SACRAMENTO -- There are no promises that the Sacramento Kings will be represented at the Olympic Summer games in Rio later this year, but they have a 2-in-30 shot. Both DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay were named as finalists for Team USA’s roster on Monday. With any luck, one or both will play for a gold medal and represent their country on the world’s biggest stage.
“It’s always an honor to play for the USA team, it’s not a chance everybody gets,” Cousins said following practice today. “Hopefully I make the team and I’m in Rio this summer.”
The finalist list is star studded and will take a bit of luck for either Cousins or Gay to get a final invitation to the Olympic games. But both of these players have been part of the Team USA program for sometime, which always helps the process.
Cousins has come a long way in his journey to make the team. There was a time when he and Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo were not on the same page. But Colangelo has been complimentary over the past few summers as Cousins has settled in and shown great personal growth.
Team USA’s play style has morphed into a positionless look that mirrors head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s style at Duke University. No longer is the team carrying a bevy of bigs to dominate international opponents in the paint like they did in the 1990’s. It’s a fluid style that values speed and athleticism over pure size, but that doesn’t exclude Cousins from making the squad.
“You always need bigs,” Cousins said. “No matter how much the game changes, you always needs bigs.”
Cousins played in all nine games for Team USA during the 2014 World Cup in Spain, averaging 9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 13.8 minutes a night off the bench. He was the team’s primary big off the bench, a role he may fill again this summer in Rio.
“I enjoy winning, I enjoy being around some of the best players in the world,” Cousins said. “It’s not about going out there and scoring 30, it’s about coming together and winning a gold medal. You’re representing your country, so it’s bigger than just going out there and trying to score buckets.”
Gay has played in 41 international games, dating back to his high school days representing his country as a 16-year-old in global competitions. He stepped in late during the process in 2014 when Paul George injured his leg in camp followed by Kevin Durant’s decision to walk away from the team out of the blue.
“Basketball’s taken me to a lot of places and I have USA basketball to thank mostly for that,” Gay said.
While he is a longshot to make the final cut, Gay’s experience may come in handy. Like Cousins, Gay played a reserve role for the 2014 World Cup team, averaging 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 13.9 minutes over the nine games.
“It’s very difficult,” Gay said of how hard it is to crack the final 12. “There’s a lot of great players that aren’t on that list. It’s just good to be noticed.”
Gay is happy to be part of the revitalization of the Team USA program after the program faltered following the run of the first few “Dream Team” clubs. After losing in the semi-finals to Argentina in the 2004 Olympics and taking home the bronze, Team USA has won two straight gold medals.
Coach K has already announced this will be his last go around with Team USA. He will hand the reigns over to the Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game’s and the players would love to send him into retirement from international competition with a win.
“Coach K does such a great job, and Mr. Colangelo,” Gay said. “They do great things with motivating guys and getting the right guys to come in to be ready to win.”
Despite two gold medals in World Cup competition, Gay would love a shot at winning an Olympic gold. The 29-year-old seemed humbled by the fact that he was once again under consideration.
“It would mean a lot,” Gay added. “It's a chance that not a lot of people get and I’m glad I’m still in the running.”
Final cuts will come later this year as the team prepares for the world’s biggest sporting event. There is an incredible amount of talent vying for spots. Reducing this group from 30 players to just 12 won’t be an easy task.