Team USA has a tall task ahead of it at the Tokyo Olympics, being tasked with rebounding from a dismal showing at the World Cup in 2019 to win the program’s fourth consecutive Olympic gold. The pressure mounted even further when the Americans lost their first tune-up game against Nigeria Saturday.
Bradley Beal has never been a part of Team USA at the senior level, and he hasn’t been on the biggest stages of NBA basketball in the past few years either. But his inclusion on the national team was a no-brainer. Jerry Colangelo and the USA brass felt confident that Beal was ready for the moment after a decade spent on junior teams, and Beal is eager to prove that he can do whatever it takes to win and come back home with the gold medal.
Beal spoke with SB Nation about what he’s learning from the USA experience and how his protein beverage partner Rockin’ Protein is helping in the process. He also talked about the crazy Wizards season, what he wants to improve upon in the offseason, and what he’s taking away from watching the NBA Finals.
Note: This interview was conducted before Team USA’s loss to Nigeria. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
SB Nation: Let’s start with Rockin’ Protein. What can you tell me about this partnership? Why did you pick this company in particular?
Bradley Beal: For one, I’m always big on doing my research and background, and who they’ve worked with in the past has been tremendous. I’m a fan of all those athletes and just their history. For me, their product is great. It tastes great, for one, which is always important, but it’s high in quality protein, very low in carbs, low in sugar, you know, versus a lot of products that have all that added extra stuff that your body doesn’t need to perform properly, recover properly, or give you the energy. Those three categories they have shakes in all of them: protein builder, which is my favorite, recovery shakes, and the energy shakes. They’re just unbelievable. The fact that they’re made with real milk is a bonus too, our kids love the Shamrock Farms milk, so that’s also a cherry on top. But more than anything, man, I stand by their product. They’re a very first-class company to work with, and their product helps me.
SBN: That’s what I was gonna ask next, what do you get out of using Rockin’ Protein?
BB: For me, I’m big on the recovery part of my body. Energy, I always feel like I have, I always generate energy. So I don’t necessarily migrate to the energy shakes. And the protein builder, like I’m always going to keep up my muscle mass, build up a little bit more. And then obviously, as an athlete, you break it down in your body constantly so you want to build back up that muscle recovery side of it, so those are my two go-tos, vanilla of the protein builder is my favorite.
SBN: Let’s talk USA Basketball. You’ve been part of USA Basketball since U16, right? Why has it been important for you to be part of the national team?
BB: Well, that’s a part of the beginning of it, you know, just a long history, lineage, I’ve been a part of this prestigious fraternity. They treated me well at 16, won a gold medal at 16, 17, played in the Hoop Summit, and went through the select team process as well, worked my way up, and now I’m on the big brother team. So it’s a blessing, you don’t take it for granted, you understand how hard and difficult it is to make the team and what you represent and the pressure behind it. We didn’t perform well last time out, so we have that feeling in the back of our head and we want to bring back the gold medal, nothing less.
SBN: What was that moment like for you when you got the nod that you were going to be on the Olympic team?
BB: It was special. When Jerry Colangelo calls you, you know it’s for either USA or somehow you go into the Hall of Fame. He’s very powerful in the basketball world, you know he is USA basketball. And it was just remarkable, you know, to hear his voice and he wanted me to be a part. You know, I want you there, I want you to play for the team. I want you to represent this country. That was big for us. I had to run it by my family, obviously, you know they won’t be able to attend, but it was like a no brainer. They said just go ahead and go live out your dream, we will be watching. So it was fun, it was an unbelievable moment for me. But it was definitely a no brainer at the same time.
SBN: So, this is something that you’ve dreamed of for a while.
BB: Of course, of course, I feel every player at least once wants to be an Olympian. Just to be called an Olympian is cool, to win a gold medal is even better. So, you know, to have both opportunities is special. Then to do it with so many talented guys is even a plus, learning from them, how we can gel and make this thing happen.
SBN: What has the environment been like at camp so far with the nine of you and the Select team?
BB: Camp’s been intense, it’s been tough. I mean it’s like NBA camp on steroids almost. it’s very attentive to detail, (Gregg Popovich) is excellent, like he is awesome to work with. And he just demands the best out of all of us, you know. And I think that’s what we all love and respect about him is there’s no favoritism, there’s accountability at every level, coaches, players, everybody, even himself. So I respect that heavily. He gets the best out of all of us. He demands it too, so his intensity, his ferocity is amazing. It’s contagious, it’s contagious.
SBN: I heard Pop called you thick the other day.
BB: Yeah (chuckles) he got away with loose language, but I embrace it, you know, I understood what he meant. I play against him twice a year only, but he’s always been a fan of how I play and I’ve always respected him. And happy that I get to share the floor with him. But I understood his comments.
SBN: How are you hoping to grow your game this summer and then how does playing for Team USA factor into that?
BB: Oh man, in so many ways. Obviously I always want to be better at everything, I say that every year, but in particularly I want to shoot more threes, deeper threes, and post up a little bit more. I feel like those are two areas I want to kind of dial in and focus in on more. I had a good year this year, but I’m always my toughest critic, I could have been better, for sure could’ve shot the ball a lot better from three than what I did. But more or less, even just shooting more of them is something that I could do better and be better at, too. So those are probably the two things and then, obviously, learning from so many guys on this team, you know their mentality going into the game, their preparation, the same with Pop. And just, you know, how guys really approach the game and how they play the game, with the intensity they have, focus they have. Like KD is crazy attentive to detail, to his body, to his game, his shot. At the end of the day, he just loves to hoop. That’s amazing to watch and to see. So to learn from everybody would be fun and exciting.
SBN: I imagine if you want to take more and deeper threes, then being around the guy like Dame Lillard probably make sense.
BB: Yeah! Just picking his brain, you know, how are you able to do it consistently, because a lot of people can’t do that. A lot of people probably won’t even hit the rim from back there. So how do you generate that much power, your legs, is it your upper body, what is it? So picking people’s brains 100 percent will help.
SBN: Shifting to the Wizards real quick, I think the season probably ended a little bit earlier than you would have liked, but what is it about this team that you have that excites you going forward?
BB: Oh man, guys getting healthy. That’s the biggest thing, Deni (Avdija) suffered an injury, I think he broke his foot at the end of the year. Thomas Bryant tore his ACL at the beginning of the year, so those two injuries hurt. But we acquired Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline, who’s been a tremendous athletic big for us. Russ (Westbrook), obviously, at the beginning of the year, he’s been a triple-double animal, Mr. Triple-Double now. But obviously we just have to be better at everything. Our three-point shooting has to improve, our defense has to drastically improve. But there’s so much that we have to be better at, because, like you said, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, you know we won one game in the series. To me, that’s unacceptable. So, we got to be better, it starts with our coaching change, obviously we’ve got to find a coach, and go from there.
SBN: As one of the leaders of the team, how much are you involved in that process of finding a new coach?
BB: More towards the end. So, obviously, the higher ups, they go through the process and investigating, thorough background checks and whatever they need to do to figure out who they want their candidates to be. Then when they dwindle down to about two to four is when Russ and I will probably step in. They’ll ask you know, who do you like, what do you like, go from there. But hasn’t been too much, you know, we let the GM do his job, and trust him to find the right one.
SBN: You kind of touched on this earlier but I mean, how much can you take away from a season that was so abnormal in terms of the protocols and your whole team got COVID and everyone got hurt. How much can you really take away from it?
BB: It’s tough, because those things did happen, you know, we want to not ignore them. But, I mean, they happened. Half of our team got COVID. You know, we couldn’t practice and play for two weeks. That’s a setback. So that’s tough in a lot of ways, but at the same time, everybody had an unfortunate situation, like this whole year was unfortunate for every team. So I was happy and thrilled about the way that we kind of revamped it and turned it around, I have no idea what it was, but we flipped it around and we made a push for playoffs. But the frustrating part is we didn’t end it obviously the way we wanted to. And there’s so many things that we can shift blame for that for, which is kind of like the, I don’t know, but at the same time, we know we should have been better than what we were.
SBN: When you’re out of the playoffs are you one of those guys that’s watching every game when you’re done?
BB: No, I think this year may be the first time I’ve actually really dialed in to watch the playoffs. Usually I’m not watching, and maybe it’s because I’m with USA and I have to get myself back into like, basketball realm, but usually once I’m done, I’m done. I will take a month or two off, maybe sometimes two and a half off, and just decompress from basketball completely and just pick it back up ready to go come July, August before the season.
SBN: What are you getting out of watching it this year?
BB: Just like how we talked about how uncertain this year is and crazy it is. Like nobody expected Phoenix to do what they did. To see them thriving, they built up their team with what they had, they used their young talent, developed them, they acquire Chris Paul, and they’re flying, they’re flowing. Milwaukee built around Giannis, they re-signed him, brought it Jrue Holiday, they put pieces around him, brought in PJ Tucker, like they brought in valuable guys on both sides. So it’s very, very intriguing to watch this series because it’s two totally different teams. Phoenix is wiry, fast, and tough, and Milwaukee are like the Monstars, they’re huge. They’re tough too, so it’s a very unique series, you know, so I’m very curious to see what happens.
SBN: Are you keeping an eye on Jrue and Khris Middleton and Devin Booker for when they eventually get to join you guys?
BB: I am because I’m trying to see if there’s any tension. Cuz Book and Jrue are gonna be going at it for sure. But I don’t know, I keep thinking it’s going to be tough. I would be mad as hell if I lost and had to come over, like I would be mad. But at the same time understanding the opportunity you get from USA, not taking that away. But if I lost in the Finals man, I would need to get away for a minute.
SBN: Is there anyone in camp so far who has surprised you in terms of what you’ve seen from their game based on what you saw in the NBA?
BB: No, I mean we know what each other can do. I think the thing that does surprise me is how unselfish we are, sometimes we’re too unselfish. It’s like, KD shoot the ball, like we know you shoot the ball, shoot the ball. I think that’s what’s crazy, the sacrificing part of it, you know, what do you sacrifice. Because all of us can go score 30, like I don’t have to go score 30 like I probably would have to during the year. I can go defend the best player now and use my energy for that, right, versus coming down, having to try to create a play every single time. We have 10-12 guys that can do that too, so that’s very positive in a lot of ways. At the same time, it’s tough because we don’t play together, you know, that’s new. This isn’t like an All-Star game. We really have to be dialed in and locked in and can’t disrespect our opponents, because we remember what happened last time we did that.
SBN: What are you hoping that the world can see from Bradley Beal at the Olympics this year?
BB: Oh, I don’t know. I’m a fierce competitor, that’s obvious. I’m going to do everything I can to win, whatever it looks like. I’m very unselfish and just compete hard. I just love this game, and I want that to show. Obviously everybody’s going to generate an opinion, whatever it is, good or bad, but it won’t change my approach and my reasoning in playing the game.