Team USA goes for Olympic gold

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the rest of the U.S. men's basketball team are eyeing Olympic gold.

TORONTO — Barely a week before Chris Egi arrived at Harvard for his freshman basketball season, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Egi and Brown were both 18. They were both black. They were both about to begin college, and the teen's death — and too many more that would follow — became woven into Egi's experience at Harvard. When the 22-year-old from Toronto was selected out of more than 100 applicants to speak at Harvard's convocation last May, the Crimson's team captain with the gap-toothed grin talked about Brown. And on Friday, the organization No More Names, of which Egi is a founder, will launch its "10,000 Voices" social media campaign, a virtual protest to remember the people behind the names, and combat the issues of criminal justice reform and police brutality. "I've been privileged to be given this platform as a Harvard alum, as a Harvard student, as a basketball player at that school, to have a voice," Egi said. "I try to use my voice to give that voice to people who, given different structures in society like a Michael Brown, might not have a voice." The six-foot-nine forward was one of Canada's most talented young players, captaining Canada's U18 and U19 teams in 2014-15 that included first-round NBA draft pick Dillion Brooks. He also teamed up with first-round picks Tyler Ennis and Trey Lyles at the U19 world championships in 2013. In 2014, he helped a Montverde Academy team that featured Ben Simmons and D'Angelo Russell win a coveted U.S. high school title. But Egi would rather talk about Brown. And Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after an officer put him in a chokehold. And Stephon Clark, shot and killed by police in Sacramento last March. Egi and a teammate were headed back to their dorm after practice in his first semester at Harvard when they came upon a protest march. Knowing it was something they wanted to be a part of they joined in. The group marched to a common area where they laid on the ground in a "die-in." "It symbolizes what happened with Michael Brown, the body lays on the ground, symbolizing the death of black bodies. So we laid on the ground, and that was an extremely powerful moment for me," Egi said. "It was one of those moments where I felt good to be involved and contribute somehow. But I also felt there had to be ways to do more. I felt a little bit of a feeling of longing in terms of wanting to contribute in a more tangible way." That spirit of contribution was learned early. Egi's parents — dad Anthony and mom Christiana — were Nigerian immigrants. His dad, who died earlier this month, was a compassionate outspoken man who came to Canada alone at age 16. He delivered pizzas to fund his way through college. His mom operates a nursing home for people with Alzheimers. "I just grew up in an environment where my parents were both people who were the change that they wanted to see, and when they wanted something done they would just get after it themselves. And while doing that, putting the emphasis on people, and loving each other, and that was just a big big emphasis in my family growing up." In between basketball and working toward his economics degree, Egi was involved in several campaigns at Harvard. One of them — #ThankYouBlackWomen — became the impetus for No More Names. The campaign included a video and photos highlighting black women on campus. Egi wrote a poem. The campaign was "kind of a love letter, or a thank-you note to the black women in our community," he said. But the feedback wasn't entirely positive. "In terms of actions are a lot louder than words, and you can say a lot in a video, and present yourself as someone you're not, and are you really backing that up? We had to re-evaluate how we truly treat the black women in our lives," Egi said. "Are we these social media people who post content in one way, and aren't necessarily backing it up in our real actions?" So they held a small benefit on campus to support black women living with breast cancer. Then Clark was shot dead weeks before Egi's final semester ended. The deaths of Brown, Clark and others whose dreams had been "deferred and denied" formed the framework for his convocation speech. "At Harvard graduation, Michael Brown was spoken about . . . for his spirit to be evoked at our graduation, that meant a lot to me, and hopefully that message resonated with the people at the event," Egi said. He also wrote an article for The Players' Tribune, "Finding Michael Brown at Harvard." And within three weeks of Clark's death, Egi and some friends had organized No More Names, what started as a benefit concert featuring Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa that raised over $7,000. Dr. Harry Edwards — the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights that led to the famous black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics — sent a video message. Atlanta Hawks guard and Harvard alum Jeremy Lin made a donation. "I had been trying my best to contribute to the black community with the skillset that I have," Egi said. "That's kind of how No More Names began." No More Names has grown to include all eight Ivy League schools this year. They'll all participate in Friday's 10,000 Voices initiative, which Egi described as a tech-infused campaign to empower voices and allow people to share stories and names across social media platforms. "We can document live all the stories about the different people who have been victims of this issue," he said. But don't call Egi an activist. "There are people who are doing so much more than what I'm doing, and maybe to label me an activist might be a discredit to the great work they're doing," he said. "I think of myself as a contentious citizen, and in doing that it's just about caring about people. If you see something, if you see that there are people's voices are being silenced, or people who are being marginalized, it's just taking the time to do whatever you can." Egi chose not to pursue a pro basketball career after Harvard. "I'm a quote-unquote men's league all-star now," he said with a laugh. He lives in New York and works for Goldman Sachs' private capital investing group. But he'll carry the lessons learned from the game through life. "All the lessons (Harvard coach Tommy Amaker) imparted on us, just the idea of what it takes to play at an elite level, that competitiveness, that drive to be the best, to not be outworked," he said. "Those are the kinds of things that really matter and differentiate people once you step beyond the coddled environment of school." Still months removed from his competitive career, watching basketball remains a "love/hate" thing. "I love to watch it, but there are times that are hard, I overanalyze it and I just know all the guys," he said. "Also the circumstances around the fact I want to be playing, so sometimes I can't stand to watch it." He cheers on the Canadian players, though, who are enjoying unparalleled success. "I'm just really proud of so many of these guys here, they're really killing it." Tip-ins: Harvard has three Canadians on this year's roster: Noah Kirkwood and Corey Johnson of Ottawa, and Danilo Djuricic of Brampton, Ont. ——— Follow @Ewingsports on Twitter. Follow @_NoMoreNames Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Former Canadian basketball captain campaigning against police brutality
TORONTO — Barely a week before Chris Egi arrived at Harvard for his freshman basketball season, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Egi and Brown were both 18. They were both black. They were both about to begin college, and the teen's death — and too many more that would follow — became woven into Egi's experience at Harvard. When the 22-year-old from Toronto was selected out of more than 100 applicants to speak at Harvard's convocation last May, the Crimson's team captain with the gap-toothed grin talked about Brown. And on Friday, the organization No More Names, of which Egi is a founder, will launch its "10,000 Voices" social media campaign, a virtual protest to remember the people behind the names, and combat the issues of criminal justice reform and police brutality. "I've been privileged to be given this platform as a Harvard alum, as a Harvard student, as a basketball player at that school, to have a voice," Egi said. "I try to use my voice to give that voice to people who, given different structures in society like a Michael Brown, might not have a voice." The six-foot-nine forward was one of Canada's most talented young players, captaining Canada's U18 and U19 teams in 2014-15 that included first-round NBA draft pick Dillion Brooks. He also teamed up with first-round picks Tyler Ennis and Trey Lyles at the U19 world championships in 2013. In 2014, he helped a Montverde Academy team that featured Ben Simmons and D'Angelo Russell win a coveted U.S. high school title. But Egi would rather talk about Brown. And Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after an officer put him in a chokehold. And Stephon Clark, shot and killed by police in Sacramento last March. Egi and a teammate were headed back to their dorm after practice in his first semester at Harvard when they came upon a protest march. Knowing it was something they wanted to be a part of they joined in. The group marched to a common area where they laid on the ground in a "die-in." "It symbolizes what happened with Michael Brown, the body lays on the ground, symbolizing the death of black bodies. So we laid on the ground, and that was an extremely powerful moment for me," Egi said. "It was one of those moments where I felt good to be involved and contribute somehow. But I also felt there had to be ways to do more. I felt a little bit of a feeling of longing in terms of wanting to contribute in a more tangible way." That spirit of contribution was learned early. Egi's parents — dad Anthony and mom Christiana — were Nigerian immigrants. His dad, who died earlier this month, was a compassionate outspoken man who came to Canada alone at age 16. He delivered pizzas to fund his way through college. His mom operates a nursing home for people with Alzheimers. "I just grew up in an environment where my parents were both people who were the change that they wanted to see, and when they wanted something done they would just get after it themselves. And while doing that, putting the emphasis on people, and loving each other, and that was just a big big emphasis in my family growing up." In between basketball and working toward his economics degree, Egi was involved in several campaigns at Harvard. One of them — #ThankYouBlackWomen — became the impetus for No More Names. The campaign included a video and photos highlighting black women on campus. Egi wrote a poem. The campaign was "kind of a love letter, or a thank-you note to the black women in our community," he said. But the feedback wasn't entirely positive. "In terms of actions are a lot louder than words, and you can say a lot in a video, and present yourself as someone you're not, and are you really backing that up? We had to re-evaluate how we truly treat the black women in our lives," Egi said. "Are we these social media people who post content in one way, and aren't necessarily backing it up in our real actions?" So they held a small benefit on campus to support black women living with breast cancer. Then Clark was shot dead weeks before Egi's final semester ended. The deaths of Brown, Clark and others whose dreams had been "deferred and denied" formed the framework for his convocation speech. "At Harvard graduation, Michael Brown was spoken about . . . for his spirit to be evoked at our graduation, that meant a lot to me, and hopefully that message resonated with the people at the event," Egi said. He also wrote an article for The Players' Tribune, "Finding Michael Brown at Harvard." And within three weeks of Clark's death, Egi and some friends had organized No More Names, what started as a benefit concert featuring Chicago-based rapper Vic Mensa that raised over $7,000. Dr. Harry Edwards — the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights that led to the famous black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics — sent a video message. Atlanta Hawks guard and Harvard alum Jeremy Lin made a donation. "I had been trying my best to contribute to the black community with the skillset that I have," Egi said. "That's kind of how No More Names began." No More Names has grown to include all eight Ivy League schools this year. They'll all participate in Friday's 10,000 Voices initiative, which Egi described as a tech-infused campaign to empower voices and allow people to share stories and names across social media platforms. "We can document live all the stories about the different people who have been victims of this issue," he said. But don't call Egi an activist. "There are people who are doing so much more than what I'm doing, and maybe to label me an activist might be a discredit to the great work they're doing," he said. "I think of myself as a contentious citizen, and in doing that it's just about caring about people. If you see something, if you see that there are people's voices are being silenced, or people who are being marginalized, it's just taking the time to do whatever you can." Egi chose not to pursue a pro basketball career after Harvard. "I'm a quote-unquote men's league all-star now," he said with a laugh. He lives in New York and works for Goldman Sachs' private capital investing group. But he'll carry the lessons learned from the game through life. "All the lessons (Harvard coach Tommy Amaker) imparted on us, just the idea of what it takes to play at an elite level, that competitiveness, that drive to be the best, to not be outworked," he said. "Those are the kinds of things that really matter and differentiate people once you step beyond the coddled environment of school." Still months removed from his competitive career, watching basketball remains a "love/hate" thing. "I love to watch it, but there are times that are hard, I overanalyze it and I just know all the guys," he said. "Also the circumstances around the fact I want to be playing, so sometimes I can't stand to watch it." He cheers on the Canadian players, though, who are enjoying unparalleled success. "I'm just really proud of so many of these guys here, they're really killing it." Tip-ins: Harvard has three Canadians on this year's roster: Noah Kirkwood and Corey Johnson of Ottawa, and Danilo Djuricic of Brampton, Ont. ——— Follow @Ewingsports on Twitter. Follow @_NoMoreNames Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
FILE - In this March 16, 2016, file photo, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie passes the ball during practice for the team's first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. Former UConn basketball coach Ollie has brought his $10 million dispute with the school over his firing to both state and federal court. Lawyers for Ollie and the university were to give oral arguments Friday, Jan. 25, in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on a motion that would allow Ollie to move forward with a racial discrimination complaint against the school without jeopardizing his right to an arbitration hearing with UConn over his firing last year. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2016, file photo, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie passes the ball during practice for the team's first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. Former UConn basketball coach Ollie has brought his $10 million dispute with the school over his firing to both state and federal court. Lawyers for Ollie and the university were to give oral arguments Friday, Jan. 25, in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on a motion that would allow Ollie to move forward with a racial discrimination complaint against the school without jeopardizing his right to an arbitration hearing with UConn over his firing last year. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this March 16, 2016, file photo, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie passes the ball during practice for the team's first-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. Former UConn basketball coach Ollie has brought his $10 million dispute with the school over his firing to both state and federal court. Lawyers for Ollie and the university were to give oral arguments Friday, Jan. 25, in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on a motion that would allow Ollie to move forward with a racial discrimination complaint against the school without jeopardizing his right to an arbitration hearing with UConn over his firing last year. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama receives a gift as he honors Villanova University's men's 2016 NCAA championship basketball team at the White House in Washington May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Obama welcomes the Villanova men's basketball to the White House in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama receives a gift as he honors Villanova University's men's 2016 NCAA championship basketball team at the White House in Washington May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
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UConn men's basketball head coach Kevin Ollie (L) pats U.S. President Barack Obama (R) on the shoulder after a ceremony honoring the NCAA champion University of Connecticut Huskies men's and women's basketball teams in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
UConn men's basketball head coach Ollie pats US President Obama on the back after a ceremony at the White House in Washington
UConn men's basketball head coach Kevin Ollie (L) pats U.S. President Barack Obama (R) on the shoulder after a ceremony honoring the NCAA champion University of Connecticut Huskies men's and women's basketball teams in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
<p>At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.</p><p>In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.</p><p>Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of <a href="https://aax-us-east.amazon-adsystem.com/x/c/QgA1CMx1Hn10o4-Ezv490dwAAAFh2JTxHQEAAAFKAefVMP8/https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=as_at?creativeASIN=2858778011&linkCode=w50&tag=sportsillustrated0f-20&imprToken=QWJlDqn5YSew32XEq7yobA&slotNum=2&_encoding=UTF8&benefitId=sportsillustrated&node=2858778011&ref=DVM_US_JK_PS_SITVb2%7Cc_233136791014_m_zsYAlJoD-dc_s__" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a forthcoming documentary on SI TV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a forthcoming documentary on SI TV</a>. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.</p><p>On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.</p><p>Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.</p><p>Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."</p><p>"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."</p><p>The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."</p><p>Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."</p><p>This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."</p><p>The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."</p><p>Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."</p><p>There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.</p>
Duke-Bound Cam Reddish Could Reset Expectations for the Modern Basketball Player

At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.

In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.

Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of a forthcoming documentary on SI TV. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.

On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.

Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.

Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."

"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."

The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."

Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."

This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."

The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."

Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."

There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.

<p>At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.</p><p>In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.</p><p>Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of <a href="https://aax-us-east.amazon-adsystem.com/x/c/QgA1CMx1Hn10o4-Ezv490dwAAAFh2JTxHQEAAAFKAefVMP8/https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=as_at?creativeASIN=2858778011&linkCode=w50&tag=sportsillustrated0f-20&imprToken=QWJlDqn5YSew32XEq7yobA&slotNum=2&_encoding=UTF8&benefitId=sportsillustrated&node=2858778011&ref=DVM_US_JK_PS_SITVb2%7Cc_233136791014_m_zsYAlJoD-dc_s__" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a forthcoming documentary on SI TV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a forthcoming documentary on SI TV</a>. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.</p><p>On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.</p><p>Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.</p><p>Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."</p><p>"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."</p><p>The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."</p><p>Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."</p><p>This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."</p><p>The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."</p><p>Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."</p><p>There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.</p>
Duke-Bound Cam Reddish Could Reset Expectations for the Modern Basketball Player

At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.

In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.

Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of a forthcoming documentary on SI TV. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.

On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.

Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.

Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."

"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."

The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."

Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."

This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."

The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."

Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."

There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.

<p>At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.</p><p>In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.</p><p>Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of <a href="https://aax-us-east.amazon-adsystem.com/x/c/QgA1CMx1Hn10o4-Ezv490dwAAAFh2JTxHQEAAAFKAefVMP8/https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=as_at?creativeASIN=2858778011&linkCode=w50&tag=sportsillustrated0f-20&imprToken=QWJlDqn5YSew32XEq7yobA&slotNum=2&_encoding=UTF8&benefitId=sportsillustrated&node=2858778011&ref=DVM_US_JK_PS_SITVb2%7Cc_233136791014_m_zsYAlJoD-dc_s__" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a forthcoming documentary on SI TV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a forthcoming documentary on SI TV</a>. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.</p><p>On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.</p><p>Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.</p><p>Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."</p><p>"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."</p><p>The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."</p><p>Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."</p><p>This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."</p><p>The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."</p><p>Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."</p><p>There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.</p>
Duke-Bound Cam Reddish Could Reset Expectations for the Modern Basketball Player

At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.

In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.

Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of a forthcoming documentary on SI TV. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.

On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.

Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.

Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."

"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."

The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."

Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."

This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."

The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."

Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."

There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.

<p>At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.</p><p>In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.</p><p>Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of <a href="https://aax-us-east.amazon-adsystem.com/x/c/QgA1CMx1Hn10o4-Ezv490dwAAAFh2JTxHQEAAAFKAefVMP8/https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=as_at?creativeASIN=2858778011&linkCode=w50&tag=sportsillustrated0f-20&imprToken=QWJlDqn5YSew32XEq7yobA&slotNum=2&_encoding=UTF8&benefitId=sportsillustrated&node=2858778011&ref=DVM_US_JK_PS_SITVb2%7Cc_233136791014_m_zsYAlJoD-dc_s__" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a forthcoming documentary on SI TV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a forthcoming documentary on SI TV</a>. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.</p><p>On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.</p><p>Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.</p><p>Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."</p><p>"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."</p><p>The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."</p><p>Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."</p><p>This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."</p><p>The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."</p><p>Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."</p><p>There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.</p>
Duke-Bound Cam Reddish Could Reset Expectations for the Modern Basketball Player

At 6'7", Cameron Reddish sees easily over most guards but isn't burly enough, at 210 pounds, to bang with big men on the low block—just right for a small forward. At 18, he is only two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than five-time NBA All-Star small forward Paul George. Read about Reddish on a recruiting website, and you'll likely see him listed as "SF." But Reddish has probably spent more time at point guard during his high school career, deftly navigating ball screens, rifling passes into tight windows, sinking three-point shots off the dribble and harassing opposing backcourts with his 7'1" wingspan and lateral quickness. As basketball teams increasingly covet malleable players, the difference between the position that appears to fit Reddish physically and the one that optimizes his perimeter skills is immaterial.

In an era in which the Sixers' Ben Simmons can become the NBA's No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year front-runner as a 6'10" point guard and Draymond Green can hold down the center spot in the Warriors' best lineup at 6'7", Reddish illustrates a fascinating paradox: He belongs to no position and to every position. By learning to play like a point guard, Reddish has elevated an already tantalizingly high ceiling. He—and his ready-made name for the Cameron Crazies—is headed to Duke next fall. Already he is an early candidate to be selected near the top of the 2019 lottery: Draft expert Jonathan Givony pegged him as the No. 2 pick in his most recent mock.

Reddish, who calls basketball his "heartbeat," says that the only things he does that are not school- or hoops-related are playing PS4 games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto or "messing with" his younger brother, Aaron, a freshman at Westtown School, the same boarding school in West Chester, Pa., that Reddish attends. The 2016–17 team is the subject of a forthcoming documentary on SI TV. When Reddish isn't on a court, there's a good chance he's staring at one on a screen. His consumption of YouTube highlight reels is habitual.

On a typical weekday, Reddish rises at 6 a.m., makes the short trek to the Westtown gym and gets up as many shots as he can before a 7 a.m. breakfast in the dining hall. He denies himself the reward of hearing the swoosh of every made three, free throw and midranger, instead pumping Lil Uzi Vert through his headphones. Why? Reddish admits to being creeped out by the creaking sounds that reverberate around the otherwise vacant gym. "I hate hearing things," he says.

Reddish could play the one before he grew into the size of a small-ball four. Henry Fairfax, Reddish's coach at the Haverford School, an all-boys prep school on Philadelphia's Main Line, knew that Reddish had the skills to play point guard, but he already had another guard who could "handle the ball and decision-make." After playing varsity as an eighth- and ninth-grader at Haverford, Reddish transferred to Westtown, a pastoral, 600-acre institution with stately redbrick buildings and a 14-acre lake located about a half hour southwest of his home in Norristown, Pa. The school offered rigorous academics and a coach, Seth Berger, whom Reddish's father knew as the founder of the And1 shoe and apparel company. Robert also coached Berger's son T.J. in AAU. Berger didn't hesitate to put the ball in Reddish's hands, and with two other blue-chip recruits on the roster—6'11" forward Mohamed Bamba (now a freshman at Texas) and 6'6" shooting guard Brandon Randolph (a freshman at Arizona)—Reddish could hone his skills as a distributor without assuming the scoring burden.

Five years ago Reddish began training with Eric (Pooh) Evans, the older brother of 6'6", 220-pound Grizzlies swingman Tyreke Evans. Pooh looked at Reddish's parents—his father, Robert, is 6'7" and played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth in 1989–90 and '90–91, and his mother, Zanthia, is an elementary school principal who's 6 feet tall—and figured Reddish, who was around 6'2" when he began high school, still had plenty of growing to do. But Evans thought that no matter Reddish's ultimate height, it was vital to groom him into a playmaker. They've worked on everything from ballhandling to footwork to shooting, and Reddish says it's "something new every day."

"It was kind of a cookie cutter for me," Pooh Evans says, "because I trained my younger brother the same way."

The NBA is changing in ways that favor Reddish's adaptable game. Defensive schemes that rely on players switching assignments are in vogue, and, as of March 1, pace (97.3 possessions per 48 minutes) is the most breakneck it's been since 1990–91 (97.8). Also, the average number of attempts beyond the arc (28.8) is at an all-time high. (The three-point rate and number of possessions have been rising in the college game, too; both are at the highest levels they've been since at least 2001–02.) To thrive in today's pace-and-space NBA, coaches need long, nimble athletes who eschew rigid positional designations. The Warriors' famous Death Lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green was the gold standard, and the Rockets' starting unit includes three players 6'6" or shorter and only one player taller than 6'8". Guards Chris Paul and James Harden and wings P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza surround 6'10" big man Clint Capela. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra once noted, "We don't care about positions. We don't care about conventional boxes where players fit in."

Reddish's run with Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer offered a window into his versatility. The team's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari, used Reddish at point guard even though there were several "official" PGs on the roster, such as Oregon sophomore Payton Pritchard, Purdue sophomore Carsen Edwards and Calipari's own signee Immanuel Quickley. In the first half of the U.S.'s preliminary-round win over Iran, Reddish picked a ballhandler's pocket at half court and glided in for a one-handed dunk, used a screen to set up an off-the-dribble three and split a double team while falling forward and tossing a two-handed pass to an open teammate. While covering the event in Cairo, at which Reddish led Team USA in three-point percentage and player efficiency, Hall of Fame basketball writer Dick Weiss described Reddish as a "peek into the future of men's basketball."

This might be a convenient place to mention that Reddish has no trouble getting buckets of his own. Last year he ranked fifth in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with an average of 22.6 points, and he scored 53 points on only 22 attempts in a Westtown win over Holy Spirit (Atlanta) on Dec. 10. In November, a video posted to four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant's YouTube channel featured footage of several top prospects. He characterized Reddish's athleticism as "off the charts" and added, "I like this kid, man. He's going to be a star."

The coaches of the blue-blooded schools that recruited Reddish no doubt shared Durant's sentiment. In September, after releasing a list of five finalists (Connecticut, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Villanova), Reddish verbally committed to Duke. "I knew from the jump [that] I wanted to go there," he says. The Blue Devils are likely to lose three starters to the NBA this offseason in addition to senior Grayson Allen—big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval are projected as first-round draft picks—but they've already signed two other top 10 recruits (wing R.J. Barrett and point guard Tre Jones) and received a verbal from another (power forward Zion Williamson). Coach Mike Krzyzewski can play Reddish alongside any of the newcomers without having to worry about fit. "Cameron Reddish," the Duke coach said, "is just a beautiful basketball player."

Despite being the No. 1 prospect in the class of '18, according to 247Sports, Reddish has a much lower profile than Canadian phenom Barrett and viral dunking sensation Williamson, even after a TMZ video was posted last August showing Reddish, who was in Los Angeles for a Nike basketball camp, leaving an eatery with LeBron James and James's agent, Rich Paul. Reddish says that James gave him advice on how to manage being a sports celebrity. "What it's like being him," Reddish says, "and all the publicity he gets. How he has to deal with all that type of stuff."

There are criticisms of Reddish's game. He can be passive, though this is a label commonly affixed to the gifted, for whom the sport often appears too easy. Reddish does concede that he doesn't "always go hard, which I've got to fix." That flaw is drowned out by a hype that will only increase in the 15 months between now and the 2019 NBA draft. The projections range from the optimistic, yet realistic ("a Paul George-type of player," says Rob Brown, the program director of Reddish's AAU team) to the borderline absurd ("I actually think he's going to be a 6'8" version of Chris Paul," Berger says). Fairfax went the old-school route in finding someone to liken to a definitively new-age player. "He reminds you of Penny Hardaway," Fairfax says of Reddish. Drop Reddish into the prime of Hardaway's NBA career, as Shaquille O'Neal's costar with the Orlando Magic in the 1990s, and it's hard to say how coaches would use him, or whether f or g would appear next to his name in box scores. Today that distinction is mostly academic, and coaches can expect positive results when they move him up or down the lineup. Reddish's position might remain uncertain, but his future is radiantly clear.

<p>The schools wouldn’t abide by the rules. The NCAA president predicted chaos. College sports stood on the precipice of disaster. So what happened?</p><p>The schools changed the rules, and everyone survived. Many thrived. The leaders of college sports today would do well to remember what happened seven decades ago, because they’re about to face a similar choice.</p><p>The headlines will grow increasingly dire as more information emerges from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. On Friday, Yahoo! writers Pat Forde and Pete Thamel published <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/exclusive-federal-documents-detail-sweeping-potential-ncaa-violations-involving-high-profile-players-schools-103338484.html" data-ylk="slk:the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller;outcm:mb_qualified_link;_E:mb_qualified_link" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller</a>. The story included a who’s who of recent college basketball stars, and the fact that the FBI has wiretaps and witnesses suggests that dozens of high-profile basketball programs could be charged by the NCAA with—at the very least—using players who had broken the NCAA’s amateurism rules and therefore rendered themselves ineligible and—at worst—having coaches or other school employees arrange payments in networks that included agents and shoe company executives. The worst-case scenario? Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, USC, Alabama and many others could find themselves headed for a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and those programs could face harsh sanctions.</p><p>This scandal will be cast as an existential crisis for college hoops in particular and college sports in general. And it could very well be an existential crisis if the people in charge of college athletics let it become one. If the schools simply enforce the rules as written, programs will go down, coaches will get fired and at some point in the near future CBS and Turner will televise an NCAA tournament almost devoid of name brands and star power. Or the schools could use this FBI investigation as a jumping-off point for a much larger conversation that could help them solve several major potential issues going forward. To understand why the latter is the smarter choice, they should turn back the clock 70 years and consider their own history with the NCAA.</p><p>Before we proceed, let’s establish something that tends to get lost when discussing NCAA rules and potential punishments.</p><p>• No matter how many times an NCAA official or millionaire coach says it, there is nothing morally wrong with giving someone money for being good at sports. There also is nothing morally wrong with giving even more money to a person who is much better at sports than other people.</p><p>That position is utterly unassailable. Want to test how unassailable? Replace “sports” with “singing” or “plumbing” or “building websites” and think about how stupid it would sound to defend the idea of a cabal of competitors coming together to make rules to fix the price of labor in those markets.</p><p>Now that we’ve established that simple premise, let’s examine how the fallout from the FBI investigation could affect the schools and the NCAA. The important thing to remember is that the schools—which make and ultimately enforce the NCAA’s rules—have always moved the goalposts when it comes to amateurism. When college sports first became popular near the turn of the 20th century, coaches were not supposed to recruit off campus. They were only supposed to use players who happened to be students of each particular school. Athletic scholarships were not allowed. Because humans are competitive, not all coaches adhered to those rules. Some offered players jobs or found ways for their tuition to be paid.</p><p>Eventually, the schools decided that if everyone was going to give athletic scholarships under the table, they would simply allow athletic scholarships. But they wanted to standardize the practice. The names, the amounts and the mechanisms have changed, but the current college basketball situation isn’t all that different from the brief period in which the NCAA’s member schools lived by something called the “Sanity Code.” The code was enacted in 1948, and it codified the scholarship. Schools could pay a player’s tuition and cover one meal a day during the playing season. Schools could not provide room and board but could give players jobs to work off the costs of their lodging and food. Later, the NCAA sent surveys to schools to ensure the Sanity Code was being followed. Seven schools (Boston College, The Citadel, Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech) answered honestly. They weren’t following the Sanity Code, because they believed they should be allowed to offer room and board as part of the athletic scholarship.</p><p>The only penalty on the NCAA’s books at the time was expulsion from the NCAA, but a vote to expel the schools the media dubbed “The Sinful Seven” failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. It was a popular theory that the seven were stalking horses for a large group of mostly Southern schools that wanted to loosen the rules. In 1951, the Sanity Code was repealed. Iowa professor Karl Lieb, who served as the NCAA’s president at the time, predicted college sports would descend into madness. He was laughably wrong. The schools simply moved the goalposts again with new rules that allowed for tuition, room and board.</p><p>In recent years, schools have added cash stipends that allow the athletic scholarship to match the actual cost of attendance that the schools report to the federal government. Why did this not breach their moral code? Because the Ninth Circuit ordered them to allow it when the NCAA lost a case brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon.</p><p>NCAA president Mark Emmert is predictably picking up where Lieb left off. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert said in a statement Friday. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.” Emmert’s first statement is correct. This is a systematic failure that must be fixed. His second statement is wrong. “People who engage in this type of behavior” are capitalists trying to make money. This is America. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Such people have a place in nearly every enterprise in this country. Emmert and his seven-figure salary should understand that. The problem is they’ve been forced underground by the schools’ decision to collude to keep overhead low. Change the rules, and the behavior is no different than, say, a coach getting shopped around by his agent to get a bigger paycheck from either his current employer or another employer. Emmert hasn’t ripped Jimmy Sexton for getting Florida State-turned-Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher the best deal. What’s the difference here?</p><p>The schools and NCAA have always been flexible regarding the rules when it suits their needs, and this appears to be one of those times. Given the star power of the programs involved, Too Big To Fail could come into play as NCAA officials imagine CBS and Turner asking to renegotiate the terms of their multibillion-dollar deal to televise the men’s basketball tournament. How valuable is the television product if the blueblood schools are serving postseason bans?</p><p>Or perhaps CBS and Turner would weather a few years without the name brands and not ask for a dime back. Still, the schools also need to consider the fact that these particular issues are a direct result of their rules. This particular black market—where shoe companies, agents and schools work together to funnel money to basketball players—exists because of the arbitrary compensation cap imposed by the schools through the NCAA rules. (And because the NBA doesn’t allow the players to go directly to the pros. The schools can’t do anything about that, but they must live with it.) Take away those rules, and the underground market rises to the surface, where transactions can be tracked, catalogued and taxed.</p><p>This would infuriate fans of schools who faced recent NCAA judgments. Louisville (basketball) and Ole Miss (football) are dealing with sanctions handed down because of the rules the schools may need to adjust in the wake of this much larger scandal. Their anger would be justified, but the schools need to take the long view here.</p><p>There are two reasons why. First, with no changes, the schools will scandalize themselves, harm the value of a product they sell to television networks and invite this to happen again. The FBI may cool off the agents and the shoe companies for a little while, but don’t expect the federal government to dump millions into investigating something like this again. While there are state laws against agents paying athletes and federal conspiracy laws that can be twisted in a way to make the schools seem like victims, there are no laws against a non-agent simply paying someone for being good at basketball or football. The agent laws are rarely enforced at the state level. The NCAA enforcement department—which has no subpoena power—should view this as a one-time affair. Everyone will be back doing exactly the same thing within five years if the rules don’t change.</p><p>More importantly, the rules may have to change anyway because they’re about to be challenged in federal court by the antitrust attorney (Jeffrey Kessler) who helped bring free agency to the NFL. Loosening them ahead of this could soften the impact of a verdict that goes against the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences. The people who run college sports probably would rather build their own new system than have the courts impose one on them.</p><p>What might that new system look like? The most sensible answer is the Olympic model. <a href="https://www.si.com/more-sports/2011/07/27/new-rules" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:You can read about it in more detail here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">You can read about it in more detail here</a>, but these are the basics: Schools would continue to only pay full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Anyone else who wanted to pay the athletes could pay them. This would eliminate any Title IX concerns because every athlete would have exactly the same opportunity to get paid. The market would decide who got how much. Does that mean boosters would pay the players? Yep. (But they already pay them under the table now.) Does that mean agents would pay football and basketball players? It sure would. (They also pay them under the table now.) Would the players have to pay taxes on anything they make? Of course. Would this increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Nope. Alabama, Ohio State and the like would still sign the highest rated football recruits. Duke, Kentucky and the like would still sign the highest rated basketball recruits. (But maybe SMU, which thrived when it was paying big under the table, could become good at football again.)</p><p>The amounts wouldn’t be astronomical, either. People between the ages of 17 and 21 make for notoriously risky investments, so after a few years most boosters probably would opt for the relative safety of donating for a new dorm. Agents already have set their market, so it’s difficult to imagine the prices rising too much. For example, Yahoo! reported that former NC State point guard Dennis Smith is listed in the Miller documents as having received $43,500 in payments and $73,500 in loans from the agency. (It should be noted that the information currently available does not suggest any of this money was for attending NC State. Smith’s value to an agent is based largely on potential endorsement deals.) Those amounts total $117,000. That is a lot of money. But is it that much for the best player on a team that, according to data submitted by NC State to the U.S. Department of Education, brought in $14.6 million in revenue during the 2016-17 school year? Smith’s take—which as far as we know didn’t come from NC State—represented one 124th of what the basketball program took in. Add the $23,976 that NC State had to pay for Smith’s scholarship as an in-state student, and it still represents one 103rd of NC State’s total basketball take. Relatively speaking, that’s a bargain for a guy who averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists as a freshman in the ACC. (And one could argue that based on NC State’s 15–17 overall record and 4–14 ACC record in Smith’s only season, some more cash should have been spread around to get the guy some help.)</p><p>The schools could end the scandal now if they’d just remove the stigma from paying college athletes for being good at sports. Much of society has already come to that conclusion, and most the people who believe college athletes shouldn’t be paid are the types who swallow anything a governing body decrees. All the schools have to do is say it’s O.K., and it will then be O.K. Justice Department honchos might be mad that they wasted millions investigating something that isn’t really a crime, but it wasn’t really a crime when the investigation began, either.</p><p>Like their counterparts decades ago, school presidents and athletic directors stand at a crossroads. They can continue a misguided moral crusade against an act that isn’t actually bad, or they can begin to build a new system that will help them avoid such scandals in the future.</p><p>All they have to do is the thing they’ve always done. Move the goalposts.</p>
The NCAA Must Change the Rules in Order to Solve College Basketball’s Existential Crisis

The schools wouldn’t abide by the rules. The NCAA president predicted chaos. College sports stood on the precipice of disaster. So what happened?

The schools changed the rules, and everyone survived. Many thrived. The leaders of college sports today would do well to remember what happened seven decades ago, because they’re about to face a similar choice.

The headlines will grow increasingly dire as more information emerges from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. On Friday, Yahoo! writers Pat Forde and Pete Thamel published the contents of spreadsheets the FBI took from the office of former NBA agent Andy Miller. The story included a who’s who of recent college basketball stars, and the fact that the FBI has wiretaps and witnesses suggests that dozens of high-profile basketball programs could be charged by the NCAA with—at the very least—using players who had broken the NCAA’s amateurism rules and therefore rendered themselves ineligible and—at worst—having coaches or other school employees arrange payments in networks that included agents and shoe company executives. The worst-case scenario? Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, USC, Alabama and many others could find themselves headed for a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and those programs could face harsh sanctions.

This scandal will be cast as an existential crisis for college hoops in particular and college sports in general. And it could very well be an existential crisis if the people in charge of college athletics let it become one. If the schools simply enforce the rules as written, programs will go down, coaches will get fired and at some point in the near future CBS and Turner will televise an NCAA tournament almost devoid of name brands and star power. Or the schools could use this FBI investigation as a jumping-off point for a much larger conversation that could help them solve several major potential issues going forward. To understand why the latter is the smarter choice, they should turn back the clock 70 years and consider their own history with the NCAA.

Before we proceed, let’s establish something that tends to get lost when discussing NCAA rules and potential punishments.

• No matter how many times an NCAA official or millionaire coach says it, there is nothing morally wrong with giving someone money for being good at sports. There also is nothing morally wrong with giving even more money to a person who is much better at sports than other people.

That position is utterly unassailable. Want to test how unassailable? Replace “sports” with “singing” or “plumbing” or “building websites” and think about how stupid it would sound to defend the idea of a cabal of competitors coming together to make rules to fix the price of labor in those markets.

Now that we’ve established that simple premise, let’s examine how the fallout from the FBI investigation could affect the schools and the NCAA. The important thing to remember is that the schools—which make and ultimately enforce the NCAA’s rules—have always moved the goalposts when it comes to amateurism. When college sports first became popular near the turn of the 20th century, coaches were not supposed to recruit off campus. They were only supposed to use players who happened to be students of each particular school. Athletic scholarships were not allowed. Because humans are competitive, not all coaches adhered to those rules. Some offered players jobs or found ways for their tuition to be paid.

Eventually, the schools decided that if everyone was going to give athletic scholarships under the table, they would simply allow athletic scholarships. But they wanted to standardize the practice. The names, the amounts and the mechanisms have changed, but the current college basketball situation isn’t all that different from the brief period in which the NCAA’s member schools lived by something called the “Sanity Code.” The code was enacted in 1948, and it codified the scholarship. Schools could pay a player’s tuition and cover one meal a day during the playing season. Schools could not provide room and board but could give players jobs to work off the costs of their lodging and food. Later, the NCAA sent surveys to schools to ensure the Sanity Code was being followed. Seven schools (Boston College, The Citadel, Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech) answered honestly. They weren’t following the Sanity Code, because they believed they should be allowed to offer room and board as part of the athletic scholarship.

The only penalty on the NCAA’s books at the time was expulsion from the NCAA, but a vote to expel the schools the media dubbed “The Sinful Seven” failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. It was a popular theory that the seven were stalking horses for a large group of mostly Southern schools that wanted to loosen the rules. In 1951, the Sanity Code was repealed. Iowa professor Karl Lieb, who served as the NCAA’s president at the time, predicted college sports would descend into madness. He was laughably wrong. The schools simply moved the goalposts again with new rules that allowed for tuition, room and board.

In recent years, schools have added cash stipends that allow the athletic scholarship to match the actual cost of attendance that the schools report to the federal government. Why did this not breach their moral code? Because the Ninth Circuit ordered them to allow it when the NCAA lost a case brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon.

NCAA president Mark Emmert is predictably picking up where Lieb left off. “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America,” Emmert said in a statement Friday. “Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.” Emmert’s first statement is correct. This is a systematic failure that must be fixed. His second statement is wrong. “People who engage in this type of behavior” are capitalists trying to make money. This is America. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Such people have a place in nearly every enterprise in this country. Emmert and his seven-figure salary should understand that. The problem is they’ve been forced underground by the schools’ decision to collude to keep overhead low. Change the rules, and the behavior is no different than, say, a coach getting shopped around by his agent to get a bigger paycheck from either his current employer or another employer. Emmert hasn’t ripped Jimmy Sexton for getting Florida State-turned-Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher the best deal. What’s the difference here?

The schools and NCAA have always been flexible regarding the rules when it suits their needs, and this appears to be one of those times. Given the star power of the programs involved, Too Big To Fail could come into play as NCAA officials imagine CBS and Turner asking to renegotiate the terms of their multibillion-dollar deal to televise the men’s basketball tournament. How valuable is the television product if the blueblood schools are serving postseason bans?

Or perhaps CBS and Turner would weather a few years without the name brands and not ask for a dime back. Still, the schools also need to consider the fact that these particular issues are a direct result of their rules. This particular black market—where shoe companies, agents and schools work together to funnel money to basketball players—exists because of the arbitrary compensation cap imposed by the schools through the NCAA rules. (And because the NBA doesn’t allow the players to go directly to the pros. The schools can’t do anything about that, but they must live with it.) Take away those rules, and the underground market rises to the surface, where transactions can be tracked, catalogued and taxed.

This would infuriate fans of schools who faced recent NCAA judgments. Louisville (basketball) and Ole Miss (football) are dealing with sanctions handed down because of the rules the schools may need to adjust in the wake of this much larger scandal. Their anger would be justified, but the schools need to take the long view here.

There are two reasons why. First, with no changes, the schools will scandalize themselves, harm the value of a product they sell to television networks and invite this to happen again. The FBI may cool off the agents and the shoe companies for a little while, but don’t expect the federal government to dump millions into investigating something like this again. While there are state laws against agents paying athletes and federal conspiracy laws that can be twisted in a way to make the schools seem like victims, there are no laws against a non-agent simply paying someone for being good at basketball or football. The agent laws are rarely enforced at the state level. The NCAA enforcement department—which has no subpoena power—should view this as a one-time affair. Everyone will be back doing exactly the same thing within five years if the rules don’t change.

More importantly, the rules may have to change anyway because they’re about to be challenged in federal court by the antitrust attorney (Jeffrey Kessler) who helped bring free agency to the NFL. Loosening them ahead of this could soften the impact of a verdict that goes against the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences. The people who run college sports probably would rather build their own new system than have the courts impose one on them.

What might that new system look like? The most sensible answer is the Olympic model. You can read about it in more detail here, but these are the basics: Schools would continue to only pay full cost-of-attendance scholarships. Anyone else who wanted to pay the athletes could pay them. This would eliminate any Title IX concerns because every athlete would have exactly the same opportunity to get paid. The market would decide who got how much. Does that mean boosters would pay the players? Yep. (But they already pay them under the table now.) Does that mean agents would pay football and basketball players? It sure would. (They also pay them under the table now.) Would the players have to pay taxes on anything they make? Of course. Would this increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Nope. Alabama, Ohio State and the like would still sign the highest rated football recruits. Duke, Kentucky and the like would still sign the highest rated basketball recruits. (But maybe SMU, which thrived when it was paying big under the table, could become good at football again.)

The amounts wouldn’t be astronomical, either. People between the ages of 17 and 21 make for notoriously risky investments, so after a few years most boosters probably would opt for the relative safety of donating for a new dorm. Agents already have set their market, so it’s difficult to imagine the prices rising too much. For example, Yahoo! reported that former NC State point guard Dennis Smith is listed in the Miller documents as having received $43,500 in payments and $73,500 in loans from the agency. (It should be noted that the information currently available does not suggest any of this money was for attending NC State. Smith’s value to an agent is based largely on potential endorsement deals.) Those amounts total $117,000. That is a lot of money. But is it that much for the best player on a team that, according to data submitted by NC State to the U.S. Department of Education, brought in $14.6 million in revenue during the 2016-17 school year? Smith’s take—which as far as we know didn’t come from NC State—represented one 124th of what the basketball program took in. Add the $23,976 that NC State had to pay for Smith’s scholarship as an in-state student, and it still represents one 103rd of NC State’s total basketball take. Relatively speaking, that’s a bargain for a guy who averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists as a freshman in the ACC. (And one could argue that based on NC State’s 15–17 overall record and 4–14 ACC record in Smith’s only season, some more cash should have been spread around to get the guy some help.)

The schools could end the scandal now if they’d just remove the stigma from paying college athletes for being good at sports. Much of society has already come to that conclusion, and most the people who believe college athletes shouldn’t be paid are the types who swallow anything a governing body decrees. All the schools have to do is say it’s O.K., and it will then be O.K. Justice Department honchos might be mad that they wasted millions investigating something that isn’t really a crime, but it wasn’t really a crime when the investigation began, either.

Like their counterparts decades ago, school presidents and athletic directors stand at a crossroads. They can continue a misguided moral crusade against an act that isn’t actually bad, or they can begin to build a new system that will help them avoid such scandals in the future.

All they have to do is the thing they’ve always done. Move the goalposts.

A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York
A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York
A group of young men play basketball on an outdoor court on a day of unseasonably warm weather in New York, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
<p>LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.</p><p>Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.</p><p>The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Sekou Doumboya, F, France</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’9” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.</p><p>Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.</p><p><strong>Luka Samanic, F, Croatia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.</p><p>With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria</strong><br><strong>Height:</strong> 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>225 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint. </p><p>Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage. </p><p><strong>Killian Hayes, G, France</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’5” | <strong>Weight: </strong>190 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.</p><p>One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.</p><p><strong>N’Faly Dante, C, Mali</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>7’0”<strong> | Weight: </strong>220<strong> | Draft-eligible: </strong>2021<br>The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.</p><p><strong>Josh Green, SG, Australia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’6” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 190 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.</p><p><strong>AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>160 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.</p><p><strong>Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>200 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.</p><p><strong>Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.</p><p><strong>Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2021<br>One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.</p><p><strong>Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.</p><p><strong>Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’6” | <strong>Weight: </strong>170 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.</p>
Evaluating the Top International Prospects at Basketball Without Borders

LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.

Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.

The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.

Sekou Doumboya, F, France
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.

Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.

Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.

With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.

Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 225 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint.

Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage.

Killian Hayes, G, France
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.

One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.

N’Faly Dante, C, Mali
Height: 7’0” | Weight: 220 | Draft-eligible: 2021
The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.

Josh Green, SG, Australia
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.

AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 160 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.

Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 200 | Draft-eligible: 2019
One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.

Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.

Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2021
One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.

Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.

Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 170 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.

<p>LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.</p><p>Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.</p><p>The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Sekou Doumboya, F, France</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’9” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.</p><p>Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.</p><p><strong>Luka Samanic, F, Croatia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.</p><p>With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.</p><p><strong>Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria</strong><br><strong>Height:</strong> 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>225 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint. </p><p>Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage. </p><p><strong>Killian Hayes, G, France</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’5” | <strong>Weight: </strong>190 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.</p><p>One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.</p><p><strong>N’Faly Dante, C, Mali</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>7’0”<strong> | Weight: </strong>220<strong> | Draft-eligible: </strong>2021<br>The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.</p><p><strong>Josh Green, SG, Australia</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’6” | <strong>Weight</strong>: 190 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.</p><p><strong>AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>160 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2020<br>Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.</p><p><strong>Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’7” | <strong>Weight: </strong>200 | <strong>Draft-eligible: </strong>2019<br>One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.</p><p><strong>Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2020<br>Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.</p><p><strong>Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada</strong><br><strong>Height: </strong>6’8” | <strong>Weight: </strong>210 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2021<br>One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.</p><p><strong>Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’10” | <strong>Weight: </strong>215 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.</p><p><strong>Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina</strong><br><strong>Height</strong>: 6’6” | <strong>Weight: </strong>170 | <strong>Draft-eligible</strong>: 2019<br>Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.</p>
Evaluating the Top International Prospects at Basketball Without Borders

LOS ANGELES — The NBA wrapped up another successful iteration of its Basketball Without Borders Global Camp over the weekend, bringing together many of the world’s top teenage prospects and mixing them together into a development-oriented setting. A whole host of scouts and executives from all 30 NBA teams attended the three-day event, which moves each year with All-Star weekend and has become a must-scout opportunity, also including elite international girls prospects for the WNBA to evaluate.

Staffed by an experienced group of NBA coaches and basketball personnel, there is an emphasis not only on skills and scrimmaging, but life skills as campers move toward pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The level of competition was strong, peaking on Day Two as players gained comfort in their environment and adjusted to their busy schedules.

The Crossover’s Front Office was present for all three days of camp, laying eyes on many of the prospects for the first time. Out of 42 boys from 29 countries, here are the players who set themselves apart, headlined by a pair of potential first-rounders for the 2019 draft.

Sekou Doumboya, F, France
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Born in Guinea, Doumboya moved to France as a child and helped lead the team to gold as one of the younger prospects at the U18 Euros in 2016. Perhaps the best all-around athlete among this year’s BWB campers, Doumboya is tracking as an early first-round selection for next year’s draft. Possessing a rare combination of power and skill, he plays above the rim with ease, throwing down explosive two-handed slams and gathering quickly in space off one or two feet. When attacking downhill, there were few players who could stay in front of him. Despite lacking great change of direction due in part to his handle, Doumboya’s burst got it done in this setting. His lean, strong frame should be able to fill out, and he was arguably the top prospect at the camp.

Doumboya displayed nice shooting touch and a soft, easy release on the perimeter that looked consistent all weekend. He has considerable upside in that area, and while right now it’s more of a set shot, he has the requisite body control to develop into a capable shooter on the move. His developing handle and passing skills suggest he could play either forward position down the road. He’s instinctive reading the ball off the glass and may be best suited as a mismatch-type small-ball four in the NBA, and defended quite well on the perimeter when locked in. Doumboya was noticeably among the more vocal campers, as well. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Paul George. The hype appears to be warranted.

Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Currently plying his trade for FC Barcelona’s junior team, Samanic showed up in El Segundo with a lofty reputation after winning MVP at last summer’s FIBA U18 European Championships. His father played professionally at a high level overseas. He’s quite a talent, blessed with great vision and able to handle, spot up and score at all three levels. Though not elite laterally, he’s smooth and has quality fundamental footwork that enables him to get where he needs to go and easily attack the basket off one or two dribbles. His performance was up and down throughout the weekend, but when engaged, Samanic’s potential was evident.

With a nice blend of size, skill level and overall floor comprehension, Samanic should be able to handle either forward spot down the line. In an interview with the Front Office, he expressed his comfort level playing all five positions. He can handle on the perimeter or slide down to the interior, and while his jumper is still developing, he looks comfortable with his release and simply needs to work on consistency. Samanic should end up in the first-round conversation in what presently looks like a thinner 2019 draft.

Charles Bassey, C, Nigeria
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 225 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Bassey won the camp MVP award with productive play over the course of the weekend, and headlined an extremely strong group of big men. He’s bounced around American high schools, currently playing at Aspire Academy in Kentucky, but is considered one of the best prospects in the high school class of 2019 and reinforced that ranking over the weekend. He possesses immense physical ability, with a thick, sturdy build that’s still maturing. He profiles as a dynamic rim-runner if everything breaks correctly, with the length to defend the basket and elevate in the paint.

Bassey’s skill level has improved since we saw him last year at the HoopHall Classic, and he showed some level of jump shooting ability and was able to lead fast breaks on a couple of occasions. That said, not facing great competition in high school and it’s a little unclear exactly what of his improvements will translate into real, structured game situations at this stage. His shot selection was occasionally questionable and it does beg the question as to how he perceives himself a a player—but Bassey is young enough to think he’ll figure that out. Western Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him at this stage.

Killian Hayes, G, France
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Clearly the top guard in attendance, Hayes is a natural playmaker and stood out on both ends of the floor all weekend. Born to an American father and French mother, Hayes was the second-youngest player at the entire event but displayed a highly advanced feel for a 16-year-old, firing timely passes and picking his spots well offensively. His teammates seemed to enjoy playing with him, and his ability to create off the bounce meant easy baskets for his team. Equally impressive was Hayes’ aggressive on-ball defense, as he generated turnovers and denied dribble penetration while using his length to apply high pressure. Accounting how much he appears to enjoy competing on that end, he could be up to defending three positions on the perimeter in due time.

One of just a few left-handers at the camp, Hayes looks comfortable shooting jumpers and should be able to gain added consistency as he develops, although his shot comes out of his hand a bit sideways which could eventually pose issues. He came in as a known entity and certainly helped himself with his overall showing, turning in a particularly strong second day of camp before sitting out much of the third with an apparent minor leg injury. He told the Front Office he patterns his game after Manu Ginobili, and that he’s used to functioning mostly at shooting guard with his club team, Cholet. The game already comes easily to him, and he’s on track for eventual first-round consideration.

N’Faly Dante, C, Mali
Height: 7’0” | Weight: 220 | Draft-eligible: 2021
The youngest player in attendance, Dante boasts enviable tools for a rim-protecting, interior dive man and continues to flash big-time talent. Currently prepping at Sunrise Christian, Dante has a well-developed, wide frame and managed a number of explosive dunks gathering off two feet. Skill-wise he’s a work in progress, particularly when it comes to post footwork. Right now he can hang his hat on his athletic frame and activity level in the paint. He has the size and length to be a terrific anchor on defense. There’s a long way to go, but Dante has the full attention of NBA scouts. Kansas and LSU are among the colleges involved.

Josh Green, SG, Australia
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 190 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Green had several of the weekend’s best highlight dunks and has elite-level verticality to his game, able to take off and finish from outside the paint and make a strong impact in transition. He’s spent the high school season with IMG Academy, and has a host of top-tier college offers. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity with NBA scouts watching, showcasing his explosion and flashing an improved handle. While Green has a ways to go in terms of creating his own shot, he has potential to be a two-way wing player if all breaks correctly.

AJ Lawson, G/F, Canada
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 160 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Lawson was one of the better athletes on the floor this weekend, displaying some twitchy bounce and offensive feel as a ball-handler. He’s extremely skinny, with a similar build to Patrick McCaw that gives him some promise defensively. His versatility is intriguing if he can pack on muscle over the next few years. He showed a solid handle and was able to attack the paint and deliver some nice passes with either hand. Lawson hit some shots from outside and spent a lot of time on the ball, and though he’s not a natural point guard, he could evolve into a secondary playmaker. He doesn’t elevate much on his jumper and needs to become far more consistent in that area. He has offers including Oregon and SMU, visited Kentucky in December, and is scratching the surface in terms of what he might become.

Paul Eboua, F, Cameroon
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 200 | Draft-eligible: 2019
One of the most unique players at the camp from a physical perspective, Eboua has broad shoulders, thick legs and extreme length (he’s been measured with a 7’2” wingspan) that could make him an exceptional defender. He’s physically reminiscent of a young Ron Artest, and makes instinctive plays above the rim on either end of the floor. He may be stuck between positions at the moment, lacking the ball-handling skills and confidence to operate on the wing against better competition and also the interior feel to play as a four. Eboua did flash a bit of shooting touch, but is far from a consistent threat. He’s mostly limited to straight-line drives and energy points around the basket. Currently at Stella Azzura Academy in Italy, he’s still very early in his development and will be a name to follow over the next couple years.

Biram Faye, F/C, Senegal
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2020
Faye was one of the more physically intriguing players at the camp, with a strong build and quick bounce off the floor that led to a number of eye-popping dunks. He’s developing in Spain with Gran Canaria, and had a breakout weekend in front of NBA scouts with his ability to run the floor, finish and block shots. Faye consistently played with fire and showed good overall instincts playing mostly in traffic. He doesn’t have much of an offensive skill set yet, but put himself on the radar simply by playing the right way and making plays for his team. There’s a place in the NBA for bigs with his traits.

Tyrese Samuel, F, Canada
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Draft-eligible: 2021
One of the clear standouts on day one of the camp, Samuel performed well when his motor was running and has the makings of a versatile forward, able to compete athletically as a big and also step out and knock down the occasional shot. It looks like he may be stuck between positions at the moment, but his ball skills aren’t bad and his powerful leaping ability stood out. His handle is functional attacking the rim, but he lacks necessary level of shake to play the three in college at this stage. His effort level and body language waxed and waned, and the consistency of his play with them. Set to graduate from Wasatch Academy in Utah in 2019, Samuel is set to take the high-major college route.

Filip Petrusev, PF, Serbia
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 215 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Already committed to Gonzaga for next year, Petrusev is a fluid, smooth-shooting stretch big who should be a perfect fit in Spokane. He’s teammates with potential 2019 No.1 pick R.J. Barrett at Montverde Academy, and was able to shine with some nice moments in the camp environment. He’s not a surefire NBA guy, but has the size and shooting tools going for him and will be in a great situation for his development. After helping lead Serbia to a title in last summer’s U18 Euros, Petrusev is a player to track long-term with some projectable utility at the NBA level.

Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 170 | Draft-eligible: 2019
Perhaps the top pure shooter at the camp, Bolmaro was a constant threat from outside and played with a nice level of confidence and feel with the ball in his hands. He was consistently impactful and has the requisite size for his position, if not top-tier athleticism. Bolmaro is a player to monitor as a potential shooting specialist as he matures.

UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford speaks at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford listens at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford listens at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles
UCLA men's basketball head coach Steve Alford listens at a press conference at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
The U.S. men's basketball team has selected Greensboro, North Carolina, to host its first home World Cup qualifying game.
USA men’s basketball picks Greensboro, NC, for 1st home game
The U.S. men's basketball team has selected Greensboro, North Carolina, to host its first home World Cup qualifying game.
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Kenning
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Kenning
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Kenning
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville
The KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville men's basketball team plays, is pictured in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Kenning
<p>On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.</p><p>Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.</p><p>Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. <a href="http://SI.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com</a> recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more. </p><p><em>This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.</em></p><p><strong>Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you</strong><strong>’re joining the NBA champions?</strong></p><p><strong>Omri Casspi: </strong>It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.</p><p>Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.</p><p><strong>SK: Say it</strong><strong>’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You</strong><strong>’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.</p><p><strong>SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to </strong><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/sports/basketball/19casspi.html?mcubz=3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:find good hummus yet" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>find good hummus yet</strong></a><strong>?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.</p><p><strong>SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I</strong><strong>’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, no question.</p><p><strong>SK: Obviously you</strong><strong>’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven</strong><strong>’t been able to bring yet?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.</p><p><strong>SK: You mentioned</strong><strong> good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.</p><p><strong>SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.</p><p><strong>SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>That was a day to remember. We had a great time.</p><p><strong>SK: On a more serious note, we</strong><strong>’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League </strong><a href="https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/us-anti-semitic-incidents-spike-86-percent-so-far-in-2017" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>said</strong></a><strong> anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year.</strong><strong> How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?</strong></p><p><strong>OC:</strong> I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.</p><p><strong>SK: One of the people in the NBA who</strong><strong>’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?</strong></p><p>Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.</p><p><strong>SK: You say you</strong><strong>’ve never gotten into politics, but you</strong><strong>’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren</strong><strong>’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there</strong><strong>’s an important issue</strong><strong>, whether it</strong><strong>’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?</strong></p><p>It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.</p><p><em>(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had </em><em>“withdrawn</em><em>” the Warriors</em><em>’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. </em><em>“The number one job of a president is bringing people together,</em><em>” he </em><a href="http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/americas/1.813866" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>said</em></a><em>. </em><em>“He</em><em>’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he</em><em>’s creating is a divide between the people.</em><em>”)</em></p><p><strong>SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it</strong><strong>’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?</strong></p><p>Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.</p>
Omri Casspi Q&A: The Warriors, Israel and Basketball Without Borders

On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.

Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.

Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. SI.com recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you’re joining the NBA champions?

Omri Casspi: It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?

OC: Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.

SK: You’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?

OC: It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.

Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.

OC: No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.

SK: Say it’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?

OC: [Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.

SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.

OC: Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]

SK: You’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to find good hummus yet?

OC: [Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.

SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.

OC: Oh, no question.

SK: Obviously you’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven’t been able to bring yet?

OC: I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.

SK: You mentioned good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?

OC: When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.

SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?

OC: No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.

SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?

OC: That was a day to remember. We had a great time.

SK: On a more serious note, we’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League said anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year. How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?

OC: I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.

SK: One of the people in the NBA who’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?

Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.

SK: You say you’ve never gotten into politics, but you’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there’s an important issue, whether it’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?

It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.

(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had “withdrawn” the Warriors’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. “The number one job of a president is bringing people together,” he said. “He’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he’s creating is a divide between the people.”)

SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?

Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.

<p>On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.</p><p>Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.</p><p>Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. <a href="http://SI.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com</a> recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more. </p><p><em>This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.</em></p><p><strong>Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you</strong><strong>’re joining the NBA champions?</strong></p><p><strong>Omri Casspi: </strong>It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.</p><p>Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.</p><p><strong>SK: Say it</strong><strong>’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You</strong><strong>’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.</p><p><strong>SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to </strong><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/sports/basketball/19casspi.html?mcubz=3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:find good hummus yet" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>find good hummus yet</strong></a><strong>?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.</p><p><strong>SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I</strong><strong>’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, no question.</p><p><strong>SK: Obviously you</strong><strong>’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven</strong><strong>’t been able to bring yet?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.</p><p><strong>SK: You mentioned</strong><strong> good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.</p><p><strong>SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.</p><p><strong>SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>That was a day to remember. We had a great time.</p><p><strong>SK: On a more serious note, we</strong><strong>’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League </strong><a href="https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/us-anti-semitic-incidents-spike-86-percent-so-far-in-2017" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>said</strong></a><strong> anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year.</strong><strong> How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?</strong></p><p><strong>OC:</strong> I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.</p><p><strong>SK: One of the people in the NBA who</strong><strong>’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?</strong></p><p>Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.</p><p><strong>SK: You say you</strong><strong>’ve never gotten into politics, but you</strong><strong>’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren</strong><strong>’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there</strong><strong>’s an important issue</strong><strong>, whether it</strong><strong>’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?</strong></p><p>It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.</p><p><em>(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had </em><em>“withdrawn</em><em>” the Warriors</em><em>’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. </em><em>“The number one job of a president is bringing people together,</em><em>” he </em><a href="http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/americas/1.813866" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>said</em></a><em>. </em><em>“He</em><em>’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he</em><em>’s creating is a divide between the people.</em><em>”)</em></p><p><strong>SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it</strong><strong>’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?</strong></p><p>Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.</p>
Omri Casspi Q&A: The Warriors, Israel and Basketball Without Borders

On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.

Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.

Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. SI.com recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you’re joining the NBA champions?

Omri Casspi: It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?

OC: Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.

SK: You’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?

OC: It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.

Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.

OC: No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.

SK: Say it’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?

OC: [Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.

SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.

OC: Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]

SK: You’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to find good hummus yet?

OC: [Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.

SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.

OC: Oh, no question.

SK: Obviously you’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven’t been able to bring yet?

OC: I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.

SK: You mentioned good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?

OC: When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.

SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?

OC: No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.

SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?

OC: That was a day to remember. We had a great time.

SK: On a more serious note, we’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League said anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year. How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?

OC: I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.

SK: One of the people in the NBA who’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?

Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.

SK: You say you’ve never gotten into politics, but you’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there’s an important issue, whether it’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?

It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.

(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had “withdrawn” the Warriors’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. “The number one job of a president is bringing people together,” he said. “He’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he’s creating is a divide between the people.”)

SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?

Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.

<p>On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.</p><p>Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.</p><p>Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. <a href="http://SI.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:SI.com" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">SI.com</a> recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more. </p><p><em>This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.</em></p><p><strong>Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you</strong><strong>’re joining the NBA champions?</strong></p><p><strong>Omri Casspi: </strong>It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.</p><p>Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.</p><p><strong>SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.</p><p><strong>SK: Say it</strong><strong>’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You</strong><strong>’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.</p><p><strong>SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]</p><p><strong>SK: You</strong><strong>’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to </strong><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/sports/basketball/19casspi.html?mcubz=3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:find good hummus yet" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>find good hummus yet</strong></a><strong>?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>[Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.</p><p><strong>SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I</strong><strong>’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>Oh, no question.</p><p><strong>SK: Obviously you</strong><strong>’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven</strong><strong>’t been able to bring yet?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.</p><p><strong>SK: You mentioned</strong><strong> good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.</p><p><strong>SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.</p><p><strong>SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?</strong></p><p><strong>OC: </strong>That was a day to remember. We had a great time.</p><p><strong>SK: On a more serious note, we</strong><strong>’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League </strong><a href="https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/us-anti-semitic-incidents-spike-86-percent-so-far-in-2017" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>said</strong></a><strong> anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year.</strong><strong> How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?</strong></p><p><strong>OC:</strong> I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.</p><p><strong>SK: One of the people in the NBA who</strong><strong>’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?</strong></p><p>Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.</p><p><strong>SK: You say you</strong><strong>’ve never gotten into politics, but you</strong><strong>’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren</strong><strong>’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there</strong><strong>’s an important issue</strong><strong>, whether it</strong><strong>’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?</strong></p><p>It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.</p><p><em>(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had </em><em>“withdrawn</em><em>” the Warriors</em><em>’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. </em><em>“The number one job of a president is bringing people together,</em><em>” he </em><a href="http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/americas/1.813866" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>said</em></a><em>. </em><em>“He</em><em>’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he</em><em>’s creating is a divide between the people.</em><em>”)</em></p><p><strong>SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it</strong><strong>’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?</strong></p><p>Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.</p>
Omri Casspi Q&A: The Warriors, Israel and Basketball Without Borders

On Dec. 28, 2015, Omri Casspi had arguably the best game of his career: The veteran forward scored a career–high 36 points, including nine three-pointers, on the road against the defending champion Warriors. That’s the player the Warriors hope they added this summer, when Casspi joined Golden State on a one-year contract.

Casspi is at a crucial juncture in his career. After eight years in the league, most recently a down season that saw him play for three different teams, the Israeli forward might have to fight for minutes this season with the loaded Warriors. Still, his ability to shoot threes—he’s a 36.7% career shooter from beyond the arc—could make him an invaluable role player.

Before stepping on the court for his new team, Casspi traveled to his home country with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson and several NBA players for a Basketball Without Borders camp, which brought together kids from 22 different countries and a variety of religious backgrounds. SI.com recently spoke to Casspi about the Warriors, Basketball without Borders, representing Israel and more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Stanley Kay: What has the reaction been like in your home country to the news that you’re joining the NBA champions?

Omri Casspi: It was crazy. The Warriors—one thing about them, besides the fact that they’re champions—people really love them. They really love the way they play, they love their players, they love their personnel, they love the way the organization is being handled from the ownership down to the GM, coaches and everybody else. And I remember the next day—I went to sleep, and since 6 a.m. my phone was blowing up. I had 400 missed calls, texts from all over, the prime minister, the minister of sport, and a crazy amount of love really. People were really excited about it. And I felt like it’s a dream come true. You have the opportunity to join this caliber of an organization with this caliber of people, of personalities, of people that are working in this organization. It’s just a dream come true, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: What did Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] text you?

OC: Yeah, he was really excited. I talked to him, and I talked to the minister of sport on the phone. They said they’re really proud and they’re looking forward to the opportunity of me playing there and coming to watch. It was overwhelming, in a sense. When I got drafted, people were going crazy back home and this was even crazier.

SK: You’ve yet to actually participate in a playoff game in your career. How big of a factor was it to join a contender?

OC: It was very big. So many times there are good players on bad teams and they don’t get the credit that they sometimes deserve to. I felt that we had years in Sacramento that we played as individuals maybe we played better than as a team. We never really got the credit that we deserved to, and I felt that I’ve been in the league for eight years now, I’m 29, there’s nothing I want more than to win. And there’s nothing that I want more than to help my team win basketball games, whether it’s on the court or off the court.

Obviously there will be games that I might play, and that I might not play. So I want to be the best teammate I can be to my teammates, the most supportive and the guy that does all the things that need to be done to help the team win. And obviously great that a team like the Warriors reached out and gave me that opportunity. I’ve been around long enough now to understand what I’m getting into, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.

SK: You dropped 36 points on the Warriors a couple years ago. I imagine that ranks highly on your career highlights.

OC: No question. It was definitely a night to remember. Sometimes you have big nights, but it doesn’t really happen like that when you go back and forth with one of the greatest shooters of all-time, if not the greatest. It was obviously a night to remember.

SK: Say it’s in the end of the game, a couple seconds left on the clock, Warriors down by three. You’ve got the ball, and somehow Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are all open behind the three-point arc. Who are you passing to?

OC: [Laughs] That’s a good question. I’d take a timeout, I’d think about it. Honestly, I don’t know—they’re all great. Really, honestly, it depends who has the best game. With that caliber of shooters, and as good as teammates as they are, I feel like if one guy got it going, that’s the smart play to do.

SK: Or maybe you could just pull up.

OC: Oh, yeah. I don’t think Steve Kerr would be too happy with that. [Laughs]

SK: You’ve been in the United States for eight years now. Have you managed to find good hummus yet?

OC: [Laughs] Actually there is. There’s one in L.A. that really resembles home. It’s called Dr. Sandwich. It’s actually an Israeli guy that does really good hummus and really good shawarma.

SK: At least in my experience at grocery stores, I’ve never found anything like the hummus I ate in Israel when I visited.

OC: Oh, no question.

SK: Obviously you’ve brought a lot of NBA players to Israel over the years. What NBA player would you most want to bring to Israel that you haven’t been able to bring yet?

OC: I don’t know, that’s a very good question. I always felt that bringing NBA guys to Israel is obviously great for them to see Israel and to kind of interact with fans all over the world that they have and see the history, etc. But it’s also great for the country. It’s creating a great P.R. for a beautiful country that gets so much bad P.R. at times. My thought was always just helping basketball develop and helping our country have a very good atmosphere and buzz around it. Because it deserves it.

SK: You mentioned good P.R. for Israel. What was your reaction when the NFL player Michael Bennett decided to withdraw from a sponsored trip to Israel over concerns that he was being used for public relations?

OC: When things are coming out this way, it creates a negativity in a sense. Creating good P.R. is obviously a thought, but it’s not the purpose of the trip. The purpose of the trip is us having fun. And I never ask any of my guys to upload pictures or to talk about Israel or what not. It happens naturally. Because guys are coming and they have a good time and they see the love. We went to the Western Wall on a Friday night one day, and we had thousands of people following us around and taking pictures and showing so much love. I don’t think they ever get love like that anywhere. Sometimes we do work for the communities and bring kids from different communities and do the work, and that alone creates great atmosphere. So when football players decide not to be used, I can understand. He doesn’t need to be used. He’s a grown man, and we’re all grown men. Whether they come in and they like the country or not, it’s up to them.

SK: Have you ever encountered a similar situation where maybe a player you invite has concerns about the trip, and if so how do you handle that?

OC: No, never, because it was never about it. This is not what it was about. It was always about us going and having a good time, and having a summer together. And sometimes with my teammates, it’s getting to know each other. I had Caron Butler and Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins all coming together and working out, and going to drink wine at night and talking about the season and what it’s going to be like, and what we can do to help the team win. So it’s never really about creating a P.R. It happens naturally because people are having a good time.

SK: Was going to the Dead Sea with Boogie Cousins as fun as it looked in that picture?

OC: That was a day to remember. We had a great time.

SK: On a more serious note, we’ve seen resurgent anti-Semitism in the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League said anti-Semitic incidents were up 86% in the first three months of this year. How close of attention have you paid to this resurgence of anti-Semitism in your adopted home?

OC: I always do. I’m always concerned for the wellbeing of my family and the people I know around me and the Jewish communities around the country. I don’t think that what happened in Virginia resembled the U.S. I never felt, in my personal life, anti-Semitism from people, especially in the U.S.—on the basketball court or in my private life. We live in a crazy time. But there’s plenty of wonderful people here in the U.S. that are so much against it. We see the media going against it, and people around the country going against it. Hopefully this will go away as it came around, and that us as people will just come together and banish those who are trying to do those horrible things.

SK: One of the people in the NBA who’s been the most outspoken about this stuff is your new coach, Steve Kerr. Is that something that players around the league take notice of, when a coach is willing to speak out?

Of course. No question. It’s part of our life. I never really got into politics and stuff like that, but when things of that nature are coming around, you can’t just not appreciate people standing up to that. We definitely appreciate that.

SK: You say you’ve never gotten into politics, but you’re the sole representative of Israel in the NBA and there aren’t many Jewish players in the league. Do you feel like when there’s an important issue, whether it’s resurgent anti-Semitism or something to do with Israel, do you feel more of an obligation to speak up, now that your fellow players are speaking up about issues that are important to them as well?

It really depends what it is. I won’t get to who the president is, or whatever it is, but anti-Semitism is something that’s above politics. Anti-Semitism is something that I’m always going to stand up against, and be against it obviously and support my people. But I won’t get into conflicts—whether it’s conflicts in politics, the Middle East, whatever it is. It’s not my job. I’m an athlete and I don’t want to get into that. But anti-Semitism—and not only that, just racism in general, people going up against them because of the color of their skin, their race or their religion—I’m always going to stand up against that. But that would be about it.

(Note: SI spoke to Casspi earlier this month, before President Trump tweeted that he had “withdrawn” the Warriors’ White House invitation. On Sunday, Casspi addressed the incident. “The number one job of a president is bringing people together,” he said. “He’s the one who chose to be at the top, but he needs to bring people together. What he’s creating is a divide between the people.”)

SK: In August, you helped lead a Basketball Without Borders program in Tel Aviv, the first time Israel has hosted the event. Why do you think it’s important to bring together children of different faiths and backgrounds, and why do you think basketball is a good way to do that?

Sports in general is a great way to connect people from different communities. I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’ve been working on bringing Basketball Without Borders to Israel for the past five years. I felt like this year one of the things I was really proud of, besides the fact that it’s so great for basketball in Israel and it’s creating such good attention for basketball and sports in Israel, but we had an opportunity to connect people from different communities outside of basketball. We did so much off the court work, bringing kids from the Muslim community and kids from the Jewish community, and by playing basketball and by talking in different group chats, creating a bridge of connecting people from different backgrounds. So many times, those kids, they don’t have that opportunity before. I felt like kids made friendships for a lifetime.

Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after they won silver medals for the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after winning silver medals during the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after winning silver medals during the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Members of U.S team show their medals after winning silver medals during the Men's Basketball Gold Medal Game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Tuesday Aug. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Novak Topalovic, left, defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go up for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Novak Topalovic, left, defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go up for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Novak Topalovic, left, defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go up for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Andrija Matic (13) defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go p for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Andrija Matic (13) defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go p for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Serbia's Andrija Matic (13) defends Eden Weing (5) of the U.S. go p for the basket during their Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Isaac Haas (44) of the U.S. goes up for the basket defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, and Veljko Brkic during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Isaac Haas (44) of the U.S. goes up for the basket defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, and Veljko Brkic during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Isaac Haas (44) of the U.S. goes up for the basket defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, and Veljko Brkic during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. and Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, fight for a loose ball during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. and Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, fight for a loose ball during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. and Serbia's Marko Tejic, left, fight for a loose ball during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. goes up for basket through Serbia's Carsen Edwards, left, and Novak Topalovic (20) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. goes up for basket through Serbia's Carsen Edwards, left, and Novak Topalovic (20) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards (3) of the U.S. goes up for basket through Serbia's Carsen Edwards, left, and Novak Topalovic (20) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards, left, of the U.S. is defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic (15) and Andrija Sarenac (6) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards, left, of the U.S. is defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic (15) and Andrija Sarenac (6) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Carsen Edwards, left, of the U.S. is defended by Serbia's Marko Tejic (15) and Andrija Sarenac (6) during the Men's Basketball semifinal game at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt
John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run. This time, there are other concerns. When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough […]
FILE - In this March 26, 2017, file photo, Kentucky coach John Calipari gestures during the first half of the South Regional final against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn. When Calipari leads the U.S. men into the under-19 world basketball championship, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough to even go defend their title. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now USA Basketballs chairman, and a conversation a few weeks ago that detailed the Americans security plans and procedures put Caliparis mind at ease. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File)
US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt
FILE - In this March 26, 2017, file photo, Kentucky coach John Calipari gestures during the first half of the South Regional final against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn. When Calipari leads the U.S. men into the under-19 world basketball championship, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough to even go defend their title. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now USA Basketballs chairman, and a conversation a few weeks ago that detailed the Americans security plans and procedures put Caliparis mind at ease. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File)
<p> FILE - In this March 26, 2017, file photo, Kentucky coach John Calipari gestures during the first half of the South Regional final against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn. When Calipari leads the U.S. men into the under-19 world basketball championship, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough to even go defend their title. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now USA Basketball’s chairman, and a conversation a few weeks ago that detailed the Americans’ security plans and procedures put Calipari’s mind at ease. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File) </p>
US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt

FILE - In this March 26, 2017, file photo, Kentucky coach John Calipari gestures during the first half of the South Regional final against North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Memphis, Tenn. When Calipari leads the U.S. men into the under-19 world basketball championship, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough to even go defend their title. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now USA Basketball’s chairman, and a conversation a few weeks ago that detailed the Americans’ security plans and procedures put Calipari’s mind at ease. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File)

The Cincinnati men's basketball team holds a large U.S. flag as the national anthem is played on senior night before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Houston, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Cincinnati men's basketball team holds a large U.S. flag as the national anthem is played on senior night before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Houston, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The Cincinnati men's basketball team holds a large U.S. flag as the national anthem is played on senior night before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Houston, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr gestures during the game. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files
Basketball - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr gestures during the game. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and British Prime Minister David Cameron each eat hot dogs at a first round "First Four" game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky at the University of Dayton Arena in Ohio, March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron each eat hot dogs at NCAA basketball tournament game in Ohio
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and British Prime Minister David Cameron each eat hot dogs at a first round "First Four" game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky at the University of Dayton Arena in Ohio, March 13, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, left, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, left, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, left, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell reacts after being surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell reacts after being surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell reacts after being surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, right, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, right, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell, right, is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell (5) is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell (5) is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Notre Dame men's basketball player Matt Farrell (5) is surprised by his brother Bo Farrell on the court following Notre Dame's 77-62 victory over Colgate in an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. Bo Farrell is serving in the U.S. Army and came home from being deployed to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
University of Tulsa men's basketball coach Shea Seals takes a moment during his speech at the funeral of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kurt Steiss
University of Tulsa men's basketball coach Shea Seals takes a moment during his speech at the funeral of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa
University of Tulsa men's basketball coach Shea Seals takes a moment during his speech at the funeral of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kurt Steiss
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
What might the U.S. men's basketball roster look like in Tokyo in 2020?
<p>There may have been complications along the way, but by the end, it wasn't close. USA basketball won its third-straight gold medal on Sunday. The Rio Olympics were ultimately another reminder that order has been restored since the Team USA debacle in 2004. If anything, the gap with the rest of the world is widening. The state of the union is strong. </p><p>After spending the past few weeks in Brazil, I have a theory as to why. I also have several pages of notes from the past few weeks, so I'll explain this with stories. </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 4: Introducing the boat</p><p><em>Let's begin with the boat. The boat was called the Silver Cloud, a luxury cruise ship which housed players, coaches and staff for USA basketball's men's and women's teams.</em></p><p>The boat was noteworthy for its mystery—early on, only a handful of people had seen it—but also because it did an excellent job capturing USA basketball's relationship to the rest of the athletes in Rio. Of course, this put the team in a delicate position. While outsiders buzzed about the team's opulent living arrangements, players did their best to downplay the hype. </p><p>Over and over again, almost every player carefully hit on the same themes: it's no different than a hotel, it's nothing special, it's nice but not too nice, nothing to see here. "It's not like we're cruising around," <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/rio-2016/2016/08/04/usa-basketball-cruise-ship-rio-carmelo-anthony/88203306/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Carmelo Anthony said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Carmelo Anthony said</a>. "We’re docked. We have the same amenities as if we’re staying in a hotel." Even the women's team stayed on message throughout the games, as Sue Bird took to calling it their <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BI3Hi-8Bc2G/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:"boat-el."" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">"boat-el."</a> </p><p>But I think my favorite boat moment came during the introductory press conference. A soft-spoken foreign reporter wanted to know more about the boat. He asked his question and looked up to 6' 11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, who was perched several feet above him on stage. </p><p>"How's the boat?" Cousins answered. "BIG." </p><p>Friday, Aug. 5: Jimmy Butler does not like water</p><p><em>Elsewhere at the opening press conference, players explained that the most surprising revelation in Rio concerned Jimmy Butler. The following afternoon, we went straight to the source.</em></p><p>"Jimmy Butler doesn’t like water," DeAndre Jordan told reporters at the introductory press conference. "So we were talking about, ‘Would you jump off the boat or would you get in?’ [He says,] ‘No and don’t play with me about it.’ He definitely does not like the water at all."</p><p>Draymond Green confirmed the running joke. "He don’t want to be near the water, he doesn’t want his room facing the water. Nothing. It’s incredible to me." </p><p>Pressed for details at practice the next day, Butler scrunched his face and smiled. "I don't want to get in the water?" he asked. "Because I may or may not be able to swim? OK, so what? Tell them to stop talking about people. Stop talking about me. I'm not an Olympic swimmer, OK? What's wrong with that?”</p><p>Plenty of other Olympians across other sports had worried about the water in Rio specifically, but this was a broader issue. "Water, in general," Butler said. "I'm not big on water. I walk by the pool, I make sure I'm not walking next to any guys, just in case they get any ideas." </p><p>Tuesday, Aug. 9: USA Basketball plays football</p><p><em>Team USA opened the Olympics by destroying Venezuela and China. The most dramatic basketball highlight to emerge from Rio was a viral clip of Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler playing football. They discussed it the following day.</em></p><p>"I'm going back out there today," Butler said.</p><p>Thompson, mid-interview with a group of reporters, chimed in from 10-feet down the bench. "Burned him!"</p><p>"That was his only catch!" Butler said of the video. "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."</p><p>Klay, still mid-interview: "Burned him!"</p><p>Jimmy: "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."</p><p>Klay: "Burrrrrnnnnned him...."</p><p>Jimmy: "[The video crew] just got the one catch that he got. I had more than one catch. <em>And</em> I got a pick."</p><p>Later on, Klay came clean. "Alright, he beat me 3-2," he said. "But it was a barnburner. I was already out there running sprints, so I was a little tired. But man, you saw the video. You saw what I was doing. That's all you need to see."</p><p>In the middle of all this, DeAndre Jordan said he might have to take the field later that afternoon.</p><p>Jimmy: "I'll run by DJ so f**kin’ fast." </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 11: Kevin Durant does the Olympics</p><p><em>Earlier in the week, a number of players had singled out Michael Phelps as the Olympian they most wanted to see, so they ventured out to watch Phelps and Katie Ledecky dominate. Two days later, after a close call with Australia, Kevin Durant talked about how his time at the pool.</em></p><p>"We all got our little egos," Durant said. "You know, we're professional players. But you put your ego to the side when you're watching greatness. You can appreciate greatness. Especially at this stage, being in the Olympics. You just don't get this [opportunity]. I can't just say I'm going to watch Michael Phelps. People can watch us 82 games a year." </p><p>For American players, this is what separates the Olympic experience from, say, the FIBA World Championships. When they're not playing, they're free to go see the most dominant athletes in the world. As Durant said, "I didn't care about who I was, or what I've done. It was all about those guys in their moment."</p><p>Durant's also from the same state as both Phelps and Ledecky. That added another layer of appeal. "Phelps is from Baltimore," Durant said. "Closer to Melo. But we're all from the same state. And we're over here in Rio. We gotta stick together man. Just seeing Katie, and knowing she comes from the same area I come from... I can drive to where she's from in 30 minutes. I've always been proud to be from Maryland, but they just took it to another level."</p><p>"She's beating people by four seconds," Durant added of Ledecky. "That's incredible." </p><p>Tuesday, Aug. 16: Team USA gets serious</p><p><em>After the close call against Australia turned into uncomfortably close three-point wins against France and Serbia, Team USA canceled planned media sessions for Saturday and Monday. On Tuesday, practice went 45 minutes longer than scheduled. Then the players talked. </em></p><p>When a reporter asked whether there had been frustration among players, Klay Thompson was honest. "There has been," he said. "We're competitive. We feel like we're better than these teams. But you know, give 'em credit they played great games, they have some great offenses. But we still feel like there's some things we can work out, and we're going to." </p><p>"We're still gonna have to go through what those guys do," Durant said, "schemes and all that stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to us. Are we going to do what it takes to win?"</p><p>"All of these guys are competitors," Paul George said of the leadership process. "You're not dealing with guys that are insecure or don't know how to take it to the next level. It's kind of a joint thing. One guy speaks up, another chimes in. Melo was the first one to say, really sit everybody aside, and tell 'em, "We're fine, we're fine." At the end of the day, we take pride in who we are, being the U.S. It might not be pretty, but we know what the main goal is."</p><p>"We're dealing with talent vs. experience," George added near the end. "That's what this tournament is coming down to now." </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 18: Carmelo is the uncle, not the grandfather</p><p><em>Against Argentina, talent won. George helped set the tone—+28 on the night—and Durant caught fire to bury the Golden Generation. The next day, Carmelo Anthony assumed his role as veteran spokesman, eulogizing Manu Ginobili, praising Pau Gasol and talking about his own role in Rio.</em></p><p>"It's different," Anthony said of his role in Rio. "We're all alpha dogs in our own situation. To come into this situation, to have all the alphas looking at you for the answers... That's a different experience."</p><p>Watching Carmelo in Rio was like watching the circle of life unspool a little too quickly. I wasn't ready. In my mind he was 18 years old and winning a national title like 20 minutes ago—off to the side on Thursday, Jim Boeheim was talking to a reporter about 'Melo's first recruiting visit. But in Rio he turned into a full-fledged ambassador for this team. "I've looked up to Carmelo since I was 15 years old," Durant said. "When he talks, we listen."</p><p>Someone suggested this was Carmelo in Kobe's role. </p><p>"NO," he laughed. "No, no. Kobe was 35 when he was with us [in London]. Kobe was 35." </p><p>OK. Kobe in Beijing? "Yeah, that's more like it. 2008 Kobe. We were actually surprised that [Kobe] accepted the invitation to come play in 2008. But once he got there, it was him and Jason Kidd, and [us] looking at those guys for advice. That's what's happening here now."</p><p>Sometime this transformation seemed poetic. "I was the one that was following Kob'," he remembered of 2008. "Wanting to work out with him every day, train with him, trying to dig into his mind and see how he approached the game. So I give that experience back to these guys."</p><p>Other times—like the several times Kyrie Irving interrupted these same Melo's answers to screw with him—it was funnier. After the interruptions continued for a few minutes, Melo finally turned and shook his head: "You don't have no respect, man. Put some respect on my name. Ol', 23 year-old..."</p><p>Kyrie: "I'm 24."</p><p>Carmelo: "Ridiculous." </p><p>Sunday, Aug. 21: DeAndre Jordan practices kung fu on the sidelines</p><p><em>This team may have inspired doubts along the way, but there was no question by the end. On Sunday Team USA throttled Serbia, 96–66, and the previous week's three-point win turned into this week's 30-point gold medal game blowout. The </em><a href="https://streamable.com/heid" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:definitive sequence" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>definitive sequence</em></a><em> was a Kevin Durant drive-and-dunk, punctuated by DeAndre Jordan pantomiming kung-fu on the sidelines.</em></p><p>This is a good opportunity to note that over the course of two weeks, DeAndre Jordan replaced DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup and became one of the most valuable players on Team USA. "I'm gonna be DeAndre," he said early on. "Dunk, rebound, laugh, scream. Just be myself." </p><p>Off the court, two weeks in Rio also made it clear that everyone on the team enjoys him. Did you know he has a longstanding friendship with Kevin Durant? Before Rio, I didn't. "That's my guy," Jordan said of Durant. "We met when I was a junior in high school. He was going to Texas and they were trying recruit me. We ended up talking and hanging out, and we've been boys since then. Over the past couple years, we've grown super-duper close. That's my brother"</p><p>When Jordan wasn't celebrating old friends, he was making new ones. "Jimmy, Draymond, obviously Carmelo," he said. "We've been together for two months just hanging out every day. You grow close to people like that. I'll be friends with these guys long after basketball."</p><p>When Jimmy Butler was asked which teammate surprised him most, Jordan was his first answer. "I really didn't know DJ," he said. "Even though we're both from Texas. He was so much better than I was in Texas [in high school]. But now, as a person, just to meet him? Man, really good dude. I never knew DJ like that."</p><p>They have plans to meet during the year, too. "He'll probably make me pay in L.A.," Jordan said of Butler. "I'll get him back in Chicago." </p><p>Everyone has a different way to explain how Team USA's been revitalized, but this is the best explanation that I have: Over the past eight years, USA basketball has turned into what looks like the best summer camp on earth. There are endless jokes, all kinds of stupid competitions and <a href="http://www.cbssports.com/olympics/news/stars-from-team-usa-mens-basketball-cheer-on-womens-volleyball-team-in-rio/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:group outings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">group outings</a>. Lessons are learned, and friendships are forged. There are first-timers, there are veterans. This year it all happened on a luxury boat.</p><p>"It feels like vacation," Klay Thompson said early on. "But you're getting better at the same time. It's the best of the both worlds."</p><p>"It's just fun, in general," Kyle Lowry explained. "Even if it's your second or third [time]. Melo's probably having the most fun out of everybody. It's just that type of group. It's that type of moment. [If] they want me to come back? I'm coming back. No question." </p><p>This summer's team wasn't perfect, but with superstars like Durant and overqualified role players like DeAndre and Lowry, they had too much talent to ever truly be in danger. That's what's different in the new era. Without dancing any more on Larry Brown's grave <a href="http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/red-white-and-bronze-2004-death-and-rebirth-usa-basketball" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:after the 2004 debacle" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">after the 2004 debacle</a>—or George Karl in 2002, or a frustrated Lenny Wilkens in 1996—the goal for today's Team USA is different. This team isn't about controlling stars, but empowering them, and promoting them. This helps when it's time to recruit them. </p><p>When America lost in 2004 the popular refrain was that Team USA didn't understand what it takes to build a team for the international game. But the people in charge of this team never reclaimed supremacy by tailoring this program to FIBA. They did it by heeding the dominant lesson of the modern NBA. The best players in the world want to play for smart teams that can market them, coaches who'll trust them, in environments they'll enjoy. Once America internalized this lesson and shifted power from coaches like Brown to players like Carmelo, it was over for the rest of the world.</p><p>As USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo explained it, "If you create an environment where guys feel happy, they enjoy each other... It's fun. It's not a job. The more you can create this feeling, the better it is. And it perpetuates itself. Players talk about it. You know, 'Hey man, that was unbelievable. That time we had in Rio. Or that time we had in Beijing, or London.'" </p><p>On that note, see you in Tokyo.</p>
Seven scenes from the Rio Olympics that feed into one USA basketball theory

There may have been complications along the way, but by the end, it wasn't close. USA basketball won its third-straight gold medal on Sunday. The Rio Olympics were ultimately another reminder that order has been restored since the Team USA debacle in 2004. If anything, the gap with the rest of the world is widening. The state of the union is strong.

After spending the past few weeks in Brazil, I have a theory as to why. I also have several pages of notes from the past few weeks, so I'll explain this with stories.

Thursday, Aug. 4: Introducing the boat

Let's begin with the boat. The boat was called the Silver Cloud, a luxury cruise ship which housed players, coaches and staff for USA basketball's men's and women's teams.

The boat was noteworthy for its mystery—early on, only a handful of people had seen it—but also because it did an excellent job capturing USA basketball's relationship to the rest of the athletes in Rio. Of course, this put the team in a delicate position. While outsiders buzzed about the team's opulent living arrangements, players did their best to downplay the hype.

Over and over again, almost every player carefully hit on the same themes: it's no different than a hotel, it's nothing special, it's nice but not too nice, nothing to see here. "It's not like we're cruising around," Carmelo Anthony said. "We’re docked. We have the same amenities as if we’re staying in a hotel." Even the women's team stayed on message throughout the games, as Sue Bird took to calling it their "boat-el."

But I think my favorite boat moment came during the introductory press conference. A soft-spoken foreign reporter wanted to know more about the boat. He asked his question and looked up to 6' 11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, who was perched several feet above him on stage.

"How's the boat?" Cousins answered. "BIG."

Friday, Aug. 5: Jimmy Butler does not like water

Elsewhere at the opening press conference, players explained that the most surprising revelation in Rio concerned Jimmy Butler. The following afternoon, we went straight to the source.

"Jimmy Butler doesn’t like water," DeAndre Jordan told reporters at the introductory press conference. "So we were talking about, ‘Would you jump off the boat or would you get in?’ [He says,] ‘No and don’t play with me about it.’ He definitely does not like the water at all."

Draymond Green confirmed the running joke. "He don’t want to be near the water, he doesn’t want his room facing the water. Nothing. It’s incredible to me."

Pressed for details at practice the next day, Butler scrunched his face and smiled. "I don't want to get in the water?" he asked. "Because I may or may not be able to swim? OK, so what? Tell them to stop talking about people. Stop talking about me. I'm not an Olympic swimmer, OK? What's wrong with that?”

Plenty of other Olympians across other sports had worried about the water in Rio specifically, but this was a broader issue. "Water, in general," Butler said. "I'm not big on water. I walk by the pool, I make sure I'm not walking next to any guys, just in case they get any ideas."

Tuesday, Aug. 9: USA Basketball plays football

Team USA opened the Olympics by destroying Venezuela and China. The most dramatic basketball highlight to emerge from Rio was a viral clip of Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler playing football. They discussed it the following day.

"I'm going back out there today," Butler said.

Thompson, mid-interview with a group of reporters, chimed in from 10-feet down the bench. "Burned him!"

"That was his only catch!" Butler said of the video. "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."

Klay, still mid-interview: "Burned him!"

Jimmy: "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."

Klay: "Burrrrrnnnnned him...."

Jimmy: "[The video crew] just got the one catch that he got. I had more than one catch. And I got a pick."

Later on, Klay came clean. "Alright, he beat me 3-2," he said. "But it was a barnburner. I was already out there running sprints, so I was a little tired. But man, you saw the video. You saw what I was doing. That's all you need to see."

In the middle of all this, DeAndre Jordan said he might have to take the field later that afternoon.

Jimmy: "I'll run by DJ so f**kin’ fast."

Thursday, Aug. 11: Kevin Durant does the Olympics

Earlier in the week, a number of players had singled out Michael Phelps as the Olympian they most wanted to see, so they ventured out to watch Phelps and Katie Ledecky dominate. Two days later, after a close call with Australia, Kevin Durant talked about how his time at the pool.

"We all got our little egos," Durant said. "You know, we're professional players. But you put your ego to the side when you're watching greatness. You can appreciate greatness. Especially at this stage, being in the Olympics. You just don't get this [opportunity]. I can't just say I'm going to watch Michael Phelps. People can watch us 82 games a year."

For American players, this is what separates the Olympic experience from, say, the FIBA World Championships. When they're not playing, they're free to go see the most dominant athletes in the world. As Durant said, "I didn't care about who I was, or what I've done. It was all about those guys in their moment."

Durant's also from the same state as both Phelps and Ledecky. That added another layer of appeal. "Phelps is from Baltimore," Durant said. "Closer to Melo. But we're all from the same state. And we're over here in Rio. We gotta stick together man. Just seeing Katie, and knowing she comes from the same area I come from... I can drive to where she's from in 30 minutes. I've always been proud to be from Maryland, but they just took it to another level."

"She's beating people by four seconds," Durant added of Ledecky. "That's incredible."

Tuesday, Aug. 16: Team USA gets serious

After the close call against Australia turned into uncomfortably close three-point wins against France and Serbia, Team USA canceled planned media sessions for Saturday and Monday. On Tuesday, practice went 45 minutes longer than scheduled. Then the players talked.

When a reporter asked whether there had been frustration among players, Klay Thompson was honest. "There has been," he said. "We're competitive. We feel like we're better than these teams. But you know, give 'em credit they played great games, they have some great offenses. But we still feel like there's some things we can work out, and we're going to."

"We're still gonna have to go through what those guys do," Durant said, "schemes and all that stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to us. Are we going to do what it takes to win?"

"All of these guys are competitors," Paul George said of the leadership process. "You're not dealing with guys that are insecure or don't know how to take it to the next level. It's kind of a joint thing. One guy speaks up, another chimes in. Melo was the first one to say, really sit everybody aside, and tell 'em, "We're fine, we're fine." At the end of the day, we take pride in who we are, being the U.S. It might not be pretty, but we know what the main goal is."

"We're dealing with talent vs. experience," George added near the end. "That's what this tournament is coming down to now."

Thursday, Aug. 18: Carmelo is the uncle, not the grandfather

Against Argentina, talent won. George helped set the tone—+28 on the night—and Durant caught fire to bury the Golden Generation. The next day, Carmelo Anthony assumed his role as veteran spokesman, eulogizing Manu Ginobili, praising Pau Gasol and talking about his own role in Rio.

"It's different," Anthony said of his role in Rio. "We're all alpha dogs in our own situation. To come into this situation, to have all the alphas looking at you for the answers... That's a different experience."

Watching Carmelo in Rio was like watching the circle of life unspool a little too quickly. I wasn't ready. In my mind he was 18 years old and winning a national title like 20 minutes ago—off to the side on Thursday, Jim Boeheim was talking to a reporter about 'Melo's first recruiting visit. But in Rio he turned into a full-fledged ambassador for this team. "I've looked up to Carmelo since I was 15 years old," Durant said. "When he talks, we listen."

Someone suggested this was Carmelo in Kobe's role.

"NO," he laughed. "No, no. Kobe was 35 when he was with us [in London]. Kobe was 35."

OK. Kobe in Beijing? "Yeah, that's more like it. 2008 Kobe. We were actually surprised that [Kobe] accepted the invitation to come play in 2008. But once he got there, it was him and Jason Kidd, and [us] looking at those guys for advice. That's what's happening here now."

Sometime this transformation seemed poetic. "I was the one that was following Kob'," he remembered of 2008. "Wanting to work out with him every day, train with him, trying to dig into his mind and see how he approached the game. So I give that experience back to these guys."

Other times—like the several times Kyrie Irving interrupted these same Melo's answers to screw with him—it was funnier. After the interruptions continued for a few minutes, Melo finally turned and shook his head: "You don't have no respect, man. Put some respect on my name. Ol', 23 year-old..."

Kyrie: "I'm 24."

Carmelo: "Ridiculous."

Sunday, Aug. 21: DeAndre Jordan practices kung fu on the sidelines

This team may have inspired doubts along the way, but there was no question by the end. On Sunday Team USA throttled Serbia, 96–66, and the previous week's three-point win turned into this week's 30-point gold medal game blowout. The definitive sequence was a Kevin Durant drive-and-dunk, punctuated by DeAndre Jordan pantomiming kung-fu on the sidelines.

This is a good opportunity to note that over the course of two weeks, DeAndre Jordan replaced DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup and became one of the most valuable players on Team USA. "I'm gonna be DeAndre," he said early on. "Dunk, rebound, laugh, scream. Just be myself."

Off the court, two weeks in Rio also made it clear that everyone on the team enjoys him. Did you know he has a longstanding friendship with Kevin Durant? Before Rio, I didn't. "That's my guy," Jordan said of Durant. "We met when I was a junior in high school. He was going to Texas and they were trying recruit me. We ended up talking and hanging out, and we've been boys since then. Over the past couple years, we've grown super-duper close. That's my brother"

When Jordan wasn't celebrating old friends, he was making new ones. "Jimmy, Draymond, obviously Carmelo," he said. "We've been together for two months just hanging out every day. You grow close to people like that. I'll be friends with these guys long after basketball."

When Jimmy Butler was asked which teammate surprised him most, Jordan was his first answer. "I really didn't know DJ," he said. "Even though we're both from Texas. He was so much better than I was in Texas [in high school]. But now, as a person, just to meet him? Man, really good dude. I never knew DJ like that."

They have plans to meet during the year, too. "He'll probably make me pay in L.A.," Jordan said of Butler. "I'll get him back in Chicago."

Everyone has a different way to explain how Team USA's been revitalized, but this is the best explanation that I have: Over the past eight years, USA basketball has turned into what looks like the best summer camp on earth. There are endless jokes, all kinds of stupid competitions and group outings. Lessons are learned, and friendships are forged. There are first-timers, there are veterans. This year it all happened on a luxury boat.

"It feels like vacation," Klay Thompson said early on. "But you're getting better at the same time. It's the best of the both worlds."

"It's just fun, in general," Kyle Lowry explained. "Even if it's your second or third [time]. Melo's probably having the most fun out of everybody. It's just that type of group. It's that type of moment. [If] they want me to come back? I'm coming back. No question."

This summer's team wasn't perfect, but with superstars like Durant and overqualified role players like DeAndre and Lowry, they had too much talent to ever truly be in danger. That's what's different in the new era. Without dancing any more on Larry Brown's grave after the 2004 debacle—or George Karl in 2002, or a frustrated Lenny Wilkens in 1996—the goal for today's Team USA is different. This team isn't about controlling stars, but empowering them, and promoting them. This helps when it's time to recruit them.

When America lost in 2004 the popular refrain was that Team USA didn't understand what it takes to build a team for the international game. But the people in charge of this team never reclaimed supremacy by tailoring this program to FIBA. They did it by heeding the dominant lesson of the modern NBA. The best players in the world want to play for smart teams that can market them, coaches who'll trust them, in environments they'll enjoy. Once America internalized this lesson and shifted power from coaches like Brown to players like Carmelo, it was over for the rest of the world.

As USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo explained it, "If you create an environment where guys feel happy, they enjoy each other... It's fun. It's not a job. The more you can create this feeling, the better it is. And it perpetuates itself. Players talk about it. You know, 'Hey man, that was unbelievable. That time we had in Rio. Or that time we had in Beijing, or London.'"

On that note, see you in Tokyo.

<p>There may have been complications along the way, but by the end, it wasn't close. USA basketball won its third-straight gold medal on Sunday. The Rio Olympics were ultimately another reminder that order has been restored since the Team USA debacle in 2004. If anything, the gap with the rest of the world is widening. The state of the union is strong. </p><p>After spending the past few weeks in Brazil, I have a theory as to why. I also have several pages of notes from the past few weeks, so I'll explain this with stories. </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 4: Introducing the boat</p><p><em>Let's begin with the boat. The boat was called the Silver Cloud, a luxury cruise ship which housed players, coaches and staff for USA basketball's men's and women's teams.</em></p><p>The boat was noteworthy for its mystery—early on, only a handful of people had seen it—but also because it did an excellent job capturing USA basketball's relationship to the rest of the athletes in Rio. Of course, this put the team in a delicate position. While outsiders buzzed about the team's opulent living arrangements, players did their best to downplay the hype. </p><p>Over and over again, almost every player carefully hit on the same themes: it's no different than a hotel, it's nothing special, it's nice but not too nice, nothing to see here. "It's not like we're cruising around," <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/rio-2016/2016/08/04/usa-basketball-cruise-ship-rio-carmelo-anthony/88203306/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Carmelo Anthony said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Carmelo Anthony said</a>. "We’re docked. We have the same amenities as if we’re staying in a hotel." Even the women's team stayed on message throughout the games, as Sue Bird took to calling it their <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BI3Hi-8Bc2G/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:"boat-el."" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">"boat-el."</a> </p><p>But I think my favorite boat moment came during the introductory press conference. A soft-spoken foreign reporter wanted to know more about the boat. He asked his question and looked up to 6' 11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, who was perched several feet above him on stage. </p><p>"How's the boat?" Cousins answered. "BIG." </p><p>Friday, Aug. 5: Jimmy Butler does not like water</p><p><em>Elsewhere at the opening press conference, players explained that the most surprising revelation in Rio concerned Jimmy Butler. The following afternoon, we went straight to the source.</em></p><p>"Jimmy Butler doesn’t like water," DeAndre Jordan told reporters at the introductory press conference. "So we were talking about, ‘Would you jump off the boat or would you get in?’ [He says,] ‘No and don’t play with me about it.’ He definitely does not like the water at all."</p><p>Draymond Green confirmed the running joke. "He don’t want to be near the water, he doesn’t want his room facing the water. Nothing. It’s incredible to me." </p><p>Pressed for details at practice the next day, Butler scrunched his face and smiled. "I don't want to get in the water?" he asked. "Because I may or may not be able to swim? OK, so what? Tell them to stop talking about people. Stop talking about me. I'm not an Olympic swimmer, OK? What's wrong with that?”</p><p>Plenty of other Olympians across other sports had worried about the water in Rio specifically, but this was a broader issue. "Water, in general," Butler said. "I'm not big on water. I walk by the pool, I make sure I'm not walking next to any guys, just in case they get any ideas." </p><p>Tuesday, Aug. 9: USA Basketball plays football</p><p><em>Team USA opened the Olympics by destroying Venezuela and China. The most dramatic basketball highlight to emerge from Rio was a viral clip of Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler playing football. They discussed it the following day.</em></p><p>"I'm going back out there today," Butler said.</p><p>Thompson, mid-interview with a group of reporters, chimed in from 10-feet down the bench. "Burned him!"</p><p>"That was his only catch!" Butler said of the video. "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."</p><p>Klay, still mid-interview: "Burned him!"</p><p>Jimmy: "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."</p><p>Klay: "Burrrrrnnnnned him...."</p><p>Jimmy: "[The video crew] just got the one catch that he got. I had more than one catch. <em>And</em> I got a pick."</p><p>Later on, Klay came clean. "Alright, he beat me 3-2," he said. "But it was a barnburner. I was already out there running sprints, so I was a little tired. But man, you saw the video. You saw what I was doing. That's all you need to see."</p><p>In the middle of all this, DeAndre Jordan said he might have to take the field later that afternoon.</p><p>Jimmy: "I'll run by DJ so f**kin’ fast." </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 11: Kevin Durant does the Olympics</p><p><em>Earlier in the week, a number of players had singled out Michael Phelps as the Olympian they most wanted to see, so they ventured out to watch Phelps and Katie Ledecky dominate. Two days later, after a close call with Australia, Kevin Durant talked about how his time at the pool.</em></p><p>"We all got our little egos," Durant said. "You know, we're professional players. But you put your ego to the side when you're watching greatness. You can appreciate greatness. Especially at this stage, being in the Olympics. You just don't get this [opportunity]. I can't just say I'm going to watch Michael Phelps. People can watch us 82 games a year." </p><p>For American players, this is what separates the Olympic experience from, say, the FIBA World Championships. When they're not playing, they're free to go see the most dominant athletes in the world. As Durant said, "I didn't care about who I was, or what I've done. It was all about those guys in their moment."</p><p>Durant's also from the same state as both Phelps and Ledecky. That added another layer of appeal. "Phelps is from Baltimore," Durant said. "Closer to Melo. But we're all from the same state. And we're over here in Rio. We gotta stick together man. Just seeing Katie, and knowing she comes from the same area I come from... I can drive to where she's from in 30 minutes. I've always been proud to be from Maryland, but they just took it to another level."</p><p>"She's beating people by four seconds," Durant added of Ledecky. "That's incredible." </p><p>Tuesday, Aug. 16: Team USA gets serious</p><p><em>After the close call against Australia turned into uncomfortably close three-point wins against France and Serbia, Team USA canceled planned media sessions for Saturday and Monday. On Tuesday, practice went 45 minutes longer than scheduled. Then the players talked. </em></p><p>When a reporter asked whether there had been frustration among players, Klay Thompson was honest. "There has been," he said. "We're competitive. We feel like we're better than these teams. But you know, give 'em credit they played great games, they have some great offenses. But we still feel like there's some things we can work out, and we're going to." </p><p>"We're still gonna have to go through what those guys do," Durant said, "schemes and all that stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to us. Are we going to do what it takes to win?"</p><p>"All of these guys are competitors," Paul George said of the leadership process. "You're not dealing with guys that are insecure or don't know how to take it to the next level. It's kind of a joint thing. One guy speaks up, another chimes in. Melo was the first one to say, really sit everybody aside, and tell 'em, "We're fine, we're fine." At the end of the day, we take pride in who we are, being the U.S. It might not be pretty, but we know what the main goal is."</p><p>"We're dealing with talent vs. experience," George added near the end. "That's what this tournament is coming down to now." </p><p>Thursday, Aug. 18: Carmelo is the uncle, not the grandfather</p><p><em>Against Argentina, talent won. George helped set the tone—+28 on the night—and Durant caught fire to bury the Golden Generation. The next day, Carmelo Anthony assumed his role as veteran spokesman, eulogizing Manu Ginobili, praising Pau Gasol and talking about his own role in Rio.</em></p><p>"It's different," Anthony said of his role in Rio. "We're all alpha dogs in our own situation. To come into this situation, to have all the alphas looking at you for the answers... That's a different experience."</p><p>Watching Carmelo in Rio was like watching the circle of life unspool a little too quickly. I wasn't ready. In my mind he was 18 years old and winning a national title like 20 minutes ago—off to the side on Thursday, Jim Boeheim was talking to a reporter about 'Melo's first recruiting visit. But in Rio he turned into a full-fledged ambassador for this team. "I've looked up to Carmelo since I was 15 years old," Durant said. "When he talks, we listen."</p><p>Someone suggested this was Carmelo in Kobe's role. </p><p>"NO," he laughed. "No, no. Kobe was 35 when he was with us [in London]. Kobe was 35." </p><p>OK. Kobe in Beijing? "Yeah, that's more like it. 2008 Kobe. We were actually surprised that [Kobe] accepted the invitation to come play in 2008. But once he got there, it was him and Jason Kidd, and [us] looking at those guys for advice. That's what's happening here now."</p><p>Sometime this transformation seemed poetic. "I was the one that was following Kob'," he remembered of 2008. "Wanting to work out with him every day, train with him, trying to dig into his mind and see how he approached the game. So I give that experience back to these guys."</p><p>Other times—like the several times Kyrie Irving interrupted these same Melo's answers to screw with him—it was funnier. After the interruptions continued for a few minutes, Melo finally turned and shook his head: "You don't have no respect, man. Put some respect on my name. Ol', 23 year-old..."</p><p>Kyrie: "I'm 24."</p><p>Carmelo: "Ridiculous." </p><p>Sunday, Aug. 21: DeAndre Jordan practices kung fu on the sidelines</p><p><em>This team may have inspired doubts along the way, but there was no question by the end. On Sunday Team USA throttled Serbia, 96–66, and the previous week's three-point win turned into this week's 30-point gold medal game blowout. The </em><a href="https://streamable.com/heid" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:definitive sequence" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>definitive sequence</em></a><em> was a Kevin Durant drive-and-dunk, punctuated by DeAndre Jordan pantomiming kung-fu on the sidelines.</em></p><p>This is a good opportunity to note that over the course of two weeks, DeAndre Jordan replaced DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup and became one of the most valuable players on Team USA. "I'm gonna be DeAndre," he said early on. "Dunk, rebound, laugh, scream. Just be myself." </p><p>Off the court, two weeks in Rio also made it clear that everyone on the team enjoys him. Did you know he has a longstanding friendship with Kevin Durant? Before Rio, I didn't. "That's my guy," Jordan said of Durant. "We met when I was a junior in high school. He was going to Texas and they were trying recruit me. We ended up talking and hanging out, and we've been boys since then. Over the past couple years, we've grown super-duper close. That's my brother"</p><p>When Jordan wasn't celebrating old friends, he was making new ones. "Jimmy, Draymond, obviously Carmelo," he said. "We've been together for two months just hanging out every day. You grow close to people like that. I'll be friends with these guys long after basketball."</p><p>When Jimmy Butler was asked which teammate surprised him most, Jordan was his first answer. "I really didn't know DJ," he said. "Even though we're both from Texas. He was so much better than I was in Texas [in high school]. But now, as a person, just to meet him? Man, really good dude. I never knew DJ like that."</p><p>They have plans to meet during the year, too. "He'll probably make me pay in L.A.," Jordan said of Butler. "I'll get him back in Chicago." </p><p>Everyone has a different way to explain how Team USA's been revitalized, but this is the best explanation that I have: Over the past eight years, USA basketball has turned into what looks like the best summer camp on earth. There are endless jokes, all kinds of stupid competitions and <a href="http://www.cbssports.com/olympics/news/stars-from-team-usa-mens-basketball-cheer-on-womens-volleyball-team-in-rio/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:group outings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">group outings</a>. Lessons are learned, and friendships are forged. There are first-timers, there are veterans. This year it all happened on a luxury boat.</p><p>"It feels like vacation," Klay Thompson said early on. "But you're getting better at the same time. It's the best of the both worlds."</p><p>"It's just fun, in general," Kyle Lowry explained. "Even if it's your second or third [time]. Melo's probably having the most fun out of everybody. It's just that type of group. It's that type of moment. [If] they want me to come back? I'm coming back. No question." </p><p>This summer's team wasn't perfect, but with superstars like Durant and overqualified role players like DeAndre and Lowry, they had too much talent to ever truly be in danger. That's what's different in the new era. Without dancing any more on Larry Brown's grave <a href="http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/red-white-and-bronze-2004-death-and-rebirth-usa-basketball" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:after the 2004 debacle" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">after the 2004 debacle</a>—or George Karl in 2002, or a frustrated Lenny Wilkens in 1996—the goal for today's Team USA is different. This team isn't about controlling stars, but empowering them, and promoting them. This helps when it's time to recruit them. </p><p>When America lost in 2004 the popular refrain was that Team USA didn't understand what it takes to build a team for the international game. But the people in charge of this team never reclaimed supremacy by tailoring this program to FIBA. They did it by heeding the dominant lesson of the modern NBA. The best players in the world want to play for smart teams that can market them, coaches who'll trust them, in environments they'll enjoy. Once America internalized this lesson and shifted power from coaches like Brown to players like Carmelo, it was over for the rest of the world.</p><p>As USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo explained it, "If you create an environment where guys feel happy, they enjoy each other... It's fun. It's not a job. The more you can create this feeling, the better it is. And it perpetuates itself. Players talk about it. You know, 'Hey man, that was unbelievable. That time we had in Rio. Or that time we had in Beijing, or London.'" </p><p>On that note, see you in Tokyo.</p>
Seven scenes from the Rio Olympics that feed into one USA basketball theory

There may have been complications along the way, but by the end, it wasn't close. USA basketball won its third-straight gold medal on Sunday. The Rio Olympics were ultimately another reminder that order has been restored since the Team USA debacle in 2004. If anything, the gap with the rest of the world is widening. The state of the union is strong.

After spending the past few weeks in Brazil, I have a theory as to why. I also have several pages of notes from the past few weeks, so I'll explain this with stories.

Thursday, Aug. 4: Introducing the boat

Let's begin with the boat. The boat was called the Silver Cloud, a luxury cruise ship which housed players, coaches and staff for USA basketball's men's and women's teams.

The boat was noteworthy for its mystery—early on, only a handful of people had seen it—but also because it did an excellent job capturing USA basketball's relationship to the rest of the athletes in Rio. Of course, this put the team in a delicate position. While outsiders buzzed about the team's opulent living arrangements, players did their best to downplay the hype.

Over and over again, almost every player carefully hit on the same themes: it's no different than a hotel, it's nothing special, it's nice but not too nice, nothing to see here. "It's not like we're cruising around," Carmelo Anthony said. "We’re docked. We have the same amenities as if we’re staying in a hotel." Even the women's team stayed on message throughout the games, as Sue Bird took to calling it their "boat-el."

But I think my favorite boat moment came during the introductory press conference. A soft-spoken foreign reporter wanted to know more about the boat. He asked his question and looked up to 6' 11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, who was perched several feet above him on stage.

"How's the boat?" Cousins answered. "BIG."

Friday, Aug. 5: Jimmy Butler does not like water

Elsewhere at the opening press conference, players explained that the most surprising revelation in Rio concerned Jimmy Butler. The following afternoon, we went straight to the source.

"Jimmy Butler doesn’t like water," DeAndre Jordan told reporters at the introductory press conference. "So we were talking about, ‘Would you jump off the boat or would you get in?’ [He says,] ‘No and don’t play with me about it.’ He definitely does not like the water at all."

Draymond Green confirmed the running joke. "He don’t want to be near the water, he doesn’t want his room facing the water. Nothing. It’s incredible to me."

Pressed for details at practice the next day, Butler scrunched his face and smiled. "I don't want to get in the water?" he asked. "Because I may or may not be able to swim? OK, so what? Tell them to stop talking about people. Stop talking about me. I'm not an Olympic swimmer, OK? What's wrong with that?”

Plenty of other Olympians across other sports had worried about the water in Rio specifically, but this was a broader issue. "Water, in general," Butler said. "I'm not big on water. I walk by the pool, I make sure I'm not walking next to any guys, just in case they get any ideas."

Tuesday, Aug. 9: USA Basketball plays football

Team USA opened the Olympics by destroying Venezuela and China. The most dramatic basketball highlight to emerge from Rio was a viral clip of Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler playing football. They discussed it the following day.

"I'm going back out there today," Butler said.

Thompson, mid-interview with a group of reporters, chimed in from 10-feet down the bench. "Burned him!"

"That was his only catch!" Butler said of the video. "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."

Klay, still mid-interview: "Burned him!"

Jimmy: "Ask him how many times he caught the ball."

Klay: "Burrrrrnnnnned him...."

Jimmy: "[The video crew] just got the one catch that he got. I had more than one catch. And I got a pick."

Later on, Klay came clean. "Alright, he beat me 3-2," he said. "But it was a barnburner. I was already out there running sprints, so I was a little tired. But man, you saw the video. You saw what I was doing. That's all you need to see."

In the middle of all this, DeAndre Jordan said he might have to take the field later that afternoon.

Jimmy: "I'll run by DJ so f**kin’ fast."

Thursday, Aug. 11: Kevin Durant does the Olympics

Earlier in the week, a number of players had singled out Michael Phelps as the Olympian they most wanted to see, so they ventured out to watch Phelps and Katie Ledecky dominate. Two days later, after a close call with Australia, Kevin Durant talked about how his time at the pool.

"We all got our little egos," Durant said. "You know, we're professional players. But you put your ego to the side when you're watching greatness. You can appreciate greatness. Especially at this stage, being in the Olympics. You just don't get this [opportunity]. I can't just say I'm going to watch Michael Phelps. People can watch us 82 games a year."

For American players, this is what separates the Olympic experience from, say, the FIBA World Championships. When they're not playing, they're free to go see the most dominant athletes in the world. As Durant said, "I didn't care about who I was, or what I've done. It was all about those guys in their moment."

Durant's also from the same state as both Phelps and Ledecky. That added another layer of appeal. "Phelps is from Baltimore," Durant said. "Closer to Melo. But we're all from the same state. And we're over here in Rio. We gotta stick together man. Just seeing Katie, and knowing she comes from the same area I come from... I can drive to where she's from in 30 minutes. I've always been proud to be from Maryland, but they just took it to another level."

"She's beating people by four seconds," Durant added of Ledecky. "That's incredible."

Tuesday, Aug. 16: Team USA gets serious

After the close call against Australia turned into uncomfortably close three-point wins against France and Serbia, Team USA canceled planned media sessions for Saturday and Monday. On Tuesday, practice went 45 minutes longer than scheduled. Then the players talked.

When a reporter asked whether there had been frustration among players, Klay Thompson was honest. "There has been," he said. "We're competitive. We feel like we're better than these teams. But you know, give 'em credit they played great games, they have some great offenses. But we still feel like there's some things we can work out, and we're going to."

"We're still gonna have to go through what those guys do," Durant said, "schemes and all that stuff. But at the end of the day it comes down to us. Are we going to do what it takes to win?"

"All of these guys are competitors," Paul George said of the leadership process. "You're not dealing with guys that are insecure or don't know how to take it to the next level. It's kind of a joint thing. One guy speaks up, another chimes in. Melo was the first one to say, really sit everybody aside, and tell 'em, "We're fine, we're fine." At the end of the day, we take pride in who we are, being the U.S. It might not be pretty, but we know what the main goal is."

"We're dealing with talent vs. experience," George added near the end. "That's what this tournament is coming down to now."

Thursday, Aug. 18: Carmelo is the uncle, not the grandfather

Against Argentina, talent won. George helped set the tone—+28 on the night—and Durant caught fire to bury the Golden Generation. The next day, Carmelo Anthony assumed his role as veteran spokesman, eulogizing Manu Ginobili, praising Pau Gasol and talking about his own role in Rio.

"It's different," Anthony said of his role in Rio. "We're all alpha dogs in our own situation. To come into this situation, to have all the alphas looking at you for the answers... That's a different experience."

Watching Carmelo in Rio was like watching the circle of life unspool a little too quickly. I wasn't ready. In my mind he was 18 years old and winning a national title like 20 minutes ago—off to the side on Thursday, Jim Boeheim was talking to a reporter about 'Melo's first recruiting visit. But in Rio he turned into a full-fledged ambassador for this team. "I've looked up to Carmelo since I was 15 years old," Durant said. "When he talks, we listen."

Someone suggested this was Carmelo in Kobe's role.

"NO," he laughed. "No, no. Kobe was 35 when he was with us [in London]. Kobe was 35."

OK. Kobe in Beijing? "Yeah, that's more like it. 2008 Kobe. We were actually surprised that [Kobe] accepted the invitation to come play in 2008. But once he got there, it was him and Jason Kidd, and [us] looking at those guys for advice. That's what's happening here now."

Sometime this transformation seemed poetic. "I was the one that was following Kob'," he remembered of 2008. "Wanting to work out with him every day, train with him, trying to dig into his mind and see how he approached the game. So I give that experience back to these guys."

Other times—like the several times Kyrie Irving interrupted these same Melo's answers to screw with him—it was funnier. After the interruptions continued for a few minutes, Melo finally turned and shook his head: "You don't have no respect, man. Put some respect on my name. Ol', 23 year-old..."

Kyrie: "I'm 24."

Carmelo: "Ridiculous."

Sunday, Aug. 21: DeAndre Jordan practices kung fu on the sidelines

This team may have inspired doubts along the way, but there was no question by the end. On Sunday Team USA throttled Serbia, 96–66, and the previous week's three-point win turned into this week's 30-point gold medal game blowout. The definitive sequence was a Kevin Durant drive-and-dunk, punctuated by DeAndre Jordan pantomiming kung-fu on the sidelines.

This is a good opportunity to note that over the course of two weeks, DeAndre Jordan replaced DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup and became one of the most valuable players on Team USA. "I'm gonna be DeAndre," he said early on. "Dunk, rebound, laugh, scream. Just be myself."

Off the court, two weeks in Rio also made it clear that everyone on the team enjoys him. Did you know he has a longstanding friendship with Kevin Durant? Before Rio, I didn't. "That's my guy," Jordan said of Durant. "We met when I was a junior in high school. He was going to Texas and they were trying recruit me. We ended up talking and hanging out, and we've been boys since then. Over the past couple years, we've grown super-duper close. That's my brother"

When Jordan wasn't celebrating old friends, he was making new ones. "Jimmy, Draymond, obviously Carmelo," he said. "We've been together for two months just hanging out every day. You grow close to people like that. I'll be friends with these guys long after basketball."

When Jimmy Butler was asked which teammate surprised him most, Jordan was his first answer. "I really didn't know DJ," he said. "Even though we're both from Texas. He was so much better than I was in Texas [in high school]. But now, as a person, just to meet him? Man, really good dude. I never knew DJ like that."

They have plans to meet during the year, too. "He'll probably make me pay in L.A.," Jordan said of Butler. "I'll get him back in Chicago."

Everyone has a different way to explain how Team USA's been revitalized, but this is the best explanation that I have: Over the past eight years, USA basketball has turned into what looks like the best summer camp on earth. There are endless jokes, all kinds of stupid competitions and group outings. Lessons are learned, and friendships are forged. There are first-timers, there are veterans. This year it all happened on a luxury boat.

"It feels like vacation," Klay Thompson said early on. "But you're getting better at the same time. It's the best of the both worlds."

"It's just fun, in general," Kyle Lowry explained. "Even if it's your second or third [time]. Melo's probably having the most fun out of everybody. It's just that type of group. It's that type of moment. [If] they want me to come back? I'm coming back. No question."

This summer's team wasn't perfect, but with superstars like Durant and overqualified role players like DeAndre and Lowry, they had too much talent to ever truly be in danger. That's what's different in the new era. Without dancing any more on Larry Brown's grave after the 2004 debacle—or George Karl in 2002, or a frustrated Lenny Wilkens in 1996—the goal for today's Team USA is different. This team isn't about controlling stars, but empowering them, and promoting them. This helps when it's time to recruit them.

When America lost in 2004 the popular refrain was that Team USA didn't understand what it takes to build a team for the international game. But the people in charge of this team never reclaimed supremacy by tailoring this program to FIBA. They did it by heeding the dominant lesson of the modern NBA. The best players in the world want to play for smart teams that can market them, coaches who'll trust them, in environments they'll enjoy. Once America internalized this lesson and shifted power from coaches like Brown to players like Carmelo, it was over for the rest of the world.

As USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo explained it, "If you create an environment where guys feel happy, they enjoy each other... It's fun. It's not a job. The more you can create this feeling, the better it is. And it perpetuates itself. Players talk about it. You know, 'Hey man, that was unbelievable. That time we had in Rio. Or that time we had in Beijing, or London.'"

On that note, see you in Tokyo.

Harrison Barnes takes a selfie with Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green of the U.S. after the basketball victory ceremony REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Basketball - Men's Victory Ceremony
Harrison Barnes takes a selfie with Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green of the U.S. after the basketball victory ceremony REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Victory Ceremony - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA carries U.S flag as Head coach Mike Krzyzewski (USA) of the USA walks behind him. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Victory Ceremony
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Victory Ceremony - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA carries U.S flag as Head coach Mike Krzyzewski (USA) of the USA walks behind him. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. United States players stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. United States players stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
Golden finish for Team USA men's basketball
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
Golden finish for Team USA men's basketball
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
Golden finish for Team USA men's basketball
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
Golden finish for Team USA men's basketball
The U.S. saved its best for last, cruising to a third straight gold medal in 96-66 win over Serbia
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
U.S. Men's Basketball Triumphs Over Serbia as Star Carmelo Anthony Tears Up After 3 Gold Wins
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Victory Ceremony - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Team Serbia, Team USA and Team Spain stand as U.S. national anthem is played. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Victory Ceremony
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Victory Ceremony - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Team Serbia, Team USA and Team Spain stand as U.S. national anthem is played. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Jimmy Butler (USA) of the USA (L), Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA and Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA (R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Jimmy Butler (USA) of the USA (L), Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA and Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA (R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Demarcus Cousins (USA) of the USA, Paul George (USA) of the USA, Draymond Green (USA) of the USA and Carmelo Anthony (USA) of the USA (L to R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem as Pau Gasol (ESP) of Spain and Rudy Fernandez (ESP) of Spain (R) watch during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Demarcus Cousins (USA) of the USA, Paul George (USA) of the USA, Draymond Green (USA) of the USA and Carmelo Anthony (USA) of the USA (L to R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem as Pau Gasol (ESP) of Spain and Rudy Fernandez (ESP) of Spain (R) watch during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Jimmy Butler (USA) of the USA (L), Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA and Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA (R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. Jimmy Butler (USA) of the USA (L), Kevin Durant (USA) of the USA and Deandre Jordan (USA) of the USA (R) stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. United States players stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Final - Men's Gold Medal Game Serbia v USA - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 21/8/2016. United States players stand with their gold medals for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem during the presentation ceremony for men's basketball. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team won its third straight gold medal and did it easily, beating Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.
U.S. Olympic men's basketball team wins 3rd straight gold medal
The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team won its third straight gold medal and did it easily, beating Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.
The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team won its third straight gold medal and did it easily, beating Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.
U.S. Olympic men's basketball team wins 3rd straight gold medal
The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team won its third straight gold medal and did it easily, beating Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr gestures during the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. TEMPLATE OUT.
Basketball - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr gestures during the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. TEMPLATE OUT.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr attends the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr attends the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr attends the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr attends the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr and his guest attend the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Basketball - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Quarterfinal - Men's Quarterfinal USA v Argentina - Carioca Arena 1 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 17/8/2016. Former U.S. boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr and his guest attend the game. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
Team USA basketball players try their hand at volleyball on Rio beach (video)
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
Team USA basketball players try their hand at volleyball on Rio beach (video)
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
Team USA basketball players try their hand at volleyball on Rio beach (video)
The U.S. men’s basketball team isn’t just watching beach volleyball from the stands. Several players – including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green – went to a Rio beach to play: Reminder: Durant said it’d take him six months – the same amount of time the American handball […]
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
Carmelo Anthony Ousts LeBron James as All-Time U.S. Olympic Scorer While Defeating Australia in Men's Basketball
As America's Olympic athletes continue to go for gold in Rio, Chance the Rapper is cheering them on stateside with a new song: the Chicago emcee penned an original track as a tribute to the men's and women's basketball teams for Nike's new "Unlimited Together" commercial. "Oh say, can you see America's face?" he sings over scattered piano, riffing on the country's national anthem. "People, people, we the people would like you to know that wherever you're going we're right by your side." The accompanying black-and-white visual projects footage of celebrated competitors onto sides of skyscrapers, including shots of Brittney Griner, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, and Maya Moore; Chance salutes the American flag. The video adds to the 23-year-old's well-documented affinity for sports. He's been an active supporter of his hometown White Sox over the years, and is reportedly up for a deal as the baseball team's ambassador as of April. He also joins a handful of musicians in crafting original music for the Olympics. Katy Perry shared "Rise" in honor of this year's games, and The Band Perry wrote "Live Forever" as the official team USA anthem. "Unlimited Together" was made as part of Nike's Unlimited campaign, which has also featured U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas, pro skateboarder Nyjah Huston, and champion Olympic decathlete Ashton Eaton. Watch Chance's Nike ad above. frameborder="0" allowFullScreen>
Chance the Rapper honors Olympic basketball team with new song in Nike ad
As America's Olympic athletes continue to go for gold in Rio, Chance the Rapper is cheering them on stateside with a new song: the Chicago emcee penned an original track as a tribute to the men's and women's basketball teams for Nike's new "Unlimited Together" commercial. "Oh say, can you see America's face?" he sings over scattered piano, riffing on the country's national anthem. "People, people, we the people would like you to know that wherever you're going we're right by your side." The accompanying black-and-white visual projects footage of celebrated competitors onto sides of skyscrapers, including shots of Brittney Griner, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, and Maya Moore; Chance salutes the American flag. The video adds to the 23-year-old's well-documented affinity for sports. He's been an active supporter of his hometown White Sox over the years, and is reportedly up for a deal as the baseball team's ambassador as of April. He also joins a handful of musicians in crafting original music for the Olympics. Katy Perry shared "Rise" in honor of this year's games, and The Band Perry wrote "Live Forever" as the official team USA anthem. "Unlimited Together" was made as part of Nike's Unlimited campaign, which has also featured U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas, pro skateboarder Nyjah Huston, and champion Olympic decathlete Ashton Eaton. Watch Chance's Nike ad above. frameborder="0" allowFullScreen>
Michael Phelps' Biggest Fans? The U.S. Men's Basketball Team
Michael Phelps' Biggest Fans? The U.S. Men's Basketball Team
Michael Phelps' Biggest Fans? The U.S. Men's Basketball Team
U.S. gymnasts, left to right, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, and Lauren Hernandez wave to the audience at the end of the artistic gymnastics women's team final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
The Latest: Argentina topples Croatia in men's basketball
U.S. gymnasts, left to right, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, and Lauren Hernandez wave to the audience at the end of the artistic gymnastics women's team final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
U.S. Mens Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
U.S. Mens Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
U.S. Mens Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
U.S. Men's Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
U.S. Men's Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
U.S. Men's Basketball Team Stays on Cruiseship in Rio
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilPaul George (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilPaul George (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilPaul George (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilPaul George (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks to Paul George (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks to Paul George (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks to DeMarcus Cousins (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks to DeMarcus Cousins (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks with Kevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks with Kevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilHead coach Mike Krzyzewski of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. and DeMarcus Cousins (USA) of the U.S. are seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. and DeMarcus Cousins (USA) of the U.S. are seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCarmelo Anthony (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Men's training session
2016 Rio Olympics - Basketball - Preliminary - USA men's training session - Flamengo Club - Rio de Janeiro, BrazilKevin Durant (USA) of the U.S. is seen during training. REUTERS/Jim Young FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
The U.S. men's team is playing for a third straight gold medal while the women's squad hopes to grab a sixth consecutive gold.
Rio Olympics 2016: USA Basketball schedules, rosters
The U.S. men's team is playing for a third straight gold medal while the women's squad hopes to grab a sixth consecutive gold.
<p>Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether. </p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.</p><p>“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.” </p><p>Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips. </p><p>​<strong><span>ANDRE DRUMMOND</span> • <span>BRADLEY BEAL</span> • <span>ISAIAH THOMAS</span> • <span>GARY HARRIS</span> • <span>PAUL PIERCE</span> • <span>DANTE EXUM</span> • <span>GREIVIS VASQUEZ</span> • <span>SAM PERKINS</span> • <span>SEAN ELLIOTT</span></strong></p><p> </p><p><strong>Andre Drummond: England</strong></p><p>Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.</p><p>Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”</p><p>The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/05/kevin-durant-stephen-curry-klay-thompson-golden-state-warriors-offense" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents</a></strong></p><p>While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.</p><p>Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Bradley Beal: Japan</strong></p><p>The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”</p><p>The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”</p><p>The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”</p><p>The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)</strong></p><p>Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”</p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”</p><p>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/02/lebron-james-michael-jordan-ghost-cleveland-cavaliers-championship" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality</strong></a></p><p>Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.</p><p>The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.</p><p>Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”</p><p> </p><p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BHQyKQKAPT7/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)</a> on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT </p><p><strong>Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)</strong></p><p>A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”</p><p>Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.</p><p>“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”</p><p>Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)</strong></p><p>When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.</p><p>“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.</p><p>Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/longform/big-interview/mike-krzyzewski-2016-olympics-rio-big-interview/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball</a></strong></p><p>The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”</p><p>The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Dante Exum: Australia</strong></p><p>The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.</p><p>Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”</p><p>Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”</p><p>For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.</p><p>Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”</p><p>Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.</p><p>With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela</strong></p><p>The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”</p><p>Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/03/rio-2016-usa-basketball-nba-carmelo-anthony-klay-thompson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio</a></strong></p><p>Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.</p><p>While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sam Perkins: Kuwait</strong></p><p>Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.</p><p>“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”</p><p>Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.</p><p>“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”</p><p>“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.</p><p>The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.</p><p>On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.</p><p>Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sean Elliott: Mexico</strong></p><p>The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.</p><p>Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “</p><p>In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.</p><p>Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”</p>
Off-season roadtrips: NBA players canvass the globe to spread the game of basketball

Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether.

Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.

“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips.

ANDRE DRUMMONDBRADLEY BEALISAIAH THOMASGARY HARRISPAUL PIERCEDANTE EXUMGREIVIS VASQUEZSAM PERKINSSEAN ELLIOTT

Andre Drummond: England

Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.

Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”

The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.

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While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”

Bradley Beal: Japan

The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”

The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”

The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”

The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”

Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)

Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”

Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

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Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.

The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.

Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”

A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_) on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT

Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)

A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”

Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.

“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”

Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.

Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)

When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.

“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.

Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”

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The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”

The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”

Dante Exum: Australia

The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.

Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”

Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”

For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.

Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”

Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.

With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”

Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela

The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”

Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”

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Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.

While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”

Sam Perkins: Kuwait

Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.

“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”

Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.

“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”

“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.

The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.

On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.

Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”

Sean Elliott: Mexico

The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.

Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “

In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.

Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”

<p>Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether. </p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.</p><p>“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.” </p><p>Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips. </p><p>​<strong><span>ANDRE DRUMMOND</span> • <span>BRADLEY BEAL</span> • <span>ISAIAH THOMAS</span> • <span>GARY HARRIS</span> • <span>PAUL PIERCE</span> • <span>DANTE EXUM</span> • <span>GREIVIS VASQUEZ</span> • <span>SAM PERKINS</span> • <span>SEAN ELLIOTT</span></strong></p><p> </p><p><strong>Andre Drummond: England</strong></p><p>Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.</p><p>Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”</p><p>The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/05/kevin-durant-stephen-curry-klay-thompson-golden-state-warriors-offense" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents</a></strong></p><p>While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.</p><p>Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Bradley Beal: Japan</strong></p><p>The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”</p><p>The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”</p><p>The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”</p><p>The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)</strong></p><p>Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”</p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”</p><p>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/02/lebron-james-michael-jordan-ghost-cleveland-cavaliers-championship" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality</strong></a></p><p>Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.</p><p>The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.</p><p>Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”</p><p> </p><p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BHQyKQKAPT7/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)</a> on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT </p><p><strong>Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)</strong></p><p>A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”</p><p>Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.</p><p>“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”</p><p>Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)</strong></p><p>When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.</p><p>“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.</p><p>Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/longform/big-interview/mike-krzyzewski-2016-olympics-rio-big-interview/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball</a></strong></p><p>The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”</p><p>The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Dante Exum: Australia</strong></p><p>The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.</p><p>Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”</p><p>Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”</p><p>For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.</p><p>Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”</p><p>Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.</p><p>With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela</strong></p><p>The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”</p><p>Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/03/rio-2016-usa-basketball-nba-carmelo-anthony-klay-thompson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio</a></strong></p><p>Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.</p><p>While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sam Perkins: Kuwait</strong></p><p>Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.</p><p>“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”</p><p>Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.</p><p>“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”</p><p>“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.</p><p>The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.</p><p>On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.</p><p>Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sean Elliott: Mexico</strong></p><p>The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.</p><p>Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “</p><p>In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.</p><p>Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”</p>
Off-season roadtrips: NBA players canvass the globe to spread the game of basketball

Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether.

Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.

“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips.

ANDRE DRUMMONDBRADLEY BEALISAIAH THOMASGARY HARRISPAUL PIERCEDANTE EXUMGREIVIS VASQUEZSAM PERKINSSEAN ELLIOTT

Andre Drummond: England

Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.

Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”

The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.

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While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”

Bradley Beal: Japan

The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”

The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”

The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”

The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”

Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)

Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”

Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

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Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.

The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.

Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”

A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_) on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT

Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)

A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”

Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.

“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”

Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.

Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)

When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.

“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.

Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”

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The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”

The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”

Dante Exum: Australia

The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.

Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”

Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”

For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.

Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”

Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.

With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”

Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela

The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”

Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”

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Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.

While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”

Sam Perkins: Kuwait

Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.

“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”

Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.

“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”

“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.

The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.

On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.

Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”

Sean Elliott: Mexico

The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.

Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “

In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.

Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”

<p>Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether. </p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.</p><p>“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.” </p><p>Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips. </p><p>​<strong><span>ANDRE DRUMMOND</span> • <span>BRADLEY BEAL</span> • <span>ISAIAH THOMAS</span> • <span>GARY HARRIS</span> • <span>PAUL PIERCE</span> • <span>DANTE EXUM</span> • <span>GREIVIS VASQUEZ</span> • <span>SAM PERKINS</span> • <span>SEAN ELLIOTT</span></strong></p><p> </p><p><strong>Andre Drummond: England</strong></p><p>Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.</p><p>Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”</p><p>The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/05/kevin-durant-stephen-curry-klay-thompson-golden-state-warriors-offense" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents</a></strong></p><p>While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.</p><p>Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Bradley Beal: Japan</strong></p><p>The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”</p><p>The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”</p><p>The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”</p><p>The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)</strong></p><p>Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”</p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”</p><p>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/02/lebron-james-michael-jordan-ghost-cleveland-cavaliers-championship" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality</strong></a></p><p>Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.</p><p>The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.</p><p>Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”</p><p> </p><p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BHQyKQKAPT7/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)</a> on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT </p><p><strong>Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)</strong></p><p>A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”</p><p>Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.</p><p>“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”</p><p>Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)</strong></p><p>When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.</p><p>“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.</p><p>Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/longform/big-interview/mike-krzyzewski-2016-olympics-rio-big-interview/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball</a></strong></p><p>The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”</p><p>The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Dante Exum: Australia</strong></p><p>The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.</p><p>Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”</p><p>Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”</p><p>For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.</p><p>Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”</p><p>Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.</p><p>With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela</strong></p><p>The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”</p><p>Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/03/rio-2016-usa-basketball-nba-carmelo-anthony-klay-thompson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio</a></strong></p><p>Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.</p><p>While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sam Perkins: Kuwait</strong></p><p>Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.</p><p>“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”</p><p>Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.</p><p>“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”</p><p>“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.</p><p>The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.</p><p>On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.</p><p>Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sean Elliott: Mexico</strong></p><p>The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.</p><p>Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “</p><p>In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.</p><p>Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”</p>
Off-season roadtrips: NBA players canvass the globe to spread the game of basketball

Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether.

Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.

“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips.

ANDRE DRUMMONDBRADLEY BEALISAIAH THOMASGARY HARRISPAUL PIERCEDANTE EXUMGREIVIS VASQUEZSAM PERKINSSEAN ELLIOTT

Andre Drummond: England

Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.

Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”

The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.

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While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”

Bradley Beal: Japan

The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”

The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”

The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”

The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”

Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)

Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”

Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

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Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.

The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.

Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”

A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_) on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT

Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)

A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”

Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.

“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”

Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.

Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)

When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.

“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.

Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”

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The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”

The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”

Dante Exum: Australia

The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.

Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”

Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”

For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.

Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”

Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.

With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”

Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela

The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”

Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”

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Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.

While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”

Sam Perkins: Kuwait

Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.

“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”

Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.

“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”

“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.

The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.

On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.

Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”

Sean Elliott: Mexico

The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.

Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “

In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.

Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”

<p>Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether. </p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.</p><p>“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.” </p><p>Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips. </p><p>​<strong><span>ANDRE DRUMMOND</span> • <span>BRADLEY BEAL</span> • <span>ISAIAH THOMAS</span> • <span>GARY HARRIS</span> • <span>PAUL PIERCE</span> • <span>DANTE EXUM</span> • <span>GREIVIS VASQUEZ</span> • <span>SAM PERKINS</span> • <span>SEAN ELLIOTT</span></strong></p><p> </p><p><strong>Andre Drummond: England</strong></p><p>Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.</p><p>Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”</p><p>The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/05/kevin-durant-stephen-curry-klay-thompson-golden-state-warriors-offense" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">KD and Warriors will face challenges, but not as many as their opponents</a></strong></p><p>While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.</p><p>Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Bradley Beal: Japan</strong></p><p>The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”</p><p>The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”</p><p>The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”</p><p>The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)</strong></p><p>Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”</p><p>Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”</p><p>• <a href="http://www.si.com/nba/2016/08/02/lebron-james-michael-jordan-ghost-cleveland-cavaliers-championship" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><strong>LeBron James chases the ghost from Chicago and basketball immortality</strong></a></p><p>Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.</p><p>The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.</p><p>Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”</p><p> </p><p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BHQyKQKAPT7/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_)</a> on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT </p><p><strong>Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)</strong></p><p>A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”</p><p>Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.</p><p>“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”</p><p>Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.</p><p> </p><p>​</p><p><strong>Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)</strong></p><p>When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.</p><p>“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.</p><p>Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/longform/big-interview/mike-krzyzewski-2016-olympics-rio-big-interview/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Longform interview with Coach K: The man who saved USA Basketball</a></strong></p><p>The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”</p><p>The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Dante Exum: Australia</strong></p><p>The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.</p><p>Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”</p><p>Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”</p><p>For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.</p><p>Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”</p><p>Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.</p><p>With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela</strong></p><p>The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”</p><p>Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”</p><p><strong>• <a href="http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/03/rio-2016-usa-basketball-nba-carmelo-anthony-klay-thompson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Olympics: Seven NBA players who should make you excited for Rio</a></strong></p><p>Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.</p><p>While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sam Perkins: Kuwait</strong></p><p>Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.</p><p>“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”</p><p>Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.</p><p>“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”</p><p>“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.</p><p>The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.</p><p>On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.</p><p>Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”</p><p> </p><p><strong>Sean Elliott: Mexico</strong></p><p>The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.</p><p>Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “</p><p>In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.</p><p>Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”</p>
Off-season roadtrips: NBA players canvass the globe to spread the game of basketball

Of the 445 players on NBA opening night rosters last season, 100 (or 22.5%) were international players. Since then, two more league records were set with 14 international players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft and 26 hearing their names called altogether.

Many around the league credit the NBA’s global development to its efforts to send players all over the world and spread the game of basketball. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes their NBA dreams feel more like a reality.

“Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

Over the past several weeks, SI.com spoke with a handful of current and former players who went overseas to represent the NBA and lend a hand in a humanitarian way. In addition, the players also had their world’s opened to new experiences, from sumo wrestling in Japan to army bases in Kuwait to cricket in England. Scroll down to read about their summer roadtrips.

ANDRE DRUMMONDBRADLEY BEALISAIAH THOMASGARY HARRISPAUL PIERCEDANTE EXUMGREIVIS VASQUEZSAM PERKINSSEAN ELLIOTT

Andre Drummond: England

Looming large in the affluent, northwest London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has served as the house of cricket for over 200 years. Its namesake, Thomas Lord, founded the grounds back in 1814 after a first-class cricket career. Lord was a giant in the sport, but the 5’9 bowler’s stature pales in comparison to Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond. The 7’0 All-Star center would have made Lord blush as he batted the cricket ball all over the Ground’s outfield in early June.

Drummond received a private cricket lesson from two of today’s most talented cricketers, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and Brendon McCullum of the Otago Volts. Morgan is renowned for his end-of-innings hitting ability, while McCollum has performed as an epic big hitter, holding several all-time records. “Those guys are legends of their sport,” Drummond told SI.com “So getting a first hand lesson from them was an outstanding, humbling moment for me.”

The cricket tutelage was one of the first stops of Drummond’s eastern European tour this summer. He walked the streets of downtown London, gazing up at Big Ben before strolling along the south bank of the River Thames in relative anonymity. “They didn’t really know who I was but they were like, ‘Who is this large human being that is walking in front of me?’” Drummond said. It was Drummond’s second time touring London after the Pistons played against the Knicks in The 02 Arena in January 2013.

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While the pedestrians were unaware of Drummond’s celebrity, his reputation was well known at the second-annual NBA 3X Odense, a competitive 3-on-3 tournament with free interactive basketball activities for fans of all ages. The tournament featured 100 teams, 30 more than in 2015, comprised of various teen age groups, recreational and elite men’s divisions, a wheelchair cohort and an invitation-only International Division featuring teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Drummond took immense pride in serving as the lone player representative at the NBA’s overseas event. “The opportunity to represent the league is definitely an honor.”

Bradley Beal: Japan

The raised platform sits at the center of the arena, marked by a white circle with two parallel lines painted in the center. Amidst the sea of hundreds of spectators, two mammoth Japanese men huff and puff and squirm and shove. The event is Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s first sumo wrestling experience. “It was dope,” Beal told SI.com. “It was definitely a culture change.” Beal sat cross-legged atop a pillow for hours as pairs of fighters continually stepped into the ring and grappled. “The fights were good. It’s crazy, they only last anywhere from one second to a minute,” Beal said. “It’s literally the first one to touch the ground with any other body part besides their feet loses.”

The 23-year-old sharpshooter visited Japan on behalf of the NBA in late May. Beal joined a playoffs viewing party at Ebisu Act Square on May 19 and held multiple youth camps. Tokyo's renowned architecture made a deep impression on Beal, as well as stark differences in the country’s culture from the American lifestyle he’s always known. “I left a tip and they brought it back to me,” Beal said. “I was kind of thrown off by that.”

The young players Beal met at his clinics also surprised him. “They got handles,” Beal said. He flashed his own dribbling prowess when a 7-year-old camp attendee challenged Beal one-on-one at his opening camp. Beal performed his best John Wall impression as he sliced to the rim. “When he challenged me, I’m not gonna back down from a challenge,” Beal said. “I don’t care if you’re two years old or 86 years old.”

The chance for Beal to serve as the league's lone representative across the globe was humbling. “Without those blessings and without their support, you wouldn’t be where you are,” Beal said. “And it motivates me to continue to work hard because you know you have fans everywhere and there’s people that probably never seen you play before.”

Isaiah Thomas: China (Beijing)

Isaiah Thomas hopped off the Phoenix Suns’ team bus, unloaded his luggage and re-routed to Boston in a matter of minutes. As the whirlwind of the 2015 NBA trade deadline sounded, the Celtics acquired the lightning-quick point guard and forged into the NBA playoffs. Now, Thomas is an All-Star and a 13-hour flight to represent the NBA in China is nothing compared to packing up his life up and instantly switching coasts. “When the NBA asked me to do this, I didn’t think twice about it,” Thomas said. “It’s something that I want to do and I want to be able to travel the world to show the world what it takes to become an NBA player.”

Many around the league credit the NBA’s international growth to players like Thomas, traveling all over the world. “Once they actually see you and feel you and touch you and things like that, it makes the dream that much more able to come true,” Thomas said. “They’re usually only able to see us on TV and things like that, so when we’re able to come out here for preseason games or in the summer time appearances, it just only helps the brand of basketball and it helps everybody come together.”

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Thomas, along with Lakers guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, trekked to China in early June to interact with thousands of young fans. They hosted numerous Jr. NBA clinics, visited several schools and public courts and appeared at NBA Finals Game 1 and 5 viewing parties with around 2,000 students.

The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. The league has now played a total of 20 games in China.

Having travelled Europe with the Celtics for two preseason games last fall, Thomas was eager to experience the Asian culture and communities. He had previously visited China last summer, but had to drop in global cities like Shanghai or Beijing. “The buildings are huge,” said the diminutive star. “It feels like you’re a little kid out here with all the skyscrapers and things like that.”

A photo posted by Gary Harris (@thats_g_) on Jun 29, 2016 at 7:42pm PDT

Gary Harris: China (Shanghai)

A few weeks after Isaiah Thomas’s excursion, NBA China launched the 100th NBA Style Store in China at the Solana Mall, one of Beijing’s most iconic fashion and lifestyle destinations, on June 30. Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, proudly standing in front of the venue’s golden NBA logo that commemorated the milestone. NBA has now built 100 stores in 55 cities across China in less than two years. “It’s huge,” Harris said. “I’m just thankful I got the opportunity to come out here, being able to experience another country and help grow the brand of basketball.”

Harris intimately experienced Chinese basketball by attending the inaugural NBA 5v5 tournament. After debuting on July 2 in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, the tournament will bring together 16 of the top basketball teams in China to compete for a total prize up to RMB 1 million for the Regional Finals and National Finals. Four teams played in regional tournament hosted in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing, with each regional champion advancing to the National Finals in Shanghai July 30-31. Legends Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Tracy McGrady joined Harris for the beginning segments of the competition.

“You’re seeing so many more international players come into our league, it just shows you that the game is growing outside of the United States,” Harris said. “It’s crazy how many people are in tune with what’s going on back in the states. For them to be able to go around and be able to experience, and watch the guys help motivate them to possibly reach that level, it’s huge.”

Harris has personally experienced the NBA’s international boom in Denver, with eight current Nuggets hailing from countries outside the United States.

Paul Pierce: China (Guangzhou)

When Paul Pierce joined the Wizards in 2014, teammate Marcin Gortat told him about being a 16-year-old kid in Poland and staying up late to watch Pierce’s Celtics in the 2001-02 playoffs. That story resonated with Pierce, who gained a better appreciation for the NBA’s global reach and traveled overseas to China on the league’s behalf this summer.

“As a kid, you dream of making the NBA one day, but you never thought the game of basketball would take you around the world to places like [China] and enjoy fans and be a part of something, a part of a global game that’s gone worldwide.” Pierce said.

Pierce joined the middle leg of the 5V5 tournament in China, appearing at a half-court shot contest with RMB 1 million and a trip to the 2017 NBA Finals on the line, an ice bucket obstacle course and free-throw shooting challenge, a skills challenge, a 24-second three-point shooting contest and several other events. “There’s a lot of excitement around the game of basketball,” Pierce told SI.com from Guangzhou. “A lot of Paul Pierce Celtics jerseys, I can tell you that.”

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The 2008 NBA Finals MVP first visited China with Shareef Abdur-Rahim after his second year in the NBA in 2000. “It’s a whole lot different now than it was then. As you can see, they have basketball facilities now,” Pierce said. “I don’t even believe they had basketball arenas then when I first came over. Now they have facilities, they host NBA games, the Chinese League is filled with a lot of American players who love to come over here and play. Those leagues weren’t around when I first came into the league. It just shows the connection between the NBA and China and how much it’s grown over the years. It’s almost like a second home for NBA players.”

The NBA can only play so many games overseas each season, which Pierce says makes traveling in the summer that much more imperative. “With so many NBA fans, this gives us a chance to come over, do small camps, meet the fans here, because they’re so excited about the game of basketball,” Pierce said. “The whole business of basketball with China, it’s just a huge business that enables us to come over and connect with them and continue that fan affair.”

Dante Exum: Australia

The Melbourne, Australia suburb of Dandenong lies roughly 30 kilometers southeast of the city’s central business district, sitting at the foothill of the gorgeous Dandenong mountain ranges. The rolling landscape serves as the namesake of the town’s Women’s National Basketball League squad, the Dandenong Rangers.

Dante Exum grew up craving the Dandenong Stadium’s stage. “Everybody that plays junior basketball in Melbourne knows the Dandenong Stadium,” Exum said. The Utah Jazz guard played countless junior tournaments at the arena and even claimed a state championship on the fabled court. “That was probably one of the biggest things that came to mind just going back there again.”

Exum returned to the familiar court in late June to host the first Basketball without Borders Asia Camp in Australia along with fellow Aussie NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and tens of other NBA personnel joined the event as well, as 45 boys from 17 countries flocked to Dandenong. A hoard of NBA coaches led an international coaching clinic, too. “Just to have it in Australia and, not only spread the game of basketball, but give everybody in Australia a chance to get a taste of NBA basketball and how it’s coached over there,” Exum said. “I hope it inspires kids to keep pursuing their dreams.”

For international youth to experience NBA players up close and personal, it makes the dream feel more attainable. Since 2001, Basketball without Borders has reached more than 2,500 participants from 130 countries and territories. The program is a large factor in the league’s international influx: 22.5 percent of the 445 players on 2015-16 opening night rosters last season were international.

Australian basketball, in particular, has flooded the league. Seven players born in the country, including NBA Finals standout Kyrie Irving, appeared on NBA rosters last season. Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers’ No. 1 overall pick in year’s draft, became the second Aussie to be selected No. 1 overall after Andrew Bogut. “I’ve known Ben for a while,” Exum said. “I just can’t wait to get on the court and be able to play against him like old times.”

Exum thinks New Zealand may be next. Shortly after Steven Adams, a self-proclaimed Kiwi, starred for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, his fellow countrymen impressed Exum at the camp. “Every kid that I’ve seen that’s been real good has been a New Zealander,” Exum said.

With continued Basketball without Borders efforts from the NBA, basketball will only continue to grow in Oceania. “It goes a long way,” Exum said. “Hopefully it inspires some of the guys who aren’t some of the best at the camp to go back and use what they’ve learned from the NBA guys and get better.”

Greivis Vasquez: Venezuela

The La Cota 905 sector of Caracas, Venezuela has been ravaged by crime. “That’s a really, really violent neighborhood,” says Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez. Just in late June, a community activist, Elizabeth Aguilera, was killed by alleged members of a paramilitary gang in the area. On the rare occasion a Cota 905 native can rise from the neighborhood’s ashes, it’s a cause for celebration. That jubilation stretched acriss Vasquez’s face as he awarded his inaugural Los 24 Elite Basketball Camp MVP award to a player from La Cota in early June. “His whole neighborhood was so proud of him because he was the MVP and he was smiling and all that stuff,” Vasquez says. ”So to me, that’s very important because basketball is great, but life is more than basketball.”

Only 12 years ago, Vasquez was just another Venezuelan kid harboring an NBA dream that could elevate him from the poverty-stricken country. Before he morphed into a Maryland Terrapins great and a shimmying, playoff hero with the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez participated in Basketball without Borders Americas in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dikembe Mutombo, Leandro Barbosa, Nene, Eduardo Najera and Felipe Lopez all served as coaches at that camp, providing Vasquez with a glimmer of hope his own dream was attainable. “It changed my life,” Vasquez says. “That camp definitely changed my whole life and now I’m living the dream and I don’t want to wake up. I always dreamed about doing the same thing in my country for the kids.”

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Los 24 gathered the two dozen top basketball prospects in Venezuela, exposing them to the NBA stage in early June. Vasquez cherished the opportunity to work with the 13-17-year-old players. He scouted them thoroughly, planning how to enrich their lives with scholarship opportunities to prep schools across the United States. “Instead of being in the streets, they can be on the court playing basketball and doing sports,” Vasquez says. He first arrived in the United States mere months after his Basketball without Borders experience, enrolled at Monte Christian in Rockville, Md. as a 17-year-old and the rest, as they say, is history.

While he has traversed the NBA landscape, Vasquez has consistently kept his country in his heart and jumped at the opportunity to create Los 24 through his foundation. The camp extended far beyond the court, employing speakers to educate the young players about sexual education, nutrition and media training. The camp gathered over 500 coaches to learn from former Raptors assistant Tom Sterner as well. “Basketball here is growing, it’s growing,” Vasquez says. “It makes me very, very proud. I love my country, I love where I came from, that’s the most important thing for me and my family.”

Sam Perkins: Kuwait

Tracy is a military contractor, currently stationed at one of the United States’s four Kuwait bases while her husband and daughter in South Carolina await her imminent return home. Tracy’s transition from service in the Middle East to an American homebody may prove as daunting a task as her responsibilities overseas, although it’s a change 18-year NBA veteran Sam Perkins feels he can identify with.

“We talked about transitioning and what she’s gonna do after is almost similar to a basketball afterlife. That was a common thread with her, ” Perkins says. The North Carolina product shared a lunch with Tracy and hundreds of other troops during a week-long USO Tour in May. “We just sat down and I talked about transitioning college players to the pros. And then once I played 18 years, I had to transition myself to see what was next and fortunately I have people that wanted me to do several different things for the NBA.”

Following his retirement in 2001, Perkins has represented the NBA in several of the league’s initiatives as gracefully as he scored 22 points on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. From May 15-22, Perkins took part in a variety-style USO entertainment tour, headlined by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the first time in the USO’s 75-year history. Along with Scorpion star Robert Patrick, platinum-selling country star Jerrod Niemann, actor Matthew Lillard and UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy, Perkins visited with thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan.

“He’s a sports legend,” says Rachel M. Tischler, Vice President of USO Entertainment. “Sports are really important to the military because it’s a way to really stay connected back home. When you have a break in whatever job you’re doing, it gives you something to look forward to. Everyone relates to their favorite teams and they love to know what’s going on and there’s obviously nothing more magical than having a superstar of whatever sport you follow, in particular basketball, show up at whatever base you’re serving at, in person, to hang out with you and talk with you and eat lunch with you and tell you how important you are. That’s just the crux of what we do.”

“You find a common thread over lunch,” Perkins says over the phone from Kuwait. Despite towering over most soldiers, Perkins shined in his ability to connect with the troops. “He has such a wonderful grace about him and an ease of talking and relating to people,” Tischler said. Perkins met a 20-year-old young man from Georgia who was forced to drop out of college and work maintenance on southern railroad tracks to help support his family. “He found himself in a quandary, so he wanted to do something better than what he was,” Perkins says. “He just wanted to finish school and make something of himself and his family and at the same time serve.” Perkins was humbled, overcome with emotion as he learned of each man and woman’s unique background.

The tour reached roughly 1,000 soldiers each day. Perkins posed for pictures with everyone as basketball dominated his discussions. The NBA has permeated throughout the world, and the sport is alive and well on U.S. bases overseas. In every U.S. state that houses an NBA franchise, also exists a USO center. The league and USO have partnered to do hundreds of military appreciation events because of that proximity. “It’s a partnership that we’re looking to continue for another 75 years,” Tischler says.

On one Kuwait base, Perkins was led to a small, makeshift court the troops had built. A far cry from an NBA hardwood, the three-point lines overlapped one another. “I was like, ‘This is the smallest court I’ve ever seen!’” Perkins says. Amidst the 140-degree swelter, Perks opted out on hoisting a few jump shots with the troops. “They play outside in that hot desert sun that kisses your skin,” Perkins says. He did learn of the base’s co-ed league, however, which features four teams. The games are organized by a 6’7” commisioner who played Division III basketball. “I never thought they would have a league on a base,” Perkins says approvingly.

Back stateside for this July 4 weekend, Perkins now harbors a deeper appreciation for his freedom his country provides. “It’s a great gratification to personally meet someone to say thank you,” Perkins says. “They’re doing something worthwhile to make it happen, to make us safe.”

Sean Elliott: Mexico

The NBA Finals stage brings back fond memories for Sean Elliott. He averaged 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 40% shooting from beyond the arc as the San Antonio Spurs marched through the 1999 playoffs en route to the franchise’s first championship. Elliott retired from the league following the 2000-01 season having spent 11 of his 12 seasons in San Antonio. He entered a career in broadcasting and returned to the Spurs in 2004-05 as their local broadcast’s color commentator.

Elliott recognizes the ability to watch Spurs games on television, let alone be a part of the game presentation, isn’t one to be taken for granted. The two-time All-Star forward, representing the NBA, travels to Mexico several times a year to help promote the league and expand the game of basketball. “Those guys don’t get to watch NBA games live all the time,” Elliott told SI.com from Hermosillo, Mexico. “The fans are incredible. They are as rabid as anywhere out there. They love the NBA. Obviously soccer is the biggest game in Mexico, but basketball is on the rise and the people really have an appetite for it. It’s a lot of fun to watch the game grow down here. “

In June, Elliott ventured south of the border to help host an NBA Finals viewing party. The game was broadcasted on different screens set up as a jumbotron. “When you grow the game and you expose people to the game, you’re only going to create more fans and that will create more players and you’re starting to see that now,” Elliott said.

Many around the league credit the development to the NBA’s efforts to send their players all over the world. For international youth to experience players up close and personal, it makes the NBA dream feel more attainable. Elliott has been a large part of the efforts, visiting Turkey two seasons ago and Berlin, Germany a year ago in addition to his frequent trips to Mexico. “I just think that the kids in Mexico, they’re just like the kids in Australia and Europe, and it’s just a matter of time before you see more talent in NBA coming from these countries.”

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