Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
LOS ANGELES --- Alex Caruso didn't need to shoot an 83 with the fourth eagle of his golf passion play to have the Chicago Bulls' Tuesday be a great off day.
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Earlier that day, USA Basketball announced its pool of 41 candidates to make the 12-man roster for this summer's Olympic Games in Paris. And Caruso, who actually knew about it last week when managing director Grant Hill talked to him before working the Bulls-Toronto Raptors game for TNT, has a shot.
"It's really cool," Caruso said Wednesday following practice at UCLA. "It’s just another tier in the career path of what I’ve been able to accomplish and grind towards and work towards. Hopefully I’m lucky enough to get selected to actually go. That would be even another bigger accomplishment and exciting adventure."
Caruso laughed when asked light-heartedly if he'd let USA Basketball officials know that he knows his way around Paris. Not only did the Bulls play the Detroit Pistons there last season, Caruso traveled there in the 2022 offseason to film promotional material.
"I think I’ve put together over the last couple years a pretty good resume of being one of the best defenders in the NBA, if not the world. I think that carries a lot of weight," Caruso said. "Obviously, (defense is) one of the main reasons I got on the list and that will be my role if I’m on a team with All-Stars and All-NBA players.
"The stuff that I do, I consider myself on that level and in that same breath. So there will be no lack of confidence or charisma from me if I get picked to go to that team."
Indeed, while USA Basketball could field a team merely of future Hall of Famers and All-NBA or All-Star players, the program historically has opted for a team-building approach and role players. Coach Billy Donovan said then-head coach Gregg Popovich called him for intel on Zach LaVine before LaVine landed on Popovich's team and won a gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Donovan also said Steve Kerr, who replaced Popovich, called him last summer on Caruso.
Donovan has ties to USA Basketball and director Sean Ford after coaching the U-18 and U-19 teams in the past.
"There is a dynamic to international basketball and FIBA basketball rules that when I talk to those guys, I understand how they’re trying to field a team, what they’re looking for in terms of their mentality," Donovan said. "And I think Alex would be great."
Donovan cited the more physical games, the ability to play against zone defenses and to guard multiple positions as factors that are important to FIBA rules. Caruso is confident he could excel if given the chance.
"I don’t need to try to be anybody I’m not," Caruso said. "They recognize the things I do well, which in turn usually correlates to winning basketball. And that’s what this tournament is all about. Having a team that can score but also play winning basketball, defend, do the little things, win possessions are the things I really excel at.
"Anything associated with USA Basketball has always been high level. So I’m privileged just to be mentioned in that."
On the flip side, DeMar DeRozan didn't get an invite despite winning gold medals at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler all played with DeRozan in Brazil and received pool invitations.
"Nobody asked me nothing. I was curious on how they even went about it. But it’s all good. I’m happy for whoever got in the pool. If I was asked, I would’ve been a part of it for sure," DeRozan said. "But being a part of it for 2014 and 2016 was definitely an honor."