After Surviving The First USA Basketball Cut, Krzyzewski Says Lillard Can ‘Be Even Better’

After a week of workouts and a scrimmage in Las Vegas, USA Basketball has reduced the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup down to to 16 players, with Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard surviving the cut.

“We had an excellent training camp in Las Vegas and each player gave a great effort and deserves recognition and thanks for his commitment and hard work,” said USA Basketball National Team Director Jerry Colangelo via press release. “We’ve said all along that we would be proud to have any of the players who were in Las Vegas represent USA Basketball and the United States. This phase of the selection process was extremely difficult and very thorough, and it’s worth again mentioning that we are looking to select the best team, which are not necessarily the best players.”

Lillard will now join up with the remaining 16 players for two days of training in Chicago on Aug. 14 and 15 before an exhibition game versus Brazil on Aug. 16 at the United Center. He still faces tough competition to make the final 12-man roster, even with guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, along with power forward Paul Milsap, being cut and wing Paul George out after suffering a an open tibia-fibula during the USA Basketball Showcase scrimmage on Aug. 1.

With players like Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Stephen Curry considered locks to make the World Cup roster, Lillard will likely have to beat out at least Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, who played for USA Basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and Golden State’s Klay Thompson for a chance to represent the United States in Spain come August 31.

“Certain we’re heavy with outstanding talent at the guard spots, the one and the two. So guys have to be ready to pay both (positions),” said Krzyzewski in a conference call on Tuesday. “We’re not going to be able to keep all the guys, but everyone played very well. Damian had a good week. I think he can be even better.”

Lillard has shown he can play both point guard and shooting guard, though he almost exclusively played at the point during the USA Basketball Showcase scrimmage, where he played 14 minutes and finished with seven points, three rebounds, an assist, a steal, no turnovers and one buzzer-beating three-quarter court shot.

If Lillard is to make the final roster, he’ll also need to show he can play a much more complementary role that he does with the Trail Blazers.

“Part of it is just getting accustomed to playing with all these guys and playing in a different role,” said Krzyzewski. “All of these guys are playing a different role. You come off the bench, you might just play a few minutes, you’re not that starter who can work his way into it. So we think that the week was good. Damian did a good job and we’ll be able to see more over these next two stops in Chicago and New York.”

As for when Lillard will know whether he’ll either spend the first part of September competing in Spain or back home resting up for the start of the 2014-15 season, it sounds as though the decision won’t be made at least until the training and exhibition games schedule to take place in New York between Aug. 18-22.

“We haven’t set a specific date,” said Krzyewski of the final cuts. “What we would like to zero in on is a core group that we can settle in on. We’re starting to see that but we haven’t determined that completely yet. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that in Chicago or, at the latest, by New York.”