De'Aaron Fox reflects on 'honor' of competing for Team USA roster spot

De'Aaron Fox reflects on 'honor' of competing for Team USA roster spot

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.

[RELATED: Kings stars Fox, Bagley on NBA 'Best 23 under 23' ranking]

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.

Kings' De'Aaron Fox targeting return to lineup vs. Hornets on Tuesday

Kings' De'Aaron Fox targeting return to lineup vs. Hornets on Tuesday

De'Aaron Fox won't play Sunday against the Warriors in San Francisco, but the injured Kings point guard is close to returning.

"Right now, after talking to [the training staff], it could be as early as the Charlotte game," Fox told reporters in Sacramento before the Kings lost to the Knicks, 103-101 on Friday night. "I don't see it being as late as after Christmas, or even the Houston game right before Christmas. So right now, we're looking at between the Charlotte game and the Memphis game."

After making the drive down to San Francisco, the Kings head out on a three-game road trip. On Tuesday, they face the Hornets, followed by the Pacers on Friday. They finish the trip with a game against the Grizzlies on Saturday, Dec. 21.

Fox has been out since Nov. 11 when he sprained his ankle during practice. The team diagnosed him with a Grade 3 ankle sprain.

In Fox's absence, the Kings have gone 8-8, including Friday's fall to the lowly Knicks.

Offseason acquisition Cory Joseph has started every game since Fox got hurt and is averaging 5.7 points and 4.9 assists in 15 contests. Once Fox returns to the starting lineup, Joseph will move back to his bench role and lead the second unit.

[RELATED: Lack of intensity costs Kings against Knicks]

When Fox returns, the Kings will be fully healthy and should be poised to go on a run.

Kings can't sustain intensity for 48 minutes, stumble at home to Knicks

Kings can't sustain intensity for 48 minutes, stumble at home to Knicks

SACRAMENTO -- By the time the media arrived in the Sacramento Kings’ locker room Friday evening at Golden 1 Center, half of the locker room was already gone.

A few players stayed by to answer for the team’s disappointing 103-101 loss to the New York Knicks, but not nearly enough.

In classic Kings fashion, they went up big on a less than stellar opponent and then let off the gas. The victory by New York was just their sixth of the season against 20 losses.

“We took our foot off the pedal and let them come back and stick around the game when we had them kind of buried,” veteran Cory Joseph said.

In front of a sold-out crowd on their home floor, the Kings took a 16-point lead with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter. After a series of substitutions, Sacramento stopped moving the ball and settled for perimeter shots.

New York hit the Kings with an 11-3 run to finish the third to pull within eight points going to the fourth.

“We got up big and we just stopped doing the things that got us there,” Joseph said. “We stopped playing with that aggression and they out physicaled us down in the paint.”

The Knicks destroyed the Kings down low, outscoring them 56-32 in points in the paint, including an 18-10 advantage in the third as they tightened the game up.

“I’ve got to watch the film,” Marvin Bagley said. “They started getting easy buckets. I’ve got to go see what went wrong, but I really don’t know.”

The final 12 minutes was more of the same, except New York started to hit an occasional perimeter shot to help open the lane even more. The Knicks knocked down 4-of-8 from the perimeter in the fourth. Sacramento matched the number of makes with four, but they took 15 3-pointers in order to do it.

“We didn’t play enough of the 48 minutes to secure a win tonight,” coach Luke Walton said. “Give the Knicks credit. They knocked down shots. They made plays as that game went on.”

This isn’t the first time this season that the Kings have struggled against a beatable opponent on their home floor. They fell apart early in the season against the Hornets and then lost a game to the Chicago Bulls to open then December schedule. For a team with playoff aspirations, these are must-win games.

“Our guys were ready to play, we came out and were the aggressors, we built up a double-digit lead and then we didn’t do a good enough job of maintaining that type of play,” Walton said.

[RELATED: Walton suits up at Folsom to support criminal justice reform]

It’s back to the drawing board for the Kings. They’ll face another struggling opponent on Sunday when they travel to San Francisco to face the Golden State Warriors.

After playing in five straight NBA Finals, the Warriors are just 5-22 to start the season and they’ve lost three straight. Instead of playing to get back to .500, the Kings are 11-14 and back on the outside looking in of the Western Conference playoff standings.