OKLAHOMA CITY (NBA/FIBA Basketball World Cup) – After experiencing an unforgettable high with the USA over the summer by taking his first-ever Olympic gold medal in London, Kevin Durant is back working on achieving another major goal in his still young but already illustrious career: winning his first NBA title.
As the leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant is looking to go one better in the 2012-13 season after finding himself on the losing end in last June's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
Even though they traded reigning Sixth Man of the Year and Olympic gold medallist James Harden to the Houston Rockets, the Thunder are still expected to be one of the main threats to the Heat in their title defence.
Now in his sixth season, Durant has established himself as one of the most exciting players in the NBA and a clutch performer and has already entered his name in the record books by becoming the youngest scoring champ in league history – winning that honour three times since he was drafted in 2007.
Despite the individual accolades, the 24-year-old still needs a championship ring in order to be mentioned in the same breath as superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Teaming up with fellow World and Olympic champion Russell Westbrook as well as Spain’s Serge Ibaka, Durant has the right supporting cast around him to reach the proverbial ‘mountain top’.
At the London Olympics, Durant won his second major international competition - after the 2010 FIBA World Championship where he was the tournament's MVP - and led the USA in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game.
FIBA.com caught up with Durant to talk about his season and the experience of playing at the Olympics.
FIBA: Kevin, congratulations on your great start to the season. You’ve won 15 of your first 19 games. What have been the keys to this early success?
Durant: I feel really good about our team. I think we’re 19 games in of a long season. That’s one of those questions I was asking week 1, but right now I like the groove we have. Kevin Martin is coming in and playing well for us. Russell is stepping his game up, Perk is doing a great job. So everybody is just filling in for what James left off, but we have a great group of guys here and we’re doing a great job of just playing together and playing defense. That’s a good formula.
FIBA.com: What did you take away from playing in last season's Finals?
Durant: It was just great experience first off. You hear about all those Finals stories from guys that played in the league. It was just good to see the atmosphere and the intensity on every play. I learned for myself to always give it my all no matter what. Give myself up for the team. We’re going to need every guy on the roster to win a championship. Not just you’re two main guys or stars, you need everybody to play well. The group of guys we have now, they’re getting confidence early in the season, so hopefully if we get down that line again, we get down to that Finals again, hopefully soon, everybody will be prepared.
FIBA.com: You had your first Olympic experience this past summer in London. Can you talk about what was like for you? What were some of your favourites moments?
Durant: That’s one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life so far. The tournament was very tough, but we showed that we have one of the most competitive teams in the world. It’s always very interesting to live a “FIBA experience” by playing with other countries and other basketball cultures. My favourite moments were the Opening Ceremony and for sure our gold medal. Winning an Olympic title is something incredible. I’ll never forget the time spent in London.
FIBA.com: How does it feel to play in an Olympic final that was so close?
Durant: It feels incredible because you need to stay focused and give your best every second of the game. It was one of the toughest games I played in my life. Spain gave us a hard time, they are a very good team. We won the game, but they fought until the end trying to come back. There was a lot of tension on the court, and we gave everything to win the gold medal. It feels great to win after having a tough game like that one.
FIBA.com: Can we expect to see you representing your country at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain in 2014?
Durant: It’s always an honour for me to represent my country. I had a great time in Turkey in 2010 and we’ll go to Spain to try defending our title. It’s still very early to talk about me going to play the World Championship. I’ll be happy to be there, but there’s still of lot of things to do before that.