Zach LaVine never hid his desire to represent his country by making an Olympic team.
Now that it’s official, that exuberance, along with his talent, played a part in the Chicago Bulls All-Star guard's selection to the 12-member U.S. Olympic men’s team that will vie for a gold medal in July and August in Tokyo.
Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s men’s national team managing director, confirmed that during a Zoom media session on Monday.
“He’s full of enthusiasm. It wasn’t that long ago when he and I spoke on the phone. He almost jumped through the phone he was so excited about the opportunity. And I love that,” Colangelo said. “When you have a few people who maybe didn’t expect to be there and who are just so exuberant about the opportunity, they add a lot of juice to the whole situation. That’s where he falls.”
LaVine, who will wear No. 5, is part of a loaded backcourt that also features Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday. How much playing time LaVine receives from head coach Gregg Popovich, who will be assisted by Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce and Villanova’s Jay Wright, remains to be seen.
But even if LaVine doesn’t play a lot or his selection gained momentum when James Harden withdrew following his hamstring injury, the inclusion on such an elite roster only continues the upwards trajectory of LaVine’s career.
“He’ll make a contribution,” Colangelo said. “In whatever amount of time he may get, he’s going to be there ready to go. And he’s going to push some people. And I like that.”
The global pandemic postponed the Tokyo Olympics by a year. It also impacted the last two NBA seasons and USA Basketball’s selection process, which typically follows essentially a tryout camp.
Colangelo said USA Basketball officials used the year-long delay to further scout players they had interest in, emphasizing the importance of adding “new blood” to the roster. LaVine is one of nine first-time Olympians on the team.
“Zach has come a long way in terms of his game,” Colangelo said. “He’s a freak athlete, capable of going off and putting some big numbers out there.”
LaVine posted his first career 50-point game this season and averaged career-highs with 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists. He fell six assists and one made free throw shy of joining Steph Curry (three times) and Larry Bird as the only players in NBA history to average 27-5-5 with shooting splits of 50/40/85.
Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Draymond Green are the only returning Olympians. But that, along with the unique nature to these Games because of the pandemic's effects, doesn't mean Colangelo doesn't have his eye on a fourth straight Olympic gold medal for USA Basketball.
"There’s always a lot of stake," Colangelo said. "My attitude — and I know Pop feels the same way — is we’re representing our country. We have a job to do. We have to get people ready to play and have the right mindset about what we’re going there for and what our mission is all about."