Talkin' Ball: What did we learn in Las Vegas?
LAS VEGAS – It’s going to be an uphill battle for Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers as he works towards earning a spot on Team USA’s 12-man roster for FIBA World Cup competition in Spain later this summer.
Of the 20 versatile players in attendance at training camp on the campus of UNLV, the point guard position is the deepest. It consists of Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Washington’s John Wall and Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
And by the way, Rose looked extremely sharp and athletic on the first day of camp.
Lillard has defied all of the odds to get to this point in his career and he’s not about to alter his makeup now. He’s well aware of the numbers game at his position. Whatever happens, happens, he says.
“I’ll say this, I like my chances, and you should like your chances,” Lillard tells CSNNW.com. “But, even it were not to go my way, I would have to respect that because everybody here is worthy of being on the team. You can’t be mad at the game. It’s going to be who it’s going to be. But everybody is here to put their best foot forward.”
Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball Chairman, says the point guard position will be the most complicated position to evaluate during training camp.
“We’re very loaded at that position,” Colangelo said to CSNNW.com. “We’re a team of versatility. We have great length, but the guard spots are very competitive right now. So I’m sure our guards are going to be up and down everyday and we’ll be evaluating as we go along.”
One must keep in mind that Lillard is here for a reason. He’s not a charity invite. In two years of professional play, the 24-year-old is already arguably a superstar on many levels. He was invited to the USA basketball program for his unique skillset that fits international play effortlessly.
“I think he’s an outstanding young guard in the NBA,” Colangelo added. “He’s got great strength. He can really shoot the ball. I believe he’s a good defender and can get much better. He’s a winner. I think he’s off to an amazing start to his career in the NBA.”
Colangelo isn’t the only bright basketball mind that is captivated by the demeanor and versatility of Lillard. Oklahoma’s Kevin Durant, who Lillard admits is the player he’s most looking forward to playing alongside, says Lillard has done some things early in his career that even he wasn’t capable of doing at the same time.
“He’s a big-game player, man,” Durant told CSNNW.com in speaking of Lillard. “I can respect that. He comes to play every night. Man, at that age, in my second year in the league, I wasn’t doing the stuff he was doing. He’s a special player.”
Media was permitted to watch some scrimmaging today. Lillard rolled his left ankle during competition and finished off the rest of the session with a slight limp. The All-Star guard downplayed the ankle injury though it noticeably limited him to a certain degree.
“I’ll be alright,” Lillard said. “I just rolled it a little bit. It’s not going to keep me out of anything.”
He’ll have plenty more opportunities to make his case for a roster spot. Usually the first days of practices or camps are feeling-out days. Things will begin to heat up once everyone gets acclimated to what is being asked of them.
In the meantime, Lillard says he’s just going to enjoy this process, soak it in, knowing the experience is only going to help him once the regular season rolls around. There’s some stiff competition out here in Vegas, however it’s a tall task he plans to overcome and that’s the player the Portland Trail Blazers know all too well.
“I’m not backing down. I’m here for a purpose,” he said. “Here, playing against these guys, you can’t be like, ‘Today I’m going to play okay, tomorrow I might not be here.’ Even though I wouldn’t do that to my team. Here, you got to be locked in and I think that helps you to be able to focus long term and to lock in everyday when you’re playing against the best. I’m here to compete.”