September 29, 2017 at 4:55 PM
RICHMOND — Kelly Oubre Jr. came this close to earning bragging rights over LeBron James.
Over one August weekend in Miami, Oubre joined Washington Wizards all-star teammate John Wall for a series of workouts. It just so happened that James, a fellow Klutch Sports client with Wall and arguably the best player in the world, had returned to South Beach for his offseason routine. James joined the pair of Wizards for one session — Wall shared images of the workout in an Instagram post that has garnered more than 115,000 views. But missing from the photos was a competitive moment between Kelly and the King.
“We did a little competition at the end,” Oubre revealed. James “beat us, but that’s the only thing I wish I would’ve won. We had to make nine [three-pointers] in a row. I made eight and I missed the last one and his greatness, his competitive side took over and he won by the backdoor.”
While Oubre, 21, went head to head with a four-time MVP, Chris McCullough, 22, played pickup basketball with perennial all-star Carmelo Anthony. Tomas Satoransky, who is entering his second season in the NBA, spent his offseason matching up against Europe’s best players.
Though the trio of young players will have varying roles in the upcoming Wizards season, they all returned to the team a bit wiser from their summer brushes with greatness.
“We both were going at each other,” McCullough said of Anthony. “Me going at him. Him coming at me.”
McCullough, who enters his third season and awaits a breakthrough moment, shares several connections with Anthony. The pair of Syracuse basketball alumni have the same New York-based trainer and since McCullough recognized a need to work on his defensive skills, an elite post and perimeter scorer like Anthony proved to be a formidable teacher.
McCullough recalled his offensive highlights — pick-and-pop plays and putback dunks — but said his biggest moments happened on the other end and prompted unsolicited praise from Anthony.
“Just being able to guard him and him saying, ‘Damn, you’re keeping up with me!'” McCullough said. “He’s an all-star. He’s one of the best scorers in the league, so that’s something right there.”
Satoransky took a different route. Instead of pickup games in private gyms, Satoransky spent a week in Germany working on his jump shot, then played five meaningful games in the EuroBasketball 2017 tournament.
“One of the reasons I did it, with my national team I have a green light to do everything,” Satoransky said, explaining his commitment to the Czech Republic. “And I’m doing everything — playing 35 minutes, getting my rhythm back and picking up a little confidence.”
During his first season with the Wizards, Satoransky wore a kiddie backpack — part of rookie hazing — and bounced in and out of the rotation. However when Satoransky returned to his national team, he was the respected veteran, leading his team in either assists, scoring or rebounding after every tournament game.
Czech Republic did not advance out of group play, partially due to the team’s lack of NBA talent besides Satoransky. However, the Czechs faced a punishing gantlet of competition, losing to Spain (featuring the NBA’s Gasol and Hernangomez brothers) as well as Montenegro (led by Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic) and Croatia (home to former Wizards teammate Bojan Bogdanovic and Philadelphia 76ers wing Dario Saric).
Satoransky said it was “great as a group to play against those high-level players.”
Now after their summer school, the young Wizards hope to show their growth. Oubre feels more equipped to defend against bulkier, older players — especially following a humbling experience against James last preseason.
“That’s something that has been on my mind a lot. Last year we played LeBron in the preseason. He went off. He had transition dunks. He made me look like a little kid,” Oubre said. “But ever since then I’ve learned, studied him, watched him and it got easier and easier to maintain and stay in front. The next step for me going into Year 3 is to try to be the best defensive player out there. It’s just holding my resistance. No fear. Attacking my matchups like he’s the best player in the world.”
It helped having a rematch of sorts this summer in Miami. Oubre, who had platelet-rich plasma injections at the start of the offseason, is no stranger to hard work and often steals away for private shooting sessions during the grind of the season. However after his brief personal encounter with James, Oubre learned he still has to step it up.
“Very insightful both days,” he said. “Each day we worked on something different. A lot of conditioning. A lot of ‘get better’ talk. Obviously working with LeBron, his mind-set is just to get better every second of his life. And I’ve learned that from him. Just the way he works, his work ethic. He wasn’t really hitting his shots but he was still working on the things he needed to do. The things he was going to do in the game and help him get better and I respected that a lot. I obviously see that his focus is a little bit more advanced than mine but I also learned that my focus is going to have to be up, so I’ve just been studying stuff, watching and being more of a student of the game.”
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