Jeff Van Gundy still hasn't spent much time with Damian Lillard.
Team USA opened training camp in Las Vegas the first week of July and won Olympic gold less than a month later. Van Gundy, incredibly, hadn't even spoken to Lillard directly until their time with USA Basketball this summer.
Despite his recent formal introduction to Lillard and merely brief stint as one of his assistant coaches, though, Van Gundy already knows everything he needs to about the "basketball character" of the Trail Blazers superstar.
On Wednesday's edition of The Lowe Post, ESPN's Zach Lowe asked Van Gundy—part of Gregg Popovich's staff with USA Basketball—if there was anything different or new he learned about the NBA stars who won a fourth straight Olympic gold medal for Team USA in Japan.
After expressing awe at Kevin Durant's otherworldy talent and tireless work ethic as well as lauding Jerami Grant's team-first attitude amid scant playing time, Van Gundy began waxing poetic on the mindset that's helped make Lillard one of the most revered players in the NBA.
"I've long admired him from afar; had never really spoken to him in my life," Van Gundy said of Lillard. "But he is as good of a basketball guy as you could ever hope to run across in your time. I was so very impressed with his basketball character, his skill, all of those things.
"I couldn't be more impressed with a person than I was with Damian Lillard."
A fawning Van Gundy further explained his admiration for Lillard by noting his reaction to a crunch-time gaffe during the Americans' opening-game loss to France in Japan—their first in Olympic action since 2004.
With his team up one and about 80 seconds remaining, Lillard inexplicably passed up a wide-open wing three for a telegraphed extra pass to Zach LaVine that was picked off by the French.
Instead of directing blame elsewhere or even just deflecting it, though, Lillard publicly owned his mistake at the post-game podium.
"He was presented with excuses after the France game. People were saying he felt hesitant to shoot or whatever it was on a crucial possession late," Van Gundy said. "He just stood up and said, 'No, I have to shoot the ball. That's my fault.' People, when given opportunities to grab onto excuses, most often do. I'll tell you what, I was just...The way he handled that situation was impressive beyond anything I expected."
Van Gundy, like even casual NBA fans by now, had heard before the Olympics about the attributes that make Lillard arguably the league's best leader. But even amid relative individual struggles prompted in part by an injury to his abdomen, Lillard was able to live up to the hype.
"Sometimes what you read isn't true," Van Gundy said. "Everything that's been said about him in a positive manner is true."
[h/t Zach Lowe, ESPN]