LAS VEGAS — During his four-day stint serving mostly as an attentive and enthusiastic spectator at Team USA basketball minicamp, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal was reminded of one of his early encounters with Mike Krzyzewski, the coach of the U.S. men’s national team.
Krzyzewski, the legendary Duke coach, recruited Beal out of high school, traveling to St. Louis and attracting a large crowd of excitable teenagers when he sat in on one of Beal’s practices at Chaminade High. A few of the Duke assistants on the USA Basketball staff mentioned the visit to Beal, but he avoided the subject with Krzyzewski.
“He’s probably upset I didn’t go to Duke,” Beal, who chose to attend Florida, said with a laugh.
Krzyzewski certainly didn’t hold a grudge when it came to USA Basketball. He and program chairman Jerry Colangelo were adamant about having Beal in attendance at the minicamp even though the 6-foot-4 shooting guard would be limited because of a stress injury in his right fibula.
The gesture said a lot about the impression Beal left on Krzyzewski and Colangelo in his rookie season in Washington and what they envision for his possible future within the program. Beal, who shot jumpers and walked through light, noncontact drills at the minicamp, showed up each day in his practice uniform and dressed in a game uniform instead of a Team USA polo despite not playing in Thursday’s scrimmage at Thomas & Mack Center.
“I’m very grateful and thankful for it because not a lot of guys get invited,” Beal said. “. . .They can see the potential that I probably have, but I still have next year to try to make the [FIBA World Cup in Spain], and hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”
Beal, who has missed three months with the injury, plans to start doing live contact work in the next week or so after consulting with his agent and doctor. He expects to be ready for the start of Wizards training camp in late September.
“I have to take it slow. That’s the reason I didn’t participate [at Team USA minicamp]. I didn’t want to force the issue and end up being reinjured,” Beal said. “Patience is definitely key.”
Beal also came to Las Vegas to watch the Wizards’ summer league team. He hung out with rookies Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr., worked out with team trainers and staff and even ran through some ballhandling and shooting drills with John Wall, another Team USA minicamp participant.
Wall spent much of the past week in Las Vegas playing off the ball and working on perimeter jumpers to help open up more one-on-one opportunities for Beal. Beal plans to become a better playmaker and distributor to take some pressure off Wall.
“Each year you want to bring something to your game that the coaches notice and other people are going to notice. That shows you’re working hard and dedicated to getting better,” Beal said. “We both have things in our games that we need to work on — my ballhandling, his shooting — and we’re both working hard at it, and we’re both competing against each other. We take it seriously. At the end of the day, it’s going to make our team better as well.”
The Wizards went 16-9 in games with both Beal and Wall in the lineup and 13-44 without one of them on the floor.
“I feel if both of us stay healthy, we’ll be top-five, top-six best back courts in the league,” Wall said. “Him as a young player, he’s very mature. He knows how the game goes. He’s just like me, a competitive person.”
When Wall took breaks during Team USA practices, he often would huddle with Beal to exchange ideas and tips. They expect the experience of the past few weeks to help with their chemistry heading into next season, when they hope to end the Wizards’ five-year postseason drought.
“We have to make the playoffs. That’s our ultimate goal,” Beal said. “We definitely have the team be able to do it, the caliber of players and great character guys on top of that, so it’s up to us to just stay healthy and keep working hard and making each other better, and it starts with me and John.”
Beal joked that he spent so much time in Las Vegas this month that he “is a citizen of Nevada now.”
Too young to participate in the casino action and too skeptical of magic shows, Beal, 20, said he didn’t partake in too many exciting activities in Las Vegas aside from a few amusement park rides at Circus Circus. But he hopes to be back next summer, intent on finally being on a team led by Krzyzewski, who has won four national championships at Duke and led the United States to two Olympic gold medals and a world championship gold medal.
“He’s a Hall of Fame coach. It was definitely in my top three of schools,” Beal said of Duke. “A great school, great program and I’m definitely happy with what Coach K has done with USA Basketball.”