Sunday, July 14, 2024

Jalen Duren embraces opportunity to play against all-world talent with USA Basketball Select Team

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LAS VEGAS — With less than two minutes remaining in Monday’s tight scrimmage against Team USA, Jalen Duren took the floor and immediately guarded Anthony Davis.

Duren, the Detroit Pistons center and a Sharon Hill native, contested a missed jumper by the All-NBA big man, then, on the other end of the floor, got Davis in the air to draw the foul. Before the final buzzer, Duren also grabbed an offensive rebound, got into space for a dunk, and deflected a loose ball that resulted in a turnover.

That sequence of impactful plays epitomized Duren’s meaningful stint in Las Vegas. He was a member of USA Basketball’s Select Team helping prepare the senior national team for the Olympics, getting valuable firsthand experience sharing the court with a talent-rich group drawing comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team.

“It’s hard to think of it like that, because we play against these guys all the time,” Duren said when The Inquirer asked if he was ever awestruck by the collection of superstars. “Obviously, they are who they are and they’ve done what they’ve done. But I look at it more as it’s a blessing for me to be here and to learn.

“I must be doing something right, to even be on the floor and to be able to learn and grow my game with these guys.”

» READ MORE: Sixers center Andre Drummond is excited to be back and knows exactly why he’s here: ‘I want to win’

The Select Team essentially serves as a scout team, mimicking opponent schemes that the U.S. could encounter during the Olympics that begins later this month. Duren, a lottery draft pick in 2022, took on a similar task with the Select Team last season, training with a vastly different U.S. senior squad ahead of its disappointing fourth-place finish in the FIBA World Cup.

Duren was notified about a month ago that USA Basketball wanted him to return, joining fellow young NBA standouts such as Keegan Murray and Jaime Jaquez, along with expected 2025 top-overall draft pick Cooper Flagg. Following Monday’s practice at UNLV, coach Steve Kerr and 76ers superstar Joel Embiid praised the Select Team’s work during training camp.

“They’ve given us a challenge,” Embiid said. ” … They play hard. Play fast. They’ve been running a lot of actions that we’re going to see.”

Embiid, Davis, and fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo were the big men Duren could have matched up with during scrimmages Sunday and Monday. Duren added that he is enjoying the bond he continues to build with Select Team and Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley, whom he had never interacted with before these two summers with USA Basketball.

And while observing some of the best players and coaches in the world, Duren said he has been most impressed by their intense attention to detail.

“They were really precise on every play that they ran,” Duren said. “Every action. Every screen. Every detail, it mattered. And it was natural for them.”

This is a memorable portion of a summer that Duren called “hectic — in a good way, though.”

That clarification was necessary, given the Pistons’ organizational overhaul after posting a dreadful 14-68 record in 2023-24. They fired coach Monty Williams after one season, and replaced him with former Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Among Detroit’s roster additions so far are former Sixers Tobias Harris, a veteran Duren said he is excited to learn from, and Paul Reed, who was claimed off waivers Tuesday. Those decisions were made by new lead executive Trajan Langdon, whom Duren lauded for his “businesslike approach” since arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans in May.

“He’s brought a certain type of energy into our facility and to our organization,” Duren said of Langdon. ” … And I love that. Not saying that we didn’t have that before, but we’re a young team. We need the discipline, we need the security, and we need the understanding of how to win.

“I feel like we’re going to take the next step this year.”

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid is expected to play more in the low post for Team USA, coach Steve Kerr says

By the end of the offseason, Duren’s goal is to be in “the best shape that I’ve ever been in, for my whole career.” Though he has always boasted a sturdy 6-foot-10 frame and enticing athleticism, he also has been working on skill development and using film study to improve his basketball IQ. He averaged 13.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 61 games last season, while part of a strangely crowded Pistons frontcourt with Marvin Bagley, James Wiseman, and Isaiah Stewart.

Las Vegas was a place to test that development against some wildly formidable competition. Consider the line of Team USA players Duren hugged following his impressive stint to finish Monday’s scrimmage.

He met Embiid at midcourt, then moved on to Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, and Davis.

“We’re all young stars trying to make our way in the league and learn from the best,” Duren said. “So I feel like this is a great opportunity.”

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