Higher Learning

by Sean Brown | @Bruce_Wayne14

When USA Basketball takes the court to compete in the FIBA World Basketball Championship, it will be a team of fresh faces repping the red white and blue.  Surely the pressure will be on Kevin Durant and Co. to produce and bring home some hardware, but just as much pressure was on the USA Men’s Select Team who practiced and helped prepare the NBA stars two weeks ago Vegas.

For the Select Team, it was a week where some of the best college players got to go up against the League’s proven and gauge their own game—a litmus test most don’t get.  Some guys left knowing there is much work to be done to compete in the league, others left confident in their performance knowing they’re closer than expected.  One of those guys, UConn’s Kemba Walker, now knows he’s within arms reach of the next level.

While most college hoopers spent the last few weeks of July on campus working out, Walker was battling against Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose in Nevada. And when it was all said and done, Coach Calhoun’s star point guard flew back from Las Vegas as one of the best performers of the week.  With a fast and furious pace of play, Walker’s strengths shone through—his handle and bball IQ—proving once and for all that the native New Yorker has what it takes to be an NBA point man.

One of Walker’s strongest attributes has always been his demeanor.  A cool calm, a strong head and body and willingness to learn have made him one of the best and most reliable players in the nation.  And after competing with the Select Team, the Big East should be more worried than ever because his learning curve just skyrocketed over his peers.

“I definitely learned a lot from Russell Westbrook on and off the court,” says Kemba Walker. “He would talk about the pace of the game or things I could do defensively.  I’ve known Russell through a teammate of mine for a while and we had some great conversations.”

Playing against a youthful NBA team created an opportunity for the USA Select Team to learn at a competitive but friendly level. “Age wise a lot of those guys I was playing against were only two years older. So to learn from them and know I can be in that position soon is important,” says the New Yorker.

Call it a calm sense of urgency but Walker seems to learn quickly and immediately better his game with long hours in the gym.  He is also quick to a point out there are two things he feels he is steadily getting better at.  “I think I’ve become a much better shooter more than anything.  Consistency is something I have to develop; as well as getting other guys the ball on time.”

Aside from bettering his own game he got a first hand glimpse of what to expect from the USA in late August.

With a completely new USA team competing in Turkey, questions have been raised about where leadership will come from.  Walker stamps Kevin Durant a “natural born leader” and that the team meshed very well together during their workouts.  Good news from a kid with the best vision in the college hoops.

The numbers don’t lie. Kemba Walker has statistically improved his game each year in the Big East. After a week of summer school with some of the best teachers the NBA has to offer, it’s likely we’ll see the numbers rise again. In fact, before taking his final undergraduate test in the form of the NBA Draft, look for the point guard to teach his own course in the NCAA this coming year.