them.
There was All-Star Nets guard Devin Harris diving at full extension for a loose ball during a drill. There was the reigning Rookie of the Year, Bulls guard Derrick Rose, challenging Blazers center Greg Oden at the rim during a half-court scrimmage. And there was Oden brusquely depositing Rose on the floor. "We're all competitors," says Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, another aspirant. "But the competition is more intense because we all want to be the ones wearing usa on our chest."
While the players tried to impress with their play on the court, USA Basketball brass paid close attention to their demeanor off it. Says USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, "We want to see how they interact. We want them to demonstrate that this is important to them and they want to be part of the process."
Just how many roster spots are open for next summer's team remains to be seen, but it likely won't be many. Colangelo has received strong indications from most of the 12 members of the gold medal team from the Beijing Olympics that they want to play in 2010. He is enticing them with the chance to reverse U.S. fortunes at the world championship—the United States has not won the quadrennial event since 1994. "To the rest of the world, the world championships are a very big deal," says Colangelo. "I told our guys that we're only half done." Still, there will be spots available. Mavericks guard Jason Kidd, 36, told SI that he is not planning on being on the team next summer, and Colangelo says that even if the other 11 players want to come back, not all are guaranteed a spot. "That wouldn't be fair to the process," says Colangelo.
The strongest candidate from Las Vegas for a spot on the team is Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who was easily the best player at the minicamp; coaches are enamored of his ability to play several positions and to score inside and out. Two others who improved their standing are Love and Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. Love is an excellent rebounder who impressed coaches with his fundamentals; Gay is a versatile scorer who led all players with 27 points in Saturday's intrasquad game.
Even if only one or two players from the camp make the final roster, Colangelo sees benefits in bringing the group together. "These guys are the next generation," he says. "We're not just here for 2010 or '12. We're looking beyond that, and the players who are here are going to be a big part of it."
Now on SI.com
For more from Chris Mannix on the USA Basketball camp, go to SI.com/bonus