Team USA takes the court in the Smith Center

Kevin Durant answers questions from the media Sunday in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Photo Editor

Updated 3:21 p.m.

With your eyes closed, it sounded like a typical practice in the Smith Center.

Basketballs reverberated off the floor as members of a team took to the court, stationing themselves at different points on the key for opening drills. Over and over again, balls sliced through the air, clanging off the backboard or sinking through the net.

Two players watched each other shoot, taking turns at the same basket, while their teammate looked on from the bench, where he was lacing up his sneakers.

A typical sight for the Smith Center – except the two players shooting were Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, and the one getting ready to enter the drill was Miami Heat forward LeBron James. It wasn’t the Colonials on the court, but the USA men’s basketball team, using GW’s facilities to practice before tomorrow’s exhibition match against Brazil.

“Two years ago, we couldn’t host an event like this. Now, the way the building is, it’s first class,” athletic director Patrick Nero said. “And we’ve said that from the beginning of everything we do as an athletic program. This is the type of thing we want to do.”

The discussion to have the USA team use GW’s court began nine or 10 months ago, Nero said, when he was contacted by the team’s director of operations, Sean Ford. Nero went to college with Ford’s brother, and said Ford asked about seeing the Smith Center.

From there, Nero brought in Associate Athletic Director for Facilities Jason Wilson, who worked with USA Basketball to coordinate the team’s trip to campus. The national program was interested in the Smith Center because of its location, the quality of its facilities and the connection Ford had with Nero, Wilson said.

“We first got just an inquiry if we would be available. And obviously, that’s the type of event you want to be available. You want to make yourself available,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s discussions with USA Basketball branched through marketing, operations and security divisions. Negotiations came to a head in February, he said, when the focus on contracts began to sharpen.

Starting Friday, Team USA had full access to the Smith Center, including strength and conditioning rooms, access to cardio machines and availability for shoot-arounds in the gym. The program paid “the normal rental fee, same as anyone else,” Nero said, declining to comment on the amount.

Wilson said “every single person from the NBA or USA basketball” that came through the Smith Center was impressed at the quality of the facilities. Originally built in 1975, the building underwent an extensive renovation in recent years, and Wilson said the $43 million reconstruction project was on full display this weekend.

“Everyone has just been raving about how the building looks,” Wilson said.

One member of Team USA who was somewhat familiar with GW’s home court was Durant, who grew up in the D.C.-area, competing around the Beltway and attending National Christian Academy  in Prince George’s County, Md., Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. and the Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., over his high school career.

Durant sees himself as representing the District and its surrounding areas in the Olympics, he said, and it’s particularly rewarding for the standout Thunder forward to return to his native courts before heading overseas.

“I watched a few games [at GW] when Chris Monroe was here and Pops Mensah-Bonsu. They were pretty good,” Durant said. “I watched them, I came and played AAU tournaments here. GW was pretty good when I was growing up and I was a big fan.”

Durant’s return to the Smith Center court was different from his high school basketball days. Bryant shot long corner threes, draining them effortlessly, while the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love stretched his hamstrings on the baseline. Next, Team USA players squared off against each other, running some half-court offense drills that saw the New York Knicks’ Tyson Chandler, whose sister, Erica, competed for the Colonials, slam home a two-handed dunk.

Members of Team USA stretch out on the Colonials' home court before beginning practice. Francis Rivera | Photo Editor

GW’s home court shifted a little for the incoming players. Because the Olympics are played with FIBA international basketball rules, lines of tape morphed the Tex Silverman court into compliance, adjusting the three point line and the key. Security measures were in place, too, a heavy consideration for GW, Wilson said, which planned both for the players and for potential surprise guests.

While NBA security worked with the University to ready the Smith Center for Team USA’s arrival, Wilson added that security measures had to consider high-profile drop-ins. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, was on hand Sunday, and Wilson said the Smith Center staff had even prepared for President Barack Obama as a potential spectator.

“You just want to make sure that you prepare and can safely host the event. That was a big thing with NBA security,” Wilson said. “We worked with them for several weeks on a security plan just to make sure that they were comfortable.”

It was perhaps the highest-profile team to ever take the court in the Smith Center, and Wilson added that Team USA’s trip had already provided some exciting moments for the players that call the Tex Silverman court home.

Men’s basketball senior forward Dwayne Smith was shooting in the gym Saturday, Wilson said, when the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony came in to perform an interview.

“I walked out, and [CNN’s] Soledad O’Brien was finishing up the interview, and I see Dwayne Smith, Chris Paul, and it’s one of those GW moments,” Wilson said.

This post was updated July 15, 2012 to reflect the following:
The post was updated to clarify that Kevin Durant attended National Christian Academy, Oak Hill Academy and the Montrose Christian School during his high school career. 

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