Team USA Camp Provides Boost For Top Collegians Smart and McDermottPosted by BHayes on July 26th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
Come October and November, when Midnight Madness gives way to preseason games and then eventually the real thing, much of the narrative will center around how the summer was spent. A trip overseas will have brought a team together, leaving them poised to improve upon the season prior. A special opportunity with a particular team or clinic will change a coach’s perspective, or a new diet and workout plan gives the once-heralded recruit one last chance to pan out. We hear all these stories each and every fall, so consider yourself forgiven if you are left a bit skeptical with every summer update. It’s because you are right — many will end up as irrelevant activities, artificial confidence boosters to help raise morale at the outset of a new season. But don’t discount them all. Countless players and teams will have improved themselves in the six months between One Shining Moment and Midnight Madness, and after their stay at the Team USA camp in Las Vegas, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott look like two prime examples this go-around.
Smart has had an interesting offseason. He shocked the basketball world by deciding to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season, in the process tossing aside his presumed status as a top-five pick in this year’s draft. Before getting to Vegas he led the USA U-19 team to gold in Prague – a fine start to the summer, indeed. But his two days facing off against some of the best young players in the NBA provided a unique opportunity – one only afforded him and McDermott among those in the college ranks – and left him knowing he can play with NBA talent. Just listen to what Smart told SI’s Andy Glockner and tell me if you think his Team USA camp didn’t provide his confidence a shot in the arm – “It just lets me know that I decided to go back to college, but I can come out here and perform with these guys… Not trying to be cocky or anything, but I’m out here performing against top-level guys and competing and doing things that I’ve done in college and beyond, but I’m doing them on a bigger stage against guys who have competed against the LeBrons and Kobes.” Smart himself admitted to harboring loads of self-doubt in the weeks following his decision to go back to school, and with nearly everyone wondering aloud what he was doing, how could he not? But the NBA will still be there next season and the year after, and Smart should now know better than ever that he will be well-equipped to thrive there – no matter when he arrives.
McDermott also represented his country overseas before arriving in Vegas. The team’s result in the World University Games was less than desired (a ninth place finish), but McDermott led the team in scoring — and did so in his typically efficient manner. The Team USA camp may have been even more important for McDermott than it was Smart. Jeff Goodman reported that McDermott really impressed in his two days in Vegas, with one NBA executive even going as far as to say that he was “arguably the best shooter in the gym.” While McDermott’s decision to return to Creighton was less perplexing than the choice made by Smart, the decision period was also taxing on the Iowa native, who ultimately decided that he “felt like he owed it to the program [to return].” With his standout play driving the rave reviews being tossed his way in Vegas, McDermott has to feel a bit validated in his decision to come back, and also more ready to take on the more seasoned, athletic competition that his new league (the Big East) will throw at him.
Two days in Vegas. All it took for two All-Americans to return to their teams with some added confidence, and a lot of peace of mind. The NBA is a year away for Smart and McDermott, and expect these two young players — both mature beyond their years – to find it easier to move that dream to the back of their minds until then. Oklahoma State and Creighton have conference titles to win and NCAA Tournament runs to make — goals made only more reachable by their star’s summer vacations.