Friday July 24th, 2009

LAS VEGAS -- A few minutes after the start of Team USA's minicamp Thursday, Jay Triano called practice to a halt. Triano, who was brought in by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to run the three-day camp for Olympic hopefuls, wanted to emphasize what every player needed to do if he wanted any chance of earning a coveted spot on the 2010 World Championship team: Play defense.

"Defense is why the U.S. was effective in the Olympics," said Triano, the Raptors' coach. "Defense is the great equalizer. They got in [opponents] faces and were aggressive."

The players quickly took Triano's words to heart. Moments after the break in the action, Devin Harris launched himself into the air to chase down a loose ball. Greg Oden leveled Derrick Rose on his way to the rim, and Andre Iguodala bounced his body off the floor in an effort to save the ball from going out of bounds.

"The intensity today was great," Triano said after practice. "Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] and I talked about [how] defense was the most effective weapon [for the U.S.] at the Olympics and how it should be the thing the U.S. dominates."

Indeed, if anything can be gleaned from the first day of camp, it's that USA Basketball officials are looking for two things from the players: intensity and a willingness to defend on every possession. That's why a player like Harris was a Day 1 standout. Harris was considered one of the top defensive point guards in the Western Conference before he was traded from Dallas to New Jersey, where his defense suffered last season as he took on a heavier offensive burden. He's also a tireless worker who on Thursday showcased his burgeoning leadership skills. When a play broke down on Harris' scrimmage team, he was quick to approach the offending player and explain where the play went wrong.

Versatility is also a valued commodity. "What we have learned in the international game is that versatility adds a lot," Krzyzewski said. "Especially at the 'three' and 'four.' So many 'fours' are perimeter players so it's great if you have a guy who can play both [forward spots]."

Enter Kevin Durant, the 6-foot-10 Oklahoma City forward who nearly made the team in 2008 and is considered a lock to make the 2010 squad. Triano singled out Durant's strong play after practice, and his perimeter skills -- he was one of the few U.S. players knocking down jump shots in drills -- combined with his ability to play multiple positions have made him a favorite of Krzyzewski and Colangelo.

"It's great to have a pool of players that we are familiar with and know what they can do," Krzyzewski said. "We want to start building relationships with these guys not just for 2010 or 2012 but for 2014, 2016 and beyond."

• Knicks forward David Lee sounded on Thursday like a man preparing himself for life after New York. Lee, a restricted free agent who will not participate in the minicamp because he has no NBA contract for next season, is believed to be seeking a multiyear contract worth $10 million per season; the highest the Knicks are willing to go is $8 million. New York is willing to wait Lee out because they don't believe another team will meet his asking price.

"It's frustrating," Lee said. "There is definitely an effort on their part to spend as little money as possible. I don't think we're asking for anything out of the ordinary."

Lee, who averaged 16 points and 11.7 rebounds last season, said New York remains his first choice. But he is growing more and more uncertain that a return will be possible.

"[Free agency] hasn't soured me [on New York]," Lee said. "It's nothing personal. We want to get the best deal done possible. Maybe it will end up that it's not in New York. At the start of this free agent season I would have said, 'Man I can't wait to get this deal done with New York -- it should be something we can get done.' Now it's looking like we have to look at other options."

• Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo has made no secret of his desire to eventually be moved to point guard. To that end, Mayo said he has been working on point guard skills at USC with Memphis assistant coaches Johnny Davis and Henry Bibby. Improving his ball-handling is his top priority.

"I got there in mid-May and haven't stopped," Mayo said.

Mayo also took some time in early July to work on strength and conditioning with trainer Tim Grover and had a chance to run drills with All-Star point guards Devin Harris and Gilbert Arenas.

"Being able to pick their brains was a blessing to me," Mayo said.

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