The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

For Davis, chance to improve his game, represent his country, outweigh risks of playing for US

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Anthony Davis is eager, not to mention proud, to accept the physical risks that go with playing without pay for Team USA.

With the FIBA World Cup approaching this weekend, Davis said playing for his country does more than make him a better player. It's also a way to spend his off-season doing what he loves while showing his appreciation for others who've made greater sacrifices, and taken far greater risks, in the name of patriotism.

"I love playing for USA basketball. Some guys look at it as they don't get paid, so you don't have to play or whatever," Davis said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "I love playing the game of basketball and any time I get a chance to represent my country, especially for all the servicemen and women who do so much for us, I think it's a great opportunity to show your appreciation.

"So I love doing things like this and I look forward to future years playing for USA Basketball."

His focus, however, is the much more immediate future. Namely, Saturday, when Team USA opens group play against Finland in Bilbao, Spain.

The risks of playing in events like the FIBA World Cup became magnified earlier this month when Indiana Pacers star Paul George broke his right leg in a stomach-turning collision under the basket.

Davis said he, like many on the court and around the world, were shaken by George's injury, which he called gruesome. But the 21-year-old Davis said he and fellow US teammates are now committed "to keep moving forward and try to win this (championship) for him."

Certainly, the last person who was going to dissuade Davis from playing was his Pelicans coach, Monty Williams, who is an assistant with the US Team under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Williams believes the environment created by USA basketball has only accelerated Davis' growth.

"He's understanding that he is a lead dog among a number of alpha dogs," Williams said of his 21-year-old power forward. "Mentally I think he's taken that up a few notches and I think Coach K has been a big part of that, pushing him to be a leader, pushing him to be the guy on the team.

"When you think about the names on this team and you look at the impact on the game that he has, you seldom say there's a better player on the floor than Anthony, so that's got to help him from a confidence standpoint," Williams added.

Indeed, Davis has been Team USA's leading scorer during its four World Cup tuneup games against Brazil, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Slovenia. He has averaged 13.8 points to go with 13.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game.

Davis, 6-foot-10, 237 pounds, said his role as a leader on the floor and in the locker room "definitely got bigger" after George was injured and other prominent players decided against playing.

And it's a role he's embraced.

"Getting an opportunity to be one of main guys on team means a lot," Davis said.

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