"It's an opportunity I can't let slip by."
That is how Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma views the chance to play for his country during the upcoming FIBA World Cup. His eagerness is all the more notable considering the sheer number of players who have withdrawn from the Team USA roster has been the dominant headline leading up to the event.
"I just want it all," Kuzma told Bleacher Report when talking about his pursuit of a World Cup title. "I want a lot of accomplishments in my career, and I think this is a good steppingstone. For me, it's an opportunity I can't let slip by. I was never a top recruit, didn't really have that USA badge or All-American badge like some guys do … I have a chance to represent my country, so I'm not going to take it for granted."
Michael Kaskey-Blomain and Jack Maloney of CBS Sports provided a look at the roster, noting James Harden, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, CJ McCollum, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, Tobias Harris, Paul Millsap, Montrezl Harrell, JJ Redick and Andre Drummond have all withdrawn from consideration for the roster.
That means it will be up to players like Kuzma if the Red, White and Blue are going to win their third straight FIBA World Cup.
The Lakers swingman averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season while playing with LeBron James, so he is no stranger to running alongside talented teammates. Even with the names who have withdrawn, Team USA still has Kyle Lowry, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Khris Middleton and Kemba Walker, among others.
While the gold medal is the ultimate goal, Kuzma also believes the experience will better prepare him for the upcoming season when his Lakers are further under the spotlight.
"A lot of players they always say when they come back from USA, they have career years and they're just more confident, more poised."
That is music to the ears of Los Angeles fans as the highly anticipated 2019-20 NBA campaign approaches. The Purple and Gold added a six-time All-Star in Davis and a four-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins to a roster that already includes one of the all-time greats in James, which will ramp up the pressure on Kuzma and the rest of the supporting cast.
"Just doing my best, that's all I can really ask for," Kuzma said when discussing his individual role this season. "Obviously, I'm going to play a big role, so for me to be able to do all the little things, bring the energy as one of the young guys. That's going to be what my main focus is."
James has won three championships during his career in part because his teammates have risen to the occasion around his greatness. Los Angeles will need a third or fourth go-to option to emerge along the way, much like Chris Bosh did with James and Dwyane Wade in Miami and Kevin Love did with James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
Kuzma is a natural candidate to fill such a role and take advantage of the openings created by the King and Davis. He touched on the possibility of becoming part of a new Big Three but was quick to acknowledge there is plenty of work to do before he reaches that point.
"Obviously, yeah, it's pretty cool. Growing up, obviously, I'm a basketball junkie. There's been a lot of Big Threes. Hopefully I'll be able to come out this year and really attack it and hit the ground running and have a great year. Definitely flattering, but I still have work to do."
One area where Kuzma doesn't have much work to do is picking Call of Duty teammates.
"I'm teaming up with the best Call of Duty players," he said. "I'm competitive. I'm definitely not picking NBA players because I'm going to pick actual gamers."
He acknowledged he isn't sure if he would win a Call of Duty tournament against the rest of the Lakers since he hasn't seen them play the game yet but was quick to stress it could happen because "I'm not too bad myself."
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will be released to the public on Oct. 25, and Kuzma is already excited.
"The game is great. The game has done a great job of really innovating itself every single year. It just continues to raise the bar for first-person shooter games."
Call of Duty has raised the bar in Kuzma's eyes, further cementing its legendary status in the esports community. Now it will be up to him to do the same on the court for the Lakers if they are going to win their 17th championship in franchise history.