The score was tied at 20. The eight-minute scrimmage was over. U.S. men’s Olympic basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski motioned for the players to come off the court, which they did — just long enough to tell him and the coaching staff that a tie wasn’t going to cut it. They wanted to play overtime.
The crowd was thrilled and cheered their approval. In the two-minute overtime, the white team, led by LeBron James and Kevin Durant defeated the blue team, led by James Harden and Andre Iguodala, 26-23.
It was everything the crowd had come to see, and more.
In preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams scheduled a weekend stop in Washington, which began with a practice and a scrimmage for the Hoops for Troops program at the D.C. Armory on Saturday. More than 3,000 members of the military along with their families were invited to the event.
The women took the court first, followed by the men, who began their practice session by running through drills to work on defensive timing, closing out shooters and communication. The players kept up a steady stream of dialogue, limiting the need for Krzyzewski to do it.
The drills were followed by a scrimmage, and the day’s activities concluded with a member of the military partnering with an NBA player in a shooting drill. In closing, military members lined up on the court across from an NBA player and gave them the patch of the U.S. flag worn on the right shoulder of their uniforms.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Durant, a D.C. native and forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s an honor to represent your country. It feels good to come back home and play in front of my hometown, my family and friends. I look forward to going out and representing my city and my country.”
Team USA arrived in Washington on Friday night and like Durant, New York Knicks forward and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony was humbled by the patriotic atmosphere.
“Being in D.C., that was a moment for us,” Anthony said. “Seeing all the military here in D.C., it’s motivational for us, just to be here and practice and walk around and see the troops around here with us. When they talk to us and we see how happy they are, it inspires us, because we’re definitely inspired by what they do. Its a wonderful feeling.”
The London Games will be Anthony’s third Olympics, as he was a member of the 2004 team that won bronze in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 team that won gold in Beijing. It will be the first Olympics for Durant and for the team’s newest member Anthony Davis, who was the selected first overall in the draft last month by the New Orleans Hornets.
Hobbled by an ankle injury, Davis was initially selected as an alternate, but he was pressed into active service when Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin injured his left knee. Griffin officially withdrew from the team and will have surgery to repair torn cartilage.
For Davis, it’s been a month of ups and downs.
“When I found out I wasn’t going to make the [Olympic] team, that I was going to be an alternate, I was kind of down,” Davis said. “Because my ankle wasn’t healthy I couldn’t showcase what I could do. But then I got the phone call.”
Davis says his sprained ankle is healthy, and he’s happy to have this opportunity, but he is disappointed for Griffin.
“I wanted to play on the USA team my whole life,” Davis said. “I got the opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it. But it’s sad to hear about Blake. He worked real hard to get here, deserved a spot and when he went down, it just shocked everyone. I hope he has a fast recovery and gets back soon.”
Davis is a 6-foot-10 power forward who can also play center if needed and is one of just a couple of post players on a relatively undersized team stacked with perimeter players.
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams, who is playing in his second Olympics, denied that this team was under any additional pressure to win the gold medal, but he did share his thoughts about the recent comparisons of the 2012 team to the 1992 Dream Team made by Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
“That team [the 1992 Olympic team] was the best team ever put on a court,” Williams said. “I don’t think its fair to us, I don’t think its fair to them to compare the teams.
“But I think right now, if they come out here, we’ll beat them,” Williams added with a mischievous smile. “Right now. So, we can beat them.”