LAS VEGAS -- When media streamed into the Mendenhall Center on the campus of UNLV on Monday afternoon, De’Aaron Fox was playing head-to-head against All-Star Kemba Walker in a Team USA scrimmage.
In the segment of game play that press members were allowed to view, the Kings guard held his own in his first look with the national program since his prep days. He pushed the tempo, like he did for Sacramento last season, and he found his teammates for open looks.
During his time on the floor, Fox knocked down a perimeter jumper and drew a foul in transition that led to free throws. He looked confident and has clearly worked on his body during the offseason.
On the defensive end, he stayed with the speedy Walker, showing the length and quickness that makes him one of the better young two-way guards in the league.
“It’s so hard to guard him, he plays so low to the ground, it’s something I try to take from his game,” Fox said Monday of the new Boston Celtics point guard. “His ability to get wherever he wants on the floor and for him to not be that tall, but he gets to his spots and can still get everything he wants off.”
Fox appeared slightly overwhelmed by the situation off the court. The sudden phone call from legendary head coach Gregg Popovich came out of the blue. The invite to challenge for a spot on the FIBA World Cup roster was too much to pass up on.
“It’s an honor to be here and definitely an honor to be able to compete for one of these spots,” Fox said.
When he was on the court, Fox looked like he belonged. He barked out orders and took ownership of his team on both ends of the court. His speed and quickness match what the team is looking to do at the World Cup, and there is an opportunity for Fox to shine with thinner guard depth following a series of high-profile departures.
The learning curve is steep. Most of the players who will venture to China with Team USA are new to the program. With so little time to make adjustments, the players have to find synergy in a hurry.
“Coming out here and playing with these guys, of course it’s going to be a little bit rough because not a lot of people have played together and everyone is trying to gel together as quickly as possible,” Fox said. “You just see everybody out here and everybody out here loves the game. The relationships are growing. Everybody is just trying to get to know each other a little bit more.”
It has been a whirlwind for Fox. He expected to show up to camp and play with the Select Team against the Team USA roster. Necessity opened a door, and Fox is hoping to take advantage of the chance of a lifetime.
It’s pretty simple what Popovich and his staff want from Fox.
“They told me to come out here and play the way I play,” Fox said. “Kyle [Lowry] was showing me some of the ropes and telling me never slow down, always play fast, but of course, be poised.”
Fox isn’t the only Kings player in attendance. Harrison Barnes, a longtime member of the Team USA family, is in attendance and pulling for his young Sacramento teammate.
“I feel pretty confident he’s going to be there,” Barnes said of Fox’s potential to make the squad. “I think what he brings, his burst offensively and defensively, his ability to guard and pick up point guards and put pressure on them.”
Barnes is considered the “old head” of the team. He has stuck with the national program for almost a decade, and his stint in red, white and blue included a gold medal win at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
With so many other players opting out of the World Cup in China, Barnes chose a different route. He’s back for another tour of duty, and he hopes it isn’t his last.
“For me it was pretty simple,” Barnes explained. “Assuming that everything was good with my family and my health is good, my answer to USA Basketball has always been yes. As long as they continue to invite me, as long as I can continue to be here, I’m going to keep coming out here and keep playing.”
The Kings are relying on Barnes to bring his experience -- both as an NBA champion and from his international play -- when he suits up this season. The 27-year-old is entering his eighth NBA season, and he has a wealth of knowledge to share with his young teammates.
Following the practice, Barnes told reporters he was going over to grab Fox and hit the weight room for more work. Barnes took on the role of mentor and big brother the moment he walked into the Kings’ locker room last season, and it’s not stopping while the pair is in Las Vegas.
Whether Fox and/or Barnes make the traveling squad is uncertain at this time, but they seem to be taking the right approach to the experience.
“We’re here, we’re trying to get better, we’re growing,” Fox said. “We want to be able to put ourselves in that conversation. Everybody came out here trying to get better, trying to grow as players and when we get back to Sacramento, try to apply what we learned here.”
Fox has a natural confidence and charisma about him. He clearly wants to make the team, but he’s also humbled by the situation and appears ready for whatever Popovich and Team USA needs from him this week and beyond.
Marvin Bagley is in attendance at this week’s camp as well, although he and his Select Team teammates were not on the floor when the action tipped off Monday.
This is Bagley’s first showing with the national program. The fact that he is there with two of his Kings teammates is a good thing for everyone involved.
Camp resumes Tuesday in the sweltering heat of Las Vegas. Fox has four more days of camp to show he deserves a spot on the traveling team that will open World Cup play Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic in Shanghai.