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Basketball and Beyond: Kevin Durant talks on-court leadership without Russell Westbrook

January 30, 2014

Kevin Durant is an NBA All-Star. He’s won an Olympic gold medal. And this season, he’s a legitimate candidate for league MVP.

The Oklahoma City Thunder forward has scored 30 or more points in 12 straight games, a stretch that includes a 10-game winning streak for the Thunder. Durant and his team are accomplishing all of this without star guard Russell Westbrook, who is out until after the All Star break with a knee injury. Durant joined Mike Krzyzewski on Basketball and Beyond this week and talked about the differences on the team with and without Westbrook.

“With him, of course we’re a better team,” Durant told Coach K, “because having another dynamic guy that can manipulate the defense … wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball with his hands, his agility, his athleticism, his toughness and his leadership as well.”

Durant told Coach K that even though Westbrook hasn’t been playing, he’s still contributing in a big time way to the Thunder’s success.

He’s become a coach on the bench … he’s helped all of us out by just what he sees from the sideline. On the court for me, I’m just trying to find out different ways to play and how I can lead these guys. Some nights it may be me scoring a lot, some nights it may be me being a facilitator and getting everybody involved, some nights it may be me being a lockdown defender. I’m just trying to figure out different ways I can play in order to serve my teammates and make them better each and every game and I think that’s how we’ll get through this stretch.

Durant has worked with Coach K with USA Basketball, including an Olympic gold medal win in 2012. Coach K asked Durant how his game has changed from playing on the same team as the NBA’s top talent.

I’ve aged and that’s allowed me to get bigger but [I’m also] just seeing the game on a different level. Seeing it from all angles because of the USA team, I compromised my game a little bit, I had to be more stand still, stretch forward type of shooter instead of handling the ball off the rebound, taking it up and calling for pick and roles, or always getting the ball on the post. I think that’s what’s helped my game a lot – just learning to play off of different players with Chris Paul, LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony], Derrick Rose … I had to be a different type of player.

The No. 4 ranked Wichita State Shockers are one of three remaining undefeated teams in college basketball (with No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Syracuse). The Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall also joined Coach K this week to talk about the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team.

I thought last year’s team was a little bit tougher mentally and physically. This year’s team scores it better. We’re not as able to be as tough as that team but when you have Cleanthony Early who’s a prolific scorer at the forward, Ron Baker and Fred VanFleet who both can put up 20 on a given night, and then Darius Carter comes off the bench as a post player and he has the ability to go for 20. So we’re very good at scoring the basketball this year.

Coach K takes to the airwaves Thursdays at 6 pm ET throughout the college basketball season on SiriusXM College Sports Nation. Basketball and Beyond with Coach K, co-hosted by Dave Sims, is in its ninth season, and is available live on Ch. 91, on the SiriusXM app and on SiriusXM On Demand.

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