Las Vegas • As the two finished their shooting drills at the end of Team USA’s week-long training camp on Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas, Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma walked from one side of the court to the other, joking about a missed dunk by the Jazzman that USA coach Gregg Popovich didn’t seem too pleased about.
They sat down on chairs at the edge of the court together, getting ready for post-practice media interviews. One reporter got in the first question in for Mitchell, but Kuzma got the second.
“How have you developed this summer?”
“Well, I’ve stayed in shape, tried to get ready for this camp," Mitchell said. "I’ve worked out with guys like Kyle Kuzma ...”
Kuzma interrupted. “He’s pretty solid, right?”
“Pretty good, yeah. But for me, I’m just trying to work on my overall game," Mitchell said. “Be more efficient with knocking down shots, and make the right decisions.”
There might not be a better microcosm of the 2019 USA Basketball experience than that two-minute stretch after practice. Star players — really, friends — getting to enjoy both playing basketball and hanging out together. Coaches trying to keep their players focused on the task of being the best basketball team in the world, while also imparting wisdom.
And in the end, it does seem that their message gets through: players rave about the value of these experiences. For Mitchell, recognition on the points of his game he can improve, efficiency and decision making, could prove valuable once the 2019-20 season opens up come October.
One way that’s happened this week: time running the show at the point guard position. Mitchell took reps as the lead guard in the portions of the scrimmage open to the media, and made some good plays that got his teammates open shots.
He also, to be fair, had a turnover or two, ones he heard about from Team USA’s vaunted coaching staff, which includes Popovich, Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Pacers coach Nate McMillan and Villanova’s championship-winning coach Jay Wright.
“I’ve really tried to kind of pick their brains, as far as running the point especially,” Mitchell said about his experiences with the coaching staff. "Obviously you have Quin [Snyder]’s advice, and Johnnie [Bryant] and the other coaches at Utah. But then you can also get something from the other coaches ... that have had such great impacts on this game.”
Mitchell also said he’s learned from playing with Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry, two All-Star point guards also on Team USA’s roster — though Lowry, in attendance, couldn’t play Thursday due to a thumb injury. Mitchell listed some of the things he’s tried to improve, including with their help.
“Low turnovers, while finding guys. Being able to play off the ball and cut in space. Playing better defense," Mitchell said. “Just the fact that I’m able to learn from guys like Kemba, like De’Aaron Fox, like Kyle Lowry, who just won a championship, it’s incredible. Now it’s about taking what I see from them and applying it to my own game, and taking myself to that next level as well.”
Mitchell will get a chance to prove himself over the next five weeks of work. On Friday, Team USA will split up into two teams and scrimmage each other at 8 p.m. MT at T-Mobile Arena, giving Mitchell a nationally-televised chance to show off what he’s learned. From there, they’ll continue to practice from Aug. 13-15 in Los Angeles, before playing a scrimmage against Spain on the the 16th.
The next week, they’re off to Australia, where they’ll play two friendly contests against the home nation in Melbourne, before playing one against Canada in Sydney. They’ll finally start FIBA World Cup tournament play on Aug. 31, with the tournament final on Sept. 15.
“This is an experience. I want to compete, I want to win, but also enjoy this opportunity,” Mitchell said. “This game has taken me so many places in the past five years. Would I have thought I would have been playing here five years ago? No.”
He’s here now, officially on the world stage.