LAS VEGAS — While many of the biggest names in the NBA passed on the opportunity to play for Team USA this summer, Kemba Walker and his Boston Celtics teammates are thrilled to slide into that spotlight.
"I love basketball. I love to play. And what better opportunity to do that than to play for your country?” Walker said Monday after Team USA’s first day of training camp on the campus of UNLV.
"This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us. I think a lot of us are happy those guys pulled out. This is our chance, this is our chance to get on the big stage and showcase our talents. It’s a chance for us to do something new, to be a new-look team.”
While this version of Team USA lacks the top-tier star power of past teams, it’s an opportunity for some of the more intriguing young talent in the NBA to assert themselves as the future of the game.
“We have a lot of guys that nobody probably even talks about, even knows,” said Marcus Smart. “We’re able to get our faces shown. … USA Basketball, to me, that’s something that’s really important.”
The Celtics have four players on the training camp roster and there’s hope that they’ll comprise one-third of the 12-man roster that will head overseas for the FIBA World Cup. Smart has said that he hopes that players that participate this year will get the opportunity to represent the team at the 2020 Olympics.
“We’re playing for something greater than ourselves,” said Smart. "We’re going against [other countries] that have been playing together for years, and they’ve already built that camaraderie. We’re taking a group of guys that have probably never even played with one another and … [learning to] act like a team, become a team. It’s not easy. But we know we can do it.”
Walker appreciates that players dropping out has opened the opportunity to play with a bunch of his new teammates. He knows how much it means to players like Smart and Jaylen Brown.
“This is USA Basketball, this is a huge achievement,” said Walker. “It’s a huge honor to be a part of this.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.