Anthony Davis, center of attention

Anthony Davis

LAS VEGAS -- In 2012, the national team suffered a setback when Blake Griffin had to withdraw because of a knee injury that occurred just a month before the Olympics in London. But in the long run, it seems there was a hidden upside from that event.

Anthony Davis, then freshly drafted as the No. 1 overall pick from Kentucky, got the last spot on the eventual gold-medal winning team. Two years later as Team USA prepares for the World Cup in Spain, Davis is no longer the guy at the end of the bench. He is now a vital part of the roster.

As has frequently been the case, the Americans have extreme depth at the guard spots but are thin at the big-man positions. It didn't help when Griffin again had to withdraw because of injury, and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge decided not to take part, further depleting the big-man ranks.

This has thrust a spotlight on Davis as he becomes the likely starting center. Team USA needs to be dominant defensively while staying out of foul trouble, which is often a major challenge for big men in FIBA play. Simply put, there's no one else on the roster like him.

"What was a bad situation two years ago turned out to be lucky," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "His comfort level with us helps him tremendously right now. He was exposed to that level of talent with Carmelo, LeBron and Kobe that year. He has to play a huge role for us."

Davis has come a long way as a player since that summer two years ago when his role was to watch and learn. He's matured into one of the best young big men in the NBA with huge expectations in the coming years.

He was already penciled in to be a leading contributor on the 2016 team that competes in Rio, but with the injuries and withdrawals this summer that process has been accelerated. He will get the chance to be a difference-maker in Spain in a few weeks.

"All of [2012] has helped and played a part in the role for me this year," Davis said. "I've got a lot of confidence in myself. We have a lot of talent, but we also know it's going to be a battle."


Going small

Krzyzewski has always preferred to play small and pressure the ball, and his roster naturally favors that style. When the Americans get to Spain, Davis will start at center, Kevin Durant will start at power forward, and Paul George will likely start at small forward.

As part of training camp this week, assistant coach Jim Boeheim has once again started teaching the zone defense he has built his career on. While playing this way it's possible the team could play without any center, with Durant -- or a player like Kenneth Faried or Paul Millsap -- playing in the middle of the floor.


Plumlee rises

At the start of the week, Mason Plumlee was a member of the select team that was brought in to practice against the national team. After one day, he was promoted to the main team and has continued to carve out a niche.

Krzyzewski has strongly hinted that Plumlee will make the first cut and there is a rising belief that he has a chance to make the final roster. Coach K also made a point to state that Plumlee has impressed the entire coaching staff, which is on board with his advancement; this was an attempt by Coach K to quell any belief there was Duke favoritism going on as Plumlee played for Krzyzewski in Durham.

Because of the flexibility of the forwards and the overall depth at guard, it is unclear whether the team will keep two or three centers, which means Plumlee could end up fighting for a roster spot with DeMarcus Cousins.

This is somewhat controversial because Cousins is more talented than Plumlee and certainly more established. However, the role of being Davis' backup may be more suited to a player like Plumlee because of his quickness and defensive ability. Krzyzewski has complimented Cousins on his attempts to adapt to the style needed for the international game but it is not his strong suit.

"In DeMarcus' case, the style we play lends itself to what Anthony does or even what Plumlee is doing," Krzyzewski said. "DeMarcus' game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he's trying to make it."

There is a chance that in some games Team USA will play only one center. But Cousins' size could be useful should it face its biggest rival, Spain, which has great size, including Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol.

For what it's worth, Plumlee will act as Davis' backup for the "blue" team in the intrasquad scrimmage Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. The other center on the roster, Andre Drummond, has drawn praise from Krzyzewski, but as the youngest player currently in Vegas he is a longer shot to make the trip to Spain.

No matter what, it's going to be a tough decision and will probably be the final cut.


Side games

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing to watch during the first week of camp has been the post-practice battles among Durant, George and James Harden in "king of the mountain" games (one-on-one battles). The three routinely have battled each other for more than 30 minutes after the end of practice and the intensity and competitiveness of the games have been remarkable.

Harden and Durant have had such sessions since their days as teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and George has been eager to step in as teammates, coaches and NBA executives stop their conversations to watch.

Just like in the real games, Durant has proven virtually impossible to stop.

"We're just trying to challenge ourselves," Durant said. "It's fun. We try to challenge ourselves. We're trying to get that in as much as possible. That's how you learn instincts, that's how to get better."

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