Kyrie Irving wants what LeBron James has — NBA championship rings and Olympic gold medals.
Hey, what player doesn’t?
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ All-Star point guard may indeed get both someday now that James has returned to Cleveland. But Irving could win something James hasn’t — a FIBA gold medal — if he makes the USA Basketball team that will be going for gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain next month.
James, who has two NBA championship rings and two Olympic gold medals, was on the U.S. team that finished third at the 2006 World Championships.
“That would be great, but right now, my focus is on this team and trying to win a gold medal in Spain,” Irving said Tuesday after Team USA’s practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. “Hopefully, the other things will come with time.”
Irving was with the national team last year for its Las Vegas minicamp. And while there was no international competition to prepare for, Irving said the experience of playing with other star players and being coached again by Mike Krzyzewski proved to be invaluable.
“Last year we had a lot of great young guys, including myself, come out here and compete,” said Irving, who played one year for Krzyzewski at Duke, in 2010-11. “It’s a different focus level this year. We all want to be on the national team, and everyone’s competing for a (roster) spot.
“We all come in here as individual players from our (NBA) teams. But ultimately, it’s about coming together as one team with one goal — winning the gold medal.”
Krzyzewski said he has been impressed with Irving this week.
“Minicamp’s tough, because sometimes you can treat it like All-Star week and you turn it on in the (exhibition game),” Krzyzewski said. “Here, we’re preparing for a major competition, and you’ve got to bring it every possession, and Kyrie’s done that. He’s a year older, and he is understanding the responsibility of being a key player of his franchise. I think he’s brought that into this camp.”
Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball and the managing director for Team USA, also noticed a heightened maturity to Irving’s overall game.
“He has leadership qualities, and he makes the other guys around him better,” Colangelo said. “He can make plays and can finish at the basket, and he’s a good fit for what we’re trying to do.”
Like the rest of the Cavaliers’ organization, Irving was ecstatic when James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11. Irving had signed a five-year contract extension before James’ decision, so the chance to play with the game’s best player can be a career-changing experience for Irving, who is just 22 and entering his fourth NBA season.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Irving said of the Cavaliers, who might not be done retooling their roster as speculation continues to mount about a trade that would send Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love to Cleveland.
“Obviously, everybody’s going to be coming after us, but that’s what you want as a competitor playing in the greatest league. But that’s a couple of months down the road, and when that time comes, I’ll be prepared, and me and my teammates will attack it head-on.”
Irving faces stiff competition just to make the World Cup roster. Point guards Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and John Wall are battling to make the team, and Irving said the key for him in enhancing his chances of making the final 12-man roster is to blend in.
“Basically, you just want to be yourself and trust your own game,” he said. “Sure, there’s parts of each person’s individual game they have to give up. But on a team like this, with so many talented players, that’s not hard to do.”
That probably will be the case as well when the Cavaliers gather for training camp in October. Irving, a two-time NBA All-Star, averaged 20.7 points and 6.1 assists last season for a team that won just 33 games and missed the playoffs. With James and possibly Love as teammates, Irving won’t need to score as often, and his assists numbers should increase.
“We have the greatest player in the game coming (to Cleveland), so I think we’ll all have to sacrifice something in order to be a good team,” he said.
Irving said he was home when the news broke about James.
“I was excited. I really was,” Irving said. “We all suspected it would happen, but obviously we didn’t know until it happened.
“Obviously the organization is going in the right direction, and what LeBron wrote spoke volumes about what he wants to accomplish, and I want to be part of that, too. Hopefully we can make something special happen the next couple of years.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.