When Paul George shattered his right leg during a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas in August, ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, it made a number of players — including reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant — take a step back and reconsider whether or not they wanted to continue competing for the U.S. men's national basketball team. One player whose commitment to the national program didn't waver, apparently? Well, that'd be Paul George.
George continues to work his way back to the Indiana Pacers in a monthslong comeback that's gone step-by-step, from jumpers to dunking to full-fledged practicing. As he considers whether he feels close enough to come back this season without screwing up his team's chemistry — a bit more of a concern when the Pacers were one of the NBA's hottest teams, a bit less of one now that Indy has dropped three straight to fall out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference — George has also begun to think about his status beyond this regular season ... not only with the Pacers, but with Team USA, according to NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
As a result of its gold medal victory in last year’s World Cup of Basketball, the U.S. has qualified for the  Rio [Olympic] games and won’t be participating in this summer’s FIBA Americas tournament, where two more Olympic bids will be earned. But the U.S. will bring together staff and players in Las Vegas for a four-day mini-camp in August. Potential Olympians were notified of the camp last fall, and the USA Basketball staff has been in communication with them throughout the season. [...]
This summer’s mini-camp will include another exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, where George snapped his right leg against the bottom of the basket stanchion last Aug. 1. The stanchions at Thomas & Mack have since been replaced by ones that are further from the court.
Though George has been practicing with the Indiana Pacers for three weeks, he has yet to decide if he’ll play this season. But he told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Wednesday that his summer plans won’t change whether or not he plays between now and the end of the Pacers’ season. And when asked about the mini-camp, he was clear that he intends to be there.
“I’m in,” George said. “Of course.”
“The day it happened,” George added, referencing his injury, “right after, I told them I looked forward to continuing on with USA basketball.”
And right after the injury, Team USA's brass told George he'd be welcomed back to the fold for the 2016 Olympics with open arms:
Wanting to add to George’s motivation during the comeback from a broken right leg, [USA Basketball managing director] Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also already made it clear to the Pacers small forward that he is expected to be in the lineup in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“We’ve told him we have a spot for him in ’16,” Colangelo told NBA.com at festivities Thursday in advance of the Friday enshrinement of the Hall of Fame class.
Without seeing how he comes back?
“Right,” said Colangelo, also the Hall chairman. “That’s what we told him.
As Colangelo told Schuhmann, the forthcoming August mini-camp isn't really a tryout for the 2016 squad, per se, but more of a check-in to keep the players in the pool from which Team USA will select its final Summer Olympics roster in sync and invested in the program. And as our Eric Freeman wrote back in August, it's not entirely clear what Colangelo's "guarantee" means; were George to stumble in his recovery efforts, struggling to return to the two-way brilliance that made him one of the league's most exciting ascendant All-Stars prior to his leg injury, it wouldn't be especially shocking to see George not wind up on the final Rio roster, especially given how loaded the U.S. squad tends to be on the wings.
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Either way, it's heartening to hear that George is eager to participate in the mini-camp and willing to face what must be the awful feeling of returning to the scene of the most traumatic experience of his career. If he's able to get back on the court alongside his Team USA brethren and rediscover the spark that had him in line to be one of the leaders of the World Cup squad, you'd suspect that would go a long way toward calming any frayed nerves and restoring any confidence that George might have lost as he attempts to return to the ranks of the basketball world's elite.
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