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CHICAGO -- For the first time since Paul George's gruesome leg injury in Team USA's scrimmage almost two weeks ago, players and coaches spoke openly about the impact the Pacers star's broken leg has had on the team.
Team USA guard Stephen Curry was one of several players who acknowledged that George's injury left him asking those closest to him whether he should continue playing for the national team as it prepares for the World Cup of Basketball in Spain later this month.
"Reacting to Paul's injury is natural," Curry said. "I think just talking to my family and guys in the Warrior front office, just kind of seeing where everybody was, but at the end of the day it's a great honor to wear this jersey and to have these experiences and I'm going to take advantage of it."
|Derrick Rose and Kenneth Faried react after seeing Paul George get injured. The team will wear shooting shirts in honor of George during its warmup games before heading to Spain.|
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he has no doubts that the players who remain with Team USA will continue to play hard in George's absence and remain "all in." Reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant left Team USA last week in the wake of George's injury citing 'mental and physical fatigue.'
"Everyone's all in," Krzyzewski said. "They wouldn't be here if they weren't all in. And they've been all-in. These guys love playing for the United States and they understand that we have a one month commitment now. And actually a month from today, if things went well, we would be playing for a gold medal in Madrid. But there's a lot to be done, including a really tough game on Saturday against Brazil."
Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said that the national team would wear shooting shirts in honor of George during its warmup games before heading to Spain later this month.
And with questions swirling in regards to superstar players' inclusion in future FIBA or Olympic events, Colangelo took time to defend his program in the wake of George's injury.
"Look, USA Basketball is in existence because it's all about representation, representing your country in international play," Colangelo said. "Not just on the senior men's level, but all of the age levels both male and female. And it serves a purpose, a big purpose. In fact, having this kind of opportunity with the coaching that they get in the summer when they're with us and the experiences. Before this injury, before the injury to Paul George, I was able to say we've never had an injury -- and there's always a first -- so it happened and that's unfortunate.
"But in my mind I was an owner, I was an owner in the league, I spent 45 years in the NBA, I get it. I understand it. I know how valuable the players are. They're valuable assets. We take every precaution to make sure nothing happens. But these guys are going to play, whether they're with us, or they're going to come back here and play this summer in pick up games and things do happen. I've lost players in my career in summer leagues, I've lost them during the regular season, and I've lost them in pick-up games -- season-ending injuries. So one injury doesn't make ... that's not the whole thing. It's just part of the game. Anyone who's played understands that's part of the game."
Krzyzewski said he has been texting with George over the past two weeks and is proud of the way the he has handled the situation.
"Paul is incredible," Krzyzewski said. "First of all, when he got hurt, just before his operation, after the operation immediately and since then, I don't know how anyone could have handled it better and with more courage. He's been remarkable really."
Both Colangelo and Krzyzewski spoke to Team USA before Thursday's practice regarding George's injury and the changes that have occurred since. Both the players and the coaches were emboldened by the people remaining within the team's framework.
"At the team meeting today I addressed them and welcomed everyone and then covered a few things including the Paul George situation," Colangelo said. "The good news about his status -- that it's expected 100 percent recovery. So everything's well there. We're going to be wearing some shooting shirts, kind of united behind Paul George, that we're going to use during these friendly games. We wanted to wear (a patch) on our uniforms (for George) but FIBA will not allow anything on the uniforms. But we haven't forgotten, we want everyone to rally behind that."
That will be easier said than done given how awful George's injury was -- something that was still on the players' minds Thursday. Players were not made available to the media immediately after George was injured.
"My first thing was get away from the scene because I didn't want to see it at first; it was too gruesome," Team USA guard Derrick Rose said. "Stuff like that turns my stomach and afterwards praying for him. It was kind of devastating because you never want that to happen to anyone. Especially a star player that has so much going for him. He just signed his contract, an up and coming star really making a name for himself, and for that to happen it's kind of messed up. But you wish that on no one. The only thing we can do is pray for him and during the season when everything's still going I'm going to try and hit him up as much as possible. Just letting him know I'm thinking about him."
Team USA sharpshooter Kyle Korver said he didn't notice players playing any differently on Thursday, but he did acknowledge that they talked about the injury amongst themselves.
"We all talked about it at the very beginning," Korver said. "We feel horrible about what happened but we're basketball players. This is what we do ... it was almost impossible to run a play on offense today because guys were playing so hard on defense. I think we're still adjusting to the court being a little smaller, the smaller three point line, the spacing's not quite there. But everyone's playing so hard it was impossible to get a good shot. Guys were totally engaged and playing incredibly hard. When you're playing to not get hurt, that's when you usually get hurt. I didn't sense anyone thinking about that. I think everyone probably thought about it in the 10 days in between a little bit."
For his part, Colangelo remained steadfast that the USA Basketball program would not change in the near future. He believes George's injury was just a freak accident that could have happened at any time. He doesn't see any changes to the policy of allowing NBA superstars to play in international competition changing any time soon.
"I'm not going to speculate on what people might do," Colangelo said. "I can only deal with facts and the reality is -- I've already addressed Mark Cuban's comments. His comments were about money. It wasn't about players playing. It was about who's getting the money from the games that are played. But there's a little misconception about just how big the FIBA pot of gold is. It really isn't. So as it relates to players participating, as long as there's an agreement that says they can, they will. And if that changes then of course that's a whole different story."