LAS VEGAS – Bradley Beal celebrated his 21st birthday with a lavish party in his hometown of St. Louis that included women wearing body paint of his Wizards jersey and doing circus tricks from the ceiling. Beal had a slightly more laidback gathering Washington two weeks later that attracted several of his teammates, including John Wall and Marcin Gortat, who was ready to revel for other reasons after having just signed a five-year, $60 million contract.
The largesse of the extended celebrations countered Beal’s laid back demeanor but, like the little hairs beginning to huddle on his chin, they were also acknowledgments that the kid is growing up.
“I feel older. My bones are starting to wear down now,” Beal said, cracking a smile. “Getting old, man, for sure.”
But this week, at Team USA training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center, Beal is also out to show he is getting better while matching up in practice with all-stars and other rising talents in the game. Unlike last summer, when he was in Las Vegas as a spectator limited to shooting stand-still jumpers as he recovered from a stress injury in his right leg and watching Wall compete, Beal is often sharing the floor with his Wizards backcourt mate.
“It’s a great sign for our team, for us continuing to grow and it’s just showing that we’re constantly getting better and better and better,” he said. “We’re going to put on for the city of D.C., and for our families and the Wizards organization.”
Wall was a late addition after all-star Russell Westbrook withdrew, but Beal was named to USA Basketball’s original 28-man pool for international competitions through 2016 and is one of a handful of shooting guards, along with James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver.
“I’m excited for one, for them to actually give me a chance and showcase my talents this year,” Beal said. “It’s been good so far. It could always be a little bit better. I’m definitely happy to be here and hopefully, I’ll have a great opportunity to be with the team. I’m always going to continue to learn and continue to get better every day. Just in terms of my IQ and learning. Learning from these guys especially. Just picking their brain a little bit.”
Beal has a long history with USA Basketball, having led the United States under-17 team to the gold medal in Germany in 2010. But he is in a difficult position because the depth of quality point guards capable of shooting and playing off the ball puts him in direct competition with them for backcourt slots.
“It’s crazy because everybody can pretty much do what the other players can do, so it’s kind of like a toss-up and whoever coach [Mike Krzyzewski] wants to pick,” he said. “I’ve got to continue to bring that mentality that I’m a great shooter. I have to have that mentality that I can score the ball, drive to the basket, get guys involved and I can do pretty much all of the things these other guys can do. I’m just trying to stand out more.”
No matter how the roster shakes out, Beal is just pleased he doesn’t have to deal with an offseason in which he has to wait on medical tests and clearances. After a promising rookie season, Beal was unable to start preparing for the follow-up until late July.
“It affected me. It definitely had an effect on me just the fact that I knew I had to kind of tone things down. I couldn’t get back to my routine that I’m normally capable of doing and I kind of lost a little bit of a rhythm. But I think once I relied on my trainers and staff to get me back right. Once I got back right, I was fine,” said Beal, who led the Wizards in scoring last postseason at 19.2 points per game. “I smile every day, waking up knowing that I don’t have to do nothing crazy, knowing I don’t have to resist myself from doing anything and it’s great because I can compete at the level I want to compete at and improve my game and be the best that I can possibly be.”
Beal is also excited about what the Wizards were able to accomplish this summer in bringing back Coach Randy Wittman, Gortat and Kevin Seraphin, adding physical forwards Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair and making up for the departure of Trevor Ariza by signing future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce.
“I knew we’d get a good [small forward]. They didn’t let me down there,” Beal said of Pierce, whom he hopes he can help him develop “that mindset that you’re unstoppable. He’s a proven scorer. A winner. And I know he has that mindset of what it means to be a killer, so to speak. I’m definitely going to try to learn from him, his mid-post game, and just how he takes his time and gets what he wants on offense.”
Still the youngest player on the roster after the Wizards failed to make a draft pick, Beal has professional seniority of Otto Porter and Glen Rice, two of the breakout performers at NBA summer league. Beal came to watch two games and support his less-experienced teammates, who received little playing time as rookies. Both will have a chance to get an opportunity early in 2014-15 with Martell Webster likely sidelined the first month of the regular season with back surgery.
“I’m happy and thrilled for how far they’ve gotten and how much better they’ve gotten, just in terms of Otto’s confidence, Glen is continuing to get better and we’re definitely going to need those two coming up this season,” Beal said. “It’s all about them getting an opportunity to be able to do what they’re capable of doing and it’s a matter of them gaining confidence and hopefully moving forward, they’ll have the same confidence and swag. I think summer league was great for them.”
After his impressive postseason, Beal knows he will be looked at to make significant improvements in his third season. He continues to work on his ball-handling and feels the game has slowed significantly each time he steps on the floor.
“For myself, the team, the outside world, everybody is going to have high expectations of me. I’m probably my biggest critic and I’ve got to put that added chip on me, like always,” he said. “I still have something to prove to myself every year and I’m going to get better and better and better. I have to continue to learn the game because I don’t know it all yet.”