Travis Ford has coached plenty of talent in his 16-year career, including a first-round pick (James Anderson) and NBA champion (Terrel Harris).
But Marcus Smart, quite clearly, is on a different tier, in both skill level and long-term potential, than any player Ford has mentored.
That’s why it was so special for the coach to be in Las Vegas this week, watching Smart, who will still play at least one more season under Ford, mixing it up with some of the NBA’s best players at Team USA’s annual Training Camp.
After one of the workouts, Ford took some time to talk about Smart’s performance, the continued growth of his game and much more:
Q: How did Marcus get this opportunity to compete at the camp?
A: With USA Basketball, the commitment that he has made to them, winning two gold medals (with the U-18 and U-19 teams), and how he conducted himself, not just on the court but off the court, they wanted to extend this invitation to him. They just called me and said they wanted to invite him and at the time, he was the only college player that they were going to invite (since then, Creighton forward Doug McDermott was also invited).
You’ve been watching the practices, even sending out a bit of excited play-by-play through Twitter. How’s he looking?
Oh, he was terrific. I think he was a little nervous at first, not knowing exactly what to expect and being one of only two college players and wanting to earn their respect. But he got out there and, man. They did a little practicing, a little bit of going through offenses and defenses early, but once they started playing, he was terrific. Just competing like he does with us every day and his strengths were the same. He was getting steals, physically imposing himself, competing, rebounding, defending, started out making a three. He more than fit in. I know I’m a little bias (laughs), but I thought he was one of the better players out there.
Who was he going up against?
He was going against (Nuggets guard) Ty Lawson, hit a three on him. Guarded (Wizards guard) John Wall for a while and did a really good job. He was guarding (Bobcats guard) Kemba Walker for a couple possessions, (Grizzlies guard) Michael Conley and he was playing on the same team, in the same backcourt, as (Cavs guard) Kyrie Irving.
What kind of feedback have you got from the pro coaches on Marcus?
It’s always the same thing. They just love his assertiveness, his skill level, his size, his attitude and they just love how he affects the game in every way. And it’s just how consistent he is with everything. They all would love to have them on their team, that’s for sure.
This has got to be great for you, to see one of your current players competing at such a high level with some of the best in the world.
It is very special. And it makes it even more special because he’s such a great kid. You want it so bad for him because of what he represents, what he’s all about. Coaches always feel great when players get recognized like they are, but it even makes it more special because of the type person he is.
From all indications, it sounds like he’s really developing that three ball?
Yeah, he hit a few out there today. He’s worked hard on it. That’s something we’ve really focused on this offseason. Even when he was with the US team, we talked to Billy Donovan and their staff, making sure he was getting his reps in after practice. But he’s really worked hard on it and I think he’ll be shooting it with some more consistency.
He played through the summer last year and seemed to maybe wear down a bit at the end of his freshman season. Is there any concern about another big workload this year, without much rest?
Not really, because he’s going to get some rest coming up. To be honest with you, the trip to Spain last year was a lot for him. He would tell, I would tell you and everybody else on our team would that it was a great trip for our team, benefitted us to go to Spain. But it was a heavy burden on him, coming off all he was doing. He’s not doing near as much this summer, not even close.