LAS VEGAS — The learning process has just begun for the New Orleans Pelicans players, coaches and trainers at the USA Basketball men’s national team minicamp, which started Monday and will culminate Thursday.
With legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pursuing his third consecutive Olympics gold medal, Pelicans players Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday are all proud to be among the 27 players invited to the minicamp, which is the first time that potential members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team are being assembled in one place.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams was signed last month to be one of Krzyzewski’s assistant coaches, and he brought his assistant, Randy Ayers, and team trainer Jon Ishop along with him. Williams realizes that this is a humbling learning experience not just for his three players, but for the coaches as well.
“It certainly helps me when you’re around maybe the best college coach of all-time, one of the best basketball coaches of all-time,” Williams said. “I don’t know how that could be a bad thing. I’ve had a chance to sit and talk with coach (Krzyzewski) about a number of things that I never got a chance to ask him, or listen to him, because I have not been around him; I’ve only competed against him. So from that standpoint, I feel I’m going to learn more just from being in this atmosphere.
“It’s great for the (three Pelicans) players as individuals, it’s great for the organization. Like I said, a lot of people said we couldn’t do anything in New Orleans because of ownership and guys leaving. This is just the start, to me, of what we can be if we stay the course and keep everybody together for a long time. There’s no telling what we can do.”
The learning process is different for point guard Holiday, who was recently traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Pelicans.
“Just having Monty and Randy Ayers here, having A.D. and Ryan Anderson here, I get a chance to really feel them out; just play with them, get acquainted with them, talk to them off the court, become better friends with them,” Holiday said. “I think that will help going in, especially knowing that they’re two starters. And with the coach (Williams) who expects a lot out of his point guard, I think being closer to the coach is going to help me, too.
“You’re up here playing against the best players, that’s how you get better. Again, (on Team USA is) Paul George who is battling against LeBron in the playoffs, you have Kyrie Irving who is an all-star in the playoffs, Damian Lillard was rookie of the year. So playing against the best guys, I think, improves your level of play.”
For Davis, the 2012 No. 1 draft pick returns as one of the few players on the roster who was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. Unlike 2012, though, Davis was glad to see that he wasn’t the lone Pelican at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center for the three-day minicamp and Thursday’s USA Basketball Showcase.
“It means a lot, because as much as I’m learning, (Williams is) learning as well,” Davis said. “I also got a couple players in Jrue and Ryan; we even got an assistant coach here, coach Ayers. Hopefully, we’ll take everything that we learned and take it back to our organization.”
Davis concedes that he didn’t get a lot of playing time at the 2012 London Olympics, but he did learn a lot. Krzyzewski, according to Davis, told the team on Monday “to make sure you play hard and play together.”
“They might not be up there with the Kobes and LeBrons and Kevin Durant, but they all add value to this team we have now,” Davis said. “We all are making each other better, going hard, having fun, and that’s all you can ask for.
“I’m very excited. Last year I was hurt, and now to come back healthy and play, to get through this first day without getting hurt is very exciting. We want to keep moving forward, staying healthy and having fun.
“I’m great. I think I’m in pretty good shape, very healthy. I just want to go have fun. The first day was great. And last season, toward the end of the season, I came down with a knee and bone contusion, sprained my MCL. But it’s all over with, that was a couple months ago. Now I’m worried about USA, to try and get better.”
Anderson is another Pelican who is very intent on improving himself by being a member of Team USA.
“The competition here is top-notch,” Anderson said. “All these guys are great players; there’s great talent. During the summertime, you don’t really get runs like this, you don’t get to really be competitive and play against these guys like this, guys you’re going to be competing against in the regular season. Yeah, it will definitely help me get prepared for next year. That’s a big benefit to being here; getting runs in, getting acclimated to the game early.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this. Obviously, our goal is to win a gold medal, our goal is to go back there and continue to keep winning. Anything less than that is a letdown, so obviously to be part of something like this, to be part of potentially playing on the Olympic team is a huge honor. But it’s something, obviously, we carry a lot of pride with USA on our uniforms. We want to continue to keep that legacy going; (U.S. fans) want to win, and so do we. It’s just that country pride that we need to keep moving forward.”
With Anderson, Davis and Holiday on the team, Williams realizes that this minicamp experience will help improve Pelicans’ team chemistry.
“I’ve had a chance to goof around with Jrue and A.D. and Ryan; try to calm them down and just let them play,” Williams said. “But Jrue is used to it because he was here last year (as a USA Select Team member who played against the Olympic team). A.D. is used to it. Ryan is probably more on edge because he wants to do well. What I try to tell him is that you’ve already done well by getting here, now you’ve just got to go play.
“It’s cool to have so many people on the Pelicans here. We feel like we’ve kind of turned the corner. People said we couldn’t do a lot of stuff in New Orleans with all the stuff in our past, and I don’t think anybody saw this happening.”