Post-Up Drills With Monty Williams Epitomize Team USA Culture

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MENDENHALL CENTER, LAS VEGAS, NV – Day Two of USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team minicamp featured 29 of the 34 invitees suited up in reversible blue and white jerseys for more of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s structured drill sessions, led by some of the most renowned American basketball coaches and trainers, utilizing a few of the most tried and true methods refined from decades of experience.

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At each of the four baskets on the two courts that make up Mendenhall Center, were either guards or big men donning a white or blue jersey, working on fundamentals, adding new tweaks here and there, getting skills more ingrained with repetition.

As the abbreviated one-hour session drew to a close, assistant coach Monty Williams summoned three men from the blue squad and three from the white squad. They were six of the world’s most talented American basketball players: Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook.

After some shooting drills, mostly off of the dribble, Williams changed the tenor of the workout and had each of the players attempt high-post face-up moves. On one side of the floor, James, Anthony, then Westbrook, would take on one of the (shorter) USA trainers. On the other side, Durant, Paul, and Curry would try to post-up on the 6’8” Williams.

It started out somewhat playfully, with Williams’ wingspan presenting a slight challenge to each player, especially the smaller Paul and Curry, who had to come up with various ways to fake and/or fade away and get off a shot, let alone make it.

“Players had to make eight before Monty got five stops, basically,” Curry told me later.

Players also weren’t allowed to cut in for a layup or take too many dribbles. And lest another country wanted to emulate this drill, Williams would not reveal the exact number of allowed dribbles. “Oh, I’m not giving that secret out.”

As they got settled in, Williams introduced a little bothersome contact with those long arms, then a little more, and then a bit more after that. Pretty soon, Curry was getting harassed over the shoulder by a Williams limb even before the entry pass was made, but there were no fouls to be called, only makes and misses to be tallied.

Wait, wasn’t minicamp supposed to be non-contact?

“I’d rather them beat up on me than each other,” said Williams.

It went on and on, resetting the eight-to-fives without much celebration, like a video game.

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After a few sessions, the Durant-Paul-Curry triumvirate traded sides with that of James-Anthony-Westbrook, and that’s when the fun really started, because Williams matched up better in size against the likes of LeBron and Carmelo, who also stand 6’8”.

Meanwhile, Durant, Paul, and Curry sliced and diced the smaller USA trainer. With a standing reach of 9’2”, Durant once put the ball high by his head and, with the trainer anticipating a move, simply lofted a jumper through the net, easily winning that chess match.

After that, Curry gave new meaning to “step-back”, retreating off the dribble by nearly three yards to the left to drain a triple. It was so exaggerated that Durant and Paul, who were observing near the arc, had to step aside. Durant and Paul then immediately mimicked Curry’s move, asking him if he had inserted a short dribble before the step-back.

James and Anthony were masterful in their return of Williams’ physicality, using their own powerful arms and the sheer mass of their bodies as if they were clearing a path through the Amazon jungle with a machete. Pretty soon, Williams had to put his hands on his knees in between jousts to take a breather.

We don’t know who won and that will never be revealed, as these members of Team USA have the utmost respect for each other, but there was definitely some taunting, obligatory disputes of scores, some yelling of “And one!” and moments of self-bickering from both sides whenever a point was lost.

It was the American competitive spirit at its finest.

“I don’t think you ever lose that,” said Williams, who turns 44 in October. “Saturday mornings when you’re growing up, that’s what it is when we say we love the game.”

“They love one another. They trust. It’s an amazing culture that we have right now,” said Krzyzewski.

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Said Harrison Barnes, “Everyone here is super-competitive. To be a part of it is fun, but I’m sure to watch on the sidelines to see one person get going, and that feeds the next guy, and the next guy, and that just keeps the energy up.

“You see one guy make a move, you’re like, ‘Oh I’m going to try to make my move better,’ and then the next guy adds an extra flavor onto it, so everybody’s just kind of feeding off each other. I think that’s what makes this culture what it is.”

It takes tremendous mental and physical toughness to go at it against six of the world’s most skilled and creative basketball players, one after the other ad nauseum, but Williams seems the right man to instill those virtues.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said Curry. “He has nothing to gain, really, right now from getting out there banging with us. It’s just to make us better and elevate the intensity while we’re here.”

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