LAS VEGAS — Kevin Durant, the man whom USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has dubbed “kind of the face” of the U.S. Men’s National team program, strolled into Mendenhall Center on the campus of UNLV on Wednesday afternoon wearing a Washington Redskins cap titled slightly to the side and grabbed a seat next to Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The trio huddled at center court as more than two dozen players under age 25 — including Washington Wizards point guard John Wall — ran light drills on different courts during the final day of practice for Team USA mini-camp. Moments later, Durant, the District native and all-star forward with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love became the first two players to officially declare their intentions to play in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain next summer.
Durant and Love already have won gold medals in the 2010 world championships in Turkey and the 2012 London Olympics. But as a testament to the program that Colangelo has established over the past eight years, the pair made it clear that they are eager to maintain the success and extend the legacy, even with other superstars, such as four-time most valuable player LeBron James, unlikely to join them.
“I’m excited to get this opportunity. I’m looking forward to playing for Coach K again and this whole program is such a first-class program and I’m glad I’m a part of it,” Durant said. “Hopefully, we’ll get more names, plus add in with these great guys as well.”
Wall and his back court mate Bradley Beal were among the 28 players invited to Las Vegas for a week of drills and a blue-and-white scrimmage on Thursday at Thomas & Mack Center. The practices are serving more as a showcase than an actual tryout, since so many other players with more years of service — or “equity,” as Colangelo likes to call it — remain part of the rich pool of talent at the disposal of Colangelo and Krzyzewski. Durant mentioned that all-stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden would likely come aboard and Colangelo was optimistic that the presence of a three-time scoring champion in Durant would serve as an attractive anchor to draw top talent.
“We’ve said this before, with all credit to all of our guys, he’s kind of the face of USA Basketball going forward,” Colangelo said of Durant. “He committed a long time ago and it’s part of who he is.”
Wall was a member of the Select Team that scrimmaged with the Team USA in anticipation of the London Olympics last summer. The experience was an eye-opener for Wall, as it made him aware of the areas that he needed to improve as a player and also the depth of the commitment that is required to be a part of the team.
“Humbling experience to be here, very exciting to be with all these other young talented players and just out here competing,” Wall said. “I know what it takes. I know what it is and I know . . . the kind of mind-set and focus you have to bring to the table.”
Beal also has been in Las Vegas this week but was unable to fully participate as he continues to recover from a stress injury in his right fibula, which led to the premature end of his promising rookie season. Krzyzewski still wanted Beal to be around to learn about the Team USA program and Beal was grateful for the chance to observe and collect some knowledge on his opponents’ tendencies going into next season.
“It’s a great experience overall. Just picking guys’ brains, coach was talking to me and me just admiring what coach is doing and the whole meaning behind USA basketball. It’s one like no other,” said Beal, who added that he is probably a “week or so” away from participating in live game action again.
Wall and Beal hope to be where Durant already is, if not by next summer, then by the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro. Durant has taken a lengthy journey that has seen him assume several different roles and experience the disappointment of being left off the 2008 Beijing Olympics team.
Durant arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, specifically to look Krzyzewski and Colangelo in the eyes to inform them of his decision.
“It was a process. Just like everything is,” Durant said of his rise up the ranks, while deflecting any talk of holding a higher position than anyone else. “Guys on this team, know that not one guy carries it. We do it collectively. I try not to look at myself as ‘the face,’ because it’s so many great guys.”