LAS VEGAS – Kyrie Irving is excited about playing with LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's also focusing squarely on the task at hand with USA Basketball.
"Right now the most important thing is that we're representing the United States," Irving said Wednesday after the U.S. team's practice. "It's all about trying to win a gold medal."
The 22-year-old Australian-American is one of 10 pure guards at the national team's training camp hoping to land a spot on the 12-man roster.
Irving emerged as a star for the team during mini-camp last summer when he ended the three-day event with a 23-point, seven-assist performance to lead the White squad to a victory over the Blue in a scrimmage game. But that was last year, when Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was shelved with knee problems.
This summer Rose has stolen headlines with an inspiring comeback after just three days in camp, Washington Wizards floor leader John Wall — known for his defense — was a late invitee to camp, and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry also is competing for a roster spot.
"One of the biggest problems we have is every guard we have is really good," said USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse head coach. "There's not a guy on this team, in this group (of guards), that isn't an All-Star guard. That's the one position where we have such unbelievable depth. That's the one difficult part of getting this team together, that there's no bad guards."
Boeheim added that Irving's improved strength is a plus.
"This team is a very perimeter-oriented team," Boeheim said. "He's a guy who can get in the lane and make plays and make things happen."
Irving, a member of the 2012 Select Team that trained against the U.S. Olympic team, won a gold medal in the FIBA Americas 18-and-under championships and would love nothing more than to add some hardware with the national team in Spain next month in the FIBA World Cup.
"It's just about figuring out what your role is going to be on this team, that's what I've been trying to do," said Irving, who won the NBA All-Star MVP trophy in February. "Obviously, we all have our own talents and abilities, but at the end of the day we all have one common goal. Obviously, I have to sacrifice my goal for the greater good of the team. It may look like I'm in a comfort zone, or I'm not doing too much, but honestly it's just me figuring which way I best fit on this team."
During the latter half of Wednesday's scrimmage at UNLV's Mendenhall Center, he looked as if he fit in just fine, passing with ease, executing a drive-and-kick game to perfection and getting everyone coach Mike Krzyzewski put on the floor involved with the Blue squad's scheme.
Even when the 6-foot-3 guard didn't have the ball or was on defense he looked in charge, barking orders, getting guys in position and simply being the kind of vocal leader Krzyzewski is looking for on the court.
"We have outstanding guards; there will be some good, tough decisions to make as a result," Krzyzewski said. "Kyrie is one of the best players in the league. He's gotten older, and (he's learned to) understand the responsibility of being a key player with his franchise. Now he's one of the key players, but he was the key player for (the Cavaliers). That's a large responsibility, and I think he's learned from that and he's brought that into this game."
Though Krzyzewski said his former Duke point guard is not accustomed to playing with guys who are rim runners — like Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis — his knack for adjusting well will not only help his cause for making the final roster, but also his play alongside James with the Cavaliers.