Friday, July 23, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
As soon as the Cox Pavilion doors swung open for the media to watch the end of the USA Basketball National Team's scrimmage Thursday, all eyes were on Kevin Durant.
Durant immediately greeted the throng of spectators by bolting from the other side of the court to swat a layup attempt from Ohio State's William Buford, one of 20 college players making up the USA Basketball Select Team. Durant then seamlessly swished contested 3-point shots on each of the next two offensive possessions.
Yes, there's a reason why Durant, the 21-year old Oklahoma City Thunder star, is being hailed as Team USA's headliner as it plays for a gold medal this September in Turkey at the World Championship.
"This was an opportunity I definitely couldn't pass up," Durant said.
But a lot of others did. All of the 12 players who helped Team USA win gold at the 2008 Olympics turned down an invitation to play for their country this summer.
That includes most of the NBA's biggest names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
"Those guys are superstars," Durant said. "They are on another level. You can't blame them."
"USA across my chest was an automatic 'yes.' The chance to play with some of the greatest NBA players is going to make me better."
That's the humbled Durant speaking, almost as if he doesn't realize he's already a member of the NBA's elite class.
Durant led the NBA in scoring this year by averaging 30 points per game. He also finished second to James in MVP voting and made his first All-NBA team.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is expecting nothing less than that type of performance this summer. Krzyzewski has been tight-lipped all week about which of the 19 players have the best chance to make the squad. The final roster will be compromised of 12 to 15 players, Krzyzewski said Thursday.
Durant is the only one Krzyzewski has pinpointed as definitely on the team. Krzyzewski also hinted Thursday that he would receive the most playing time.
"Most guys are only going to play three or four minutes then someone else will come in and you'll have to adjust to that if you're only going to play two minutes in a half," Krzyzewski said. "But Kevin Durant might play 10 minutes straight."
Durant has worked toward this summer's opportunities since he didn't make the Olympic team two years ago. He spent time in Las Vegas training with Team USA in 2008 but didn't make Krzyzewski's final cut.
"I wasn't disappointed," Durant said. "I knew I had to wait my turn for everything. Everything is not going to be just given to me. I'm going to have to fight for it. I made sure I did it and I've been working hard ever since."
Durant's dedication has paid off in more than one way. He recently signed a five-year extension with the Thunder that will pay him $86 million.
He silently announced the agreement through his Twitter account, which drew praise from many basketball fans disillusioned with the spectacle James made out of his free agency. In a recent ESPN SportsNation poll, 20 percent more fans voted Durant would be the face of the NBA in five years over James.
In the meantime, Durant is content leading Team USA.
"It's a lot," Durant said. "Words can't explain how excited I am to be here and represent my country."