LOS ANGELES -- Playing for USA Basketball is an opportunity. It’s a chance to represent your country on a tremendous stage. It’s also a time for players to challenge themselves against some of the best the game has to offer while building lifelong relationships.
For two Kings players, competing for spots on Team USA's 12-man FIBA World Cup roster have provided an extra few weeks to create a bond during a busy summer, and that could pay huge dividends down the road.
When the whistle blows to conclude practice, De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes can often be seen standing together in the ensuing scrum. Following media sessions, they head off together to get a lift in or treatment.
Regardless of whether one or both make the team that will represent the USA in China next month, this has been a valuable experience for two of the Kings’ core players to build chemistry and get to know each other better.
“Spending time with D has always been great, he’s a character for sure,” Barnes told NBC Sports California following Wednesday’s Team USA practice in Los Angeles. “I’m definitely looking forward to this trip and continuing to spend more time, continue to develop a relationship and see that translate when we get back to Sacramento.”
This is a new relationship. Barnes joined the Kings at the trade deadline and spent the final 28 games of the season trying to get acclimated to a new team in a new city that was trying to stay in the playoff hunt. Basketball came first. Friendships take time to develop.
Barnes is the veteran who has won a championship and an Olympic gold medal. Fox is the budding star still learning the ropes and trying to improve as a player.
“It’s just trust,” Barnes said about the opportunity to spend extra time together. “Anytime you can hang out with somebody, break bread with somebody, play Playstation, whatever it is, that just builds the camaraderie, the trust that you have with somebody.”
While they didn’t have a lot of time together during the season, you can see Fox leaning on Barnes for advice and leadership as he tries to navigate the new world of USA Basketball.
“It’s definitely grown a lot,” Fox said of his relationship with Barnes. “He’s one of the only guys that I’ve ever played with here, we play on the same team, so we’re a little bit comfortable together.
“For me, it’s definitely still been a bit of a learning experience and I can use him, basically as a vet that has been through this before."
Fox is the face of the Kings’ franchise and Barnes is a smart player who can see the potential in his young understudy.
Through his seven seasons in the NBA, Barnes has played with a few legends, including Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Dirk Nowitzki. He has witnessed the sacrifices stars make both on and off the court, and he is willing to impart some of that knowledge to his young Kings teammate.
“It’s just a matter of me seeing great players demonstrate good habits,” Barnes said. “Knowing the potential that De’Aaron has and just trying to help him foster that. Obviously, he can be one of the best point guards, if not the best point guard in the league. So it’s just helping him stay on those little things to help him get there.”
Barnes jumped at the chance to play for the national team again and it appears that the experience comes with the added bonus of building a better relationship with a young man who likely will be at his side for the next four seasons -- or more.
The 27-year-old forward gambled on the potential of Fox and the young core of the Kings this summer when he inked a new four-year, $85 million deal to remain in Sacramento. He’ll spend his prime in purple and black, and it appears he’s willing to invest in the players around him.
Fox is a sponge and he’s learning as fast as he can. Having a big brother to guide him through his Team USA experience this summer could make all the difference down the road.