St. Louis roots flourish in Team USA camp for Beal & Tatum
Oftentimes Team USA minicamp is used for players who haven’t had the chance to team up together in the NBA.
For all-stars Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum it runs deeper than that.
“We’re both excited,” Beal said. “We grew up five minutes from each other to have two of the same guys from the same high school, I don’t know if that’s ever happened for USA Basketball.
“Even growing up, we’ve never been on the same team. From pickup -- we were never on the same team. This is definitely exciting for both of us.”
While it will be the first time teaming with Tatum for Beal in a competitive setting, it won’t be the only first for him this summer.
After nine years in the NBA, Beal is getting his first chance with the Team USA national team.
“It’s been a blessing for one,” he said. “I’ve always been a part of USA Basketball when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. Now to be on the national team, it’s a dream come true.”
Beal is coming off a career-high 31.3 points per game on a career-high 48.5% from the field with the Washington Wizards.
He also made his first playoff appearance in three years.
“Man everybody is super excited,” Beal said. “I’m trying to stay mellow and calm about it. I mean you’re on a global stage, everybody watches the Olympics.
“My mom is probably more excited than I am. She has my two medals from when I was younger, so hopefully we’ll get this gold and she’ll steal it from me too.”
This is also the first opportunity for head coach Gregg Popovich to coach Beal in any capacity.
“[I like] his movement,” Pop said. “He is hard to keep up with. Whether he’s coming off of back-picks, he’s running the pick-and-roll [...] he can back-cut and leave you in the dust. His movement really informs his shooting.”
Beal is the lone representative from the nation’s capital on this year’s USA team.
“I’m very happy to represent DC in that way,” he said. “Obviously, we’re all here representing our respective teams and cities and everything of that nature. I’m definitely honored in that sense forsure.”
Understanding that this team is the best the nation has to offer, Beal is embracing a different role this summer.
“We kind of just free-flow, everybody’s interchangeable and everybody has free reign to be aggressive,” he said. “We understand that everybody is talented and everybody in a way has to sacrifice and for me personally, I want to defend. I want to be one of the best defenders on the team.”
Though in the first few days of camp, Beal has taken note of some of the team’s characteristics.
“The first couple of days were great,” he said. “It’s always amazing because we’re a little bit too unselfish. That tends to happen when you have so many good players playing together. Sometimes we’re making too many extra passes, sometimes we’re not as aggressive.”
As it often does, the Olympic experience provides players with the opportunity to forge alliances that can produce possible super teams.
Beal expects the trend may continue.
“I don’t know, probably a lot, it depends on who’s a free agent,” he said. “But for the most part we can’t mix that in right now. We’re focused on one goal at hand right now and that’s winning the gold medal.”
The 27-year-old has two more years on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
However, Beal is much more interested in making the most of being teammates with Tatum.
“Obviously I get to play with my big brother,” Tatum said. “Two guys from the same neighborhood, same high school, from St. Louis; that’s like a dream, it’s amazing.”
After playing in the FIBA World Cup in 2019, Tatum is back for the full Olympic experience this time around.
“Playing in the Olympics is something I’ve always dreamed about,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it and just playing with a group of guys who you usually compete against, I think that’s probably the most fun part; being on the same team with these guys.”
This is a chance at redemption for Tatum as he left the World Cup early after injuring his ankle.
“That was tough,” he said. “So much time is invested from training camp, you spend all this time together, long flights going to different countries so I was hurt when I hurt my ankle and wasn’t able to play.”
Popovich was very vocal about the impact that made on the team with Tatum being slated as the No. 1 option on that team.
This experience also provided Tatum with the opportunity to address the media for the first time since a busy offseason by his Boston Celtics.
Namely, the resignation of president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens sliding into that position.
“It was a lot at first with all the changes, especially with the coaches and front office,” Tatum said. “Change is good, sometimes.”
Before conducting a search for the new head coach, Stevens consulted with the two-time all-star to get his opinion on potential candidates.
“All the guys that were finalists, I liked all of them,” Tatum said. “I basically told [Stevens] ‘You can’t go wrong.’ That’s the front office’s job to make those decisions and it’s my job to go out there and play.”
That search ended with the hiring of former 12-year player Ime Udoka.
“I’m excited about our new coach,” Tatum said. “I think what stands out the most is when you’re coming up as an assistant and you get your first head coaching job, you’re driven and motivated. From the conversations I’ve had with him since he got the job, I can tell he’s really excited. It’s going to be fun and we’re going to try and accomplish something big.”
Udoka coached for seven years as an assistant under Popovich in San Antonio before one year stints in Philadelphia and Brooklyn respectively.
All parties involved are entering a team that just traded away its all-star point guard Kemba Walker in order to regain a familiar face in big man Al Horford.
“Obviously, Kemba, that's my man,” Tatum said. “You hate to see one of your close guys go but I wish nothing but the best for him.” While Tatum is sad to see Walker move on, he is happy to see Horford return to the Celtics.
“Happy to have Al back,” Tatum said. “He looks better in green anyway.”