- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca has deep Duke University roots, so a text from coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't particularly noteworthy on its own. But Pagliuca's phone buzzed earlier this month with a message from Coach K that made him smile.
"Coach K actually sent me a text that said [Celtics rookie guard] Marcus [Smart] was a fantastic player [with] the USA [select team] in Las Vegas," said Pagliuca. "That’s great that Coach K mentioned what a great player he is."
Krzyzewski, of course, is also head coach of Team USA and got another glimpse of Smart when the 20-year-old participated with the USA Select Team that scrimmaged against the senior team last month.
Most of the rumblings out of Vegas were that Smart more than held his own against some of the league's top guards and distinguished himself with his trademark tenacity on the defensive end. While the Celtics have lacked national team ties in recent years, Smart has seemingly put himself on a path for future consideration by working through the national feeder system.
There will be no notable Celtics connections when play in the 24-nation FIBA World Cup tips Saturday in Spain, but Boston does have a couple young bodies in Smart and Kelly Olynyk (Canada) who have immersed themselves in international competition.
Olynyk, battling what was termed a minor case of plantar fasciitis before his rookie campaign with Boston, could only observe while attending training camp last summer with the Canadian national team. But he glowed while recounting his experiences while playing with the national team during a European exhibition last month.
"The national team, there’s something special about playing and competing for your country," said Olynyk. "The national team is a lot of fun. You get to see the world playing basketball, and there’s nothing better than that.
"You go over there and see different countries, play different teams. It's kinda like playing for Boston, going into L.A. and trying to get a win against them and all their fans. But when you go to another country, it’s just a whole different experience. You’re going with a group of 20 guys trying to get a win against a whole country, it’s pretty cool."
Given the quality of talent coming out of Canada in recent years, Olynyk admits he daydreams about potential Olympic competition in future years.
"I played in the world championships in 2010 in Turkey and it was an unbelievable experience," said Olynyk. "Obviously, we didn’t do as well as we had hoped, but with this core group of guys that we have, and the young guys coming up in our country -- basketball is a prominent sport and we’re hoping to get on that plateau at an Olympic level. And that’s something that every kid dreams of, playing for their country in the Olympics. That would be special."
The gruesome leg injury suffered by Indiana's Paul George this summer has ignited conversation about players protecting themselves during events outside of NBA competition. While he downplayed the severity, Olynyk admitted he dinged up his right wrist during Canada's exhibition slate.
There's a balance here, but players like Olynyk and Smart swell with pride when talking about playing for their countries, while also raving about the benefits of playing elite competition. The players believe that it can only help them when NBA play resumes.
While acknowledging the risk involved, Pagliuca also sees a definite benefit in someone like Smart playing with Team USA.
"I think it’s really good experience to play top-level competition," said Pagliuca. "Now Marcus is ready to go up against the [Damian] Lillards of the world, and the great point guards in general."
12dKevin Pelton and Chad Ford