LAS VEGAS — After the USA shooting drills that closed out practice were over Tuesday — drills where Klay Thompson outshined the other guys in his group — Thompson stayed on the court. He wasn’t leaving until he hit 10 left corner catch-and-shoot threes in a row. He got frustrated with himself when he missed, but he kept working at it. His form refined, he eventually hit the number.
It is that work ethic that has Thompson looking like the starting two-guard for Team USA — and getting the praise of coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Klay is one of the great, complete players on this planet,” Coach K said. “He’s more than a shooter, he’s an outstanding offensive player who loves to play defense — and never really seems to get tired. He has a great motor.”
“Wow, that means a lot,” Thompson said with some genuine surprise. “Coach K’s words, he’s seen so much basketball it means a lot. He’s a joy to play for, especially how prideful he is to be the coach of the USA — he doesn’t have to do this, but he wants to. That pride of will trickles down to everybody else on this team.”
After the end of the NBA season, Thompson said he was exhausted and mused about skipping the Rio games to rest. That didn’t last long.
“Mentally and physically it’s a long season, the way it ended was very taxing,” Thompson said. “But you take a couple weeks off, and you’re itching to get back on the court. And this is too great an opportunity to pass up. I always dreamed of playing in the Olympics; I’d rather do it when I’m 26 not 30. I’m fresh, I’m young, and I’m having a lot of fun.”
“Fun” was a word that came up a lot when Thompson spoke — he’s clearly enjoying himself, the camaraderie, and the great players pushing one another.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “It’s fun beating up on the select team because I was in that position years ago, and the Olympic team used to beat the crap out of us every day. So it’s fun to be on the Olympic team and do that to them now and getting each other better.”
Sometimes the biggest challenge for great shooters going from the NBA to FIBA is adjusting to the international ball — it’s made of leather but feels synthetic and slick. When guys get a sweat on it can slide off hands easier. In the words of Kyle Lowry, “you just can’t get a sweat on it.” Thompson, who has played with the ball before as a select team member and on the World Cup team that won gold in 2014. Still, it’s an adjustment.
“I’m used to it by now,” Thompson said. “It takes some getting used to, it’s different from an NBA ball. It’s tough to going from an NBA ball to try and catch and shoot this ball, but it just takes a couple days, and once you get used to it, it feels normal.”
The way he shoots, that’s bad news for the rest of the world when the games tip-off in Rio.