This summer has seen stars treat USA Basketball like a chance to play for the New York Knicks, and pass on it. Team USA will head to the 2019 FIBA World Cup this month, but star after star have opted not to join on, with most citing the need to prepare for the season as their reasoning.
Kyle Kuzma feels differently.
The third-year forward for the Los Angeles Lakers told Scott Polacek of Bleacher Report why playing for his country is so important to him:
“It’s an opportunity I can’t let slip by.”
That is how Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma views the chance to play for his country during the upcoming FIBA World Cup. His eagerness is all the more notable considering the sheer number of players who have withdrawn from the Team USA roster has been the dominant headline leading up to the event.
”I just want it all,” Kuzma told Bleacher Report when talking about his pursuit of a World Cup title. “I want a lot of accomplishments in my career, and I think this is a good steppingstone. For me, it’s an opportunity I can’t let slip by. I was never a top recruit, didn’t really have that USA badge or All-American badge like some guys do … I have a chance to represent my country, so I’m not going to take it for granted.”
It’s true. When Kuzma was drafted, few would have predicted that just a few years later he’d have the opportunity to represent the U.S. on an international stage. That he was on the initial list of invites for the team was an honor he earned with his play, and he does seem genuinely driven to build up his resume and become the greatest basketball player he can be.
Beyond what a strong performance and win for Team USA would do for Kuzma’s resume, though, he also views the chance to play internationally as something that could help him — and by extension, the Lakers — next season.
”A lot of players they always say when they come back from USA, they have career years and they’re just more confident, more poised.”
Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson has said that he thinks Kuzma could enjoy a post-USA-Basketball bump in his play, and it’s hard not to agree. While it’s easy to see why older stars might decide to save their legs for the season, Kuzma is just 24 years old, and playing competitive basketball against some of the best players in the world might actually help him start his season strong, as he’ll already be in game shape for training camp and be immediately ready to contribute to the Lakers’ title pursuit.
It’s still possible Kuzma ultimately doesn’t make the final cut for the team, and even if he does, there is no guarantee he’ll actually have a breakout year as a result, but he should be applauded for seeking out every avenue possible to get better. That’s what every fan wants from young players, and Kuzma is delivering. We’ll see if results follow.