Twenty years ago, the USA Basketball men’s national team featured some of the game’s greatest players — including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — and is now remembered as one of the most memorable teams in all of sports.
This year, former ASU basketball player James Harden is representing the United States, teaming up with fellow NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the Americans look to capture their second consecutive Olympic Gold Medal. Harden is one of three Sun Devils in Olympic basketball (the others being Eric Boetang for Great Britain and Ike Diogu for Nigeria) and is just the third alum to be named to USA Basketball’s roster.
The State Press caught up with Harden in Las Vegas during USA’s training camp and talked about his experiences with Team USA, life after ASU and his goals for next season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The State Press: In the Thunder’s series against the Lakers, one of the biggest storylines was that you were going up against your idol, Kobe Bryant. What’s it like to have him on your team and be around him every day?
James Harden: He’s a great guy. He’s been through a lot, so he knows the game. His IQ level is high. It feels great.
Not only with Kobe, but also playing with LeBron, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and all of those other guys. You watch them a lot and now you’re on the same team as them.
SP: Last Olympics, Kobe and Dwyane Wade both went to Beijing basically hairless. Will your beard stay during the whole experience?
JH: [laughs] I’m keeping it. It’s part of who I am, and that’s not going to change.
SP: Even after your playing days at ASU, you still have a lot of kids wearing your No. 13 jersey. Talk about what’s it like knowing you still have an entire campus supporting you.
JH: It’s great. I miss that school. I went there for a reason. Arizona State was the school for me and I miss the whole culture.
SP: You went back to campus several times during the NBA lockout last fall and attended some of the football and basketball games. What were those experiences like?
JH: It’s like my second home. I saw my coaches, some of my teammates and all of the staff members that worked there. I love it and I really miss it.
SP: Steve Patterson comes in as ASU’s newest athletic director and he has made his mark in the NBA during his career. Do you believe he will do a great job at ASU?
JH: Yeah, I’m sure. He comes with great experience in the league, and I’m sure he’ll know what he’s doing. We’ll see, only time will tell.
SP: We all know what the Thunder want next season, and that’s to win an NBA championship, but what does James Harden want as an individual for next season?
JH: To win a championship. Individual awards are fine and cool, but championships are when legends are made. We had a great opportunity last year and it was a learning experience, but next year will be different.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com