Gregg Popovich, widely regarded as the top coach in the NBA, is the head coach of the 2016 USA Select Team, which features three Los Angeles Lakers: D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram. After three days of Team USA training camp, Popovich was ready to offer up some thoughts on the Lakers young core.
The first thing that came to Popovich’s mind when describing Randle was his “great sense of humor,” followed by what a pleasure it’s been to coach him.
“He’s worked very hard, very coachable. He listens, he takes direction, so he’s been very enjoyable so far,” Popovich said.
Saying Randle has a great sense of humor is actually quite a big compliment coming from Popovich. It’s one of the things he looks for when forming his opinions of players.
“I’m really big on sense of humor and people who have gotten over themselves and really enjoy the responsibility of playing with a teammate,” Popovich said of the personality characteristics he looks for in young players.
And, regarding listening, and taking direction, Randle’s frequently been hopping off the bench during scrimmages over the past three days of training camp to talk to his head coach.
Popovich also said Russell has excelled taking direction in training camp, even praising him for his communication over the past few days.
“He’s done a great job, he’s taken direction, communicated really well with everyone else on the team, he’s done well,” Popovich said of Russell.
And, as far as Russell’s skill-set, the USA Select Team head coach complimented that as well.
“He (Russell) is a much more clever player,” Popovich said. “He’s very skilled, but he’s smart on the court. He knows what the situation is and knows how to take advantage of certain match-ups that are on the court.”
What about 18-year-old Ingram, of which Kevin Durant said yesterday he “feels like I’m looking in the mirror,” when he sees the Lakers young rookie.
“I don’t know what Kevin’s thinking about,” Popovich chuckled. “But, if he said it, he’s got to live with it.”
Does Popovich see the similarities?
“Their bodies are pretty similar, but it would be pretty tough to compare someone to Kevin Durant. Almost unfair. He’s something else. We’ll see what time does.”
For Popovich, the enjoyment of coaching this young squad and being out there each day in USA training camp isn’t about being surrounded by the talent, instead, it comes from getting to know the players as people.
“I think it’s just discovering who each individual is, because you don’t know all these people before you come,” Popovich said about where he gets the most enjoyment from. “You figure out what kind of personality each one of them has. Who’s quiet? Who’s introverted? Who’s extroverted? Who’s the most intelligent? Who understands what you’re talking about the quickest? So, you get to know about people and start to form opinions about who would fit into what situation. So for me, that’s the most fun – that psychological part. Everybody knows they’re talented. Everybody knows about O’s & X’s, but finding out about the people and who they are, I think is really important.”
Besides a sense of humor, Popovich said he’s always keyed in on what players actually enjoy playing with other teammates.
“Everybody can talk a good game, but when you get out on the court and you get to watch these guys, you know who really believes and gets satisfaction out of playing with other guys, so I look for those things.”