Grant Hill confident in Team USA roster, touts defensive talent

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Friday, April 19, 2024

Grant Hill, the managing director of the United States men's basketball team, said the decision to release the team's roster happened to coincide with the United States Olympic Committee's weeklong event in New York City commemorating the Paris Olympics being 100 days away.

But, Hill said, the decision also stemmed from another, more important reason: He and the rest of Team USA's leadership already had the group of 12 players they wanted for this year's team in place.

"We knew," Hill said on a conference call Wednesday morning. "We didn't necessarily plan it that way, but we knew this was the team that we wanted and we also know that there'll be a lot of interest and a lot of people who will want to be along for this incredible journey we're about to be on.

"So if we know, why wait?"

It's hard to blame Hill and coach Steve Kerr for being excited about this team. The roster features four NBA MVPs (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and reigning MVP Joel Embiid) and NBA Finals MVPs (James, Curry, Durant and Kawhi Leonard). All 12 players are former All-Stars -- including 11 from this season -- and eight have been named to at least one All-NBA team, a number likely to grow to 10 this year when Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton are expected to join that list.

It's also, perhaps most importantly, a physically imposing team, including the three best available centers in Embiid, Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo. Team USA was taken advantage of on the interior in last year's FIBA World Cup en route to finishing fourth -- an experience Hill said he learned from in putting together this roster. He specifically talked multiple times about defense and rebounding being key components he focused on while building this team.

"I learned, certainly the elite teams, the teams that seriously have a chance to contend for a gold medal, I learned the diversity and sort of styles and just the feel of the game overall," Hill said. "You go through a World Cup, you really pick up on quite a bunch.

"[Defense] was certainly an area where we needed to be better on and to improve upon, and we have guys that have that as a foundation. ... The game is much more physical than the NBA game. And so being aware of that, having guys whose games would translate on that level on the defensive side and offensive side was important. So yes, this is not a knock on any team that we've had in the past, but I'm really excited about the defensive potential of this group as we work together and prepare ourselves for Paris."

The lingering question with putting out this roster now -- before the NBA playoffs, which all but Curry still could participate in, depending on whether Embiid and Adebayo qualify for them this week -- is whether these 12 players will be on the court together in Las Vegas in early July for training camp.

Hill acknowledged that injuries or other reasons could cause this group to change but said he and the rest of Team USA's leadership are prepared for that possibility.

"We have shown in years past that we've had to make changes, and we do have time in the event that something unforeseen were to happen, that we have a contingency plan and we have that at every position," Hill said. "We hope that that doesn't happen. But you think back to [the Tokyo Olympics in] 2021, that was the case. And I think, going through this process, you have to learn to expect at times the unexpected, be able to adapt and adjust.

"So as we've gone through this process, we've kept that in mind and we know that the playoffs are up and coming and things can happen. And so we're well aware of that, and we're prepared in the event that, for whatever reason, if someone were not to be able to play, that we have some other options as well."

In addition to knowing whom they wanted to take part, Hill said there were other benefits to getting the group together now. Most notable among them? That they can begin to start the process of creating an actual team atmosphere.

One part of that, Hill said, was personally delivering a jersey to every player and celebrating their selection to the team. Hill also plans to get all the players and staff on a Zoom call soon to begin the bonding process. After training camp in July, they will travel to London and Abu Dhabi to play four exhibition games ahead of the Olympics, where Team USA will attempt to win a fifth straight gold medal.

"Let's start the process of becoming a team," Hill said. "And even just in announcing it early, we'll try to, at some point here, it'll be tricky with schedules, but jump on a Zoom with all the coaches, all the players, and just not have them sort of speak and talk -- not have them hear from us -- for the first time in July.

"They will hear from us over the course of the next few months. And I think that's important. I think that's important, getting that out the way, letting these guys now focus on their NBA postseasons and not have the worry or the burdensome of how all of this will play out.

"We know we feel really good about this team."

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