Commentary

Team USA: Who makes the roster?

Updated: July 26, 2013, 10:57 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- After all the wicked dribbles, twisting layups and everything else he stuffed into his latest highlight reel, Kyrie Irving stopped to do a little math.

The number, Irving confessed on his way out of the interview room, is actually burned into his brain. Eleven whopping games.

That's the extent of his time together at Duke with Mike Krzyzewski.

"Me and him talk about it all the time," Irving told ESPN.com late Thursday night, "how this is another chance for him to coach me."

It's a second chance that, health permitting, will stretch well beyond the 11-game mark by the time Irving's international career is complete. That inevitability was hammered home Thursday night when USA Basketball's four-day minicamp in Las Vegas was capped by Irving emerging as the undisputed best player on the floor in a game-conditions scrimmage that attracted an audience of nearly 10,000 to the Thomas & Mack Center.

Maybe it wasn't the most intense setting, but Irving still found a way to wow you, amassing 23 points and seven assists in 27 busy minutes to lead his USA White squad to a 128-106 rout of the USA Blues. He then found himself at the postgame podium alongside Krzyzewski, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Blue top scorer Anthony Davis (22 points), which was fitting since Irving and Davis are generally regarded as the most likely locks among this week's 28 invitees to make Coach K's roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain next September.

Indiana's Paul George is another strong contender to make it all the way onto the A-Team. Portland's Damian Lillard would appear to have a shot as well, with two of the darlings of the week heading the list of dark-horse contenders as camp breaks: Utah's Gordon Hayward and Denver's Kenneth Faried.

Yet the closest to a sure thing is unequivocally Irving, something Krzyzewski -- for all his attempts throughout this camp to downplay individuals -- can't help but relish.

"I'm not going to be a school teacher and give one guy an A and another guy a B," Krzyzewski insisted after the scrimmage when pressed to offer up some assessments by name.

That said …

"It does feel nice to be at a press conference with Kyrie," Coach K said as he broke into a big smile. "I miss that. I'm going to start getting emotional here."

No need, really, because Irving's Team USA career is just starting to percolate. He was the head-turning performer on the 2012 Select squad assembled to help the senior team prep for the Olympics and played with an unmistakable self-assurance all week in Vegas despite claiming that he was fighting off "nerves" at tipoff here and admitting that -- for every single one of these Team USA aspirants from the 25-and-Under Club -- crunching the numbers in your head and trying to project the rosters for the World Cup or the 2016 Olympics in Brazil is "always in the back of your mind."

That's because roster spots, even for Spain next summer, are already dwindling away. London 2012 Olympians Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to play in 2014, with Durant announcing Wednesday that he expects Russell Westbrook and James Harden to follow suit. Colangelo, meanwhile, said in an NBA TV interview during Thursday's action that the number of 2012ers on the World Cup roster could rise as high as six, which doesn't even account for (A) the fact that there will have to be an injection of size eventually and (B) three more resting/rehabbing stars that have to be considered top-flight contenders.

That would be Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and, of course, Derrick Rose.

The competition is so fierce -- with available talent running so deep now that playing for Team USA has been fully restored to ultimate-honor status for Americans in the NBA -- that it's hard to see how more than three or four of the current campers can possibly break through. Krzyzewski and Colangelo nonetheless spent much of the week trying to convince anyone who would listen that a list of 25-28 finalists for the World Cup roster won't be drawn up until January at the earliest.

"We're not going to make any judgments tonight on guys," Krzyzewski said.

The plan, USAB officials insist, is to let the first half of the coming season factor into the decision-making process as well.

"They're entitled to that [extra evaluation time] because we told them that's exactly the way were going to do this," Colangelo said. "We've always said, 'It's fluid.'"

More from Coach K: "There are no tough decisions [because] there are no decisions that are being made right now. This minicamp was about them getting to know us and us getting to know them. Right now is not a decision-making time."

The only conclusions coming from the top that are being openly shared at this juncture have been pretty much restricted to the universal praise showered upon Air Force serviceman Nathaniel Mills for the tomahawk dunk he threw down in his full military regalia during one second-half break, raves for the development of Irving and Davis … and the copious amounts of shared glee coming from Krzyzewski and Colangelo from seeing so many top youngsters in the league trying so hard to win them over.

On Mills' dunk in fatigues and boots that even trumped Harrison Barnes' actual in-game posterization of Ryan Anderson, Krzyzewski said: "I thought that was the coolest moment of the night."

And referring to the increasingly mad scramble to snag one of those red, white and blue jerseys, Coach K added: "I don't know why that wasn't the case at one time -- and it wasn't considered [to be such a privilege] when Jerry and I started with the program [in 2005] -- but it really does help them in their NBA careers. How could it not?"

Said Indiana's George: "You see all the guys like LeBron [James] and [Carmelo Anthony] and KD. They all took that huge jump [in their careers], and it's because of playing for the USA team.

"It's just bigger than basketball."

Especially for the backcourt dynamo from Cleveland who went No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft despite the briefest of college careers.

"Oh, man … it's amazing," Irving said of reuniting with Coach K.

"This is a great experience for us to get reacquainted with one another."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.