Coach K: James Harden ‘has been as good a leader as we’ve had’ for Team USA

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When James Harden isn’t busy declaring himself to be the best basketball player alive, he’s evidently been as impressive as ever in the way he’s handled his business with Team USA this summer.

Harden figures to be one of the focal points offensively with Kevin Durant out of the picture, and he’s taken on a leadership role with the team that had USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski singing his praises after practice in New York on Tuesday.

“James has been as good a leader as we’ve had for this team,” Krzyzewski said. “He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he’s obviously very, very talented. With this group, especially after Kevin left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He’s really one of our key guys. There is no question about it.”

Interestingly enough, the comments about Harden followed a response from Coach K about the leadership of Derrick Rose — something which isn’t necessary with this team, both because of Rose’s need to focus on getting right from a basketball standpoint, as well as due to having others who are perfectly capable of filling that role.

“Well, not so much leadership,” Krzyzewski said of Rose’s contribution thus far. “I think he’s done a really good job. He needs to keep finding himself and his rhythm and not be worried about leading a team. Harden and Curry are really good with that, but Derrick’s done a good job.”

Krzyzewski doesn’t know if Harden going to Houston from Oklahoma City helped in his maturation, but he sure seems thrilled with the way Harden has performed for Team USA this summer.

“I don’t how maturity develops when I’m not around it all the time,” Krzyzewski said. “I just know that he’s one of the best players in the NBA. And having this responsibility here will only make him better. These guys get better after playing in this, because they go to places that they don’t necessarily go to on their own teams, whether it be in a subordinate role at times, a leadership role, the key player, the good talker, or whatever. James checks every box. I love James. We have a great, great relationship. That communication between the two of us can translate to even better communication with the guys on the court.”

Harden says he’s learned he can be that leader in recent years, and conversations he’s had with Krzyzewski have energized him to take on that persona with the extremely talented Team USA roster.

“I’m capable of leading a team,” Harden said. “Obviously, I’m still learning and have a long way to go, but the first couple of steps is already there. So, trying to be more vocal is part of my leadership role, especially on this team. Guys have the talent but guys are kind of shy and might not want to talk. Coach K had plenty of talks with me, (telling me to) make sure you’re vocal, make sure guys hear you. So, that’s what I tried to do.”