Paul George intends to play for Team USA in the Rio Olympics

Paul George, one of 31 finalists named for the United States Men’s Basketball Team ahead of the Olympics in Rio, says he intends to follow through on his dream to play for his country.

In a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Cari Champion scheduled to air at noon on Monday, George explains that it feels right.

“I was just hesitant on the simple fact that, the past couple years has obviously been tough for me — just felt like I didn’t have enough time to myself, and time to recover, and you know, give my body a rest,” George said. “I didn’t want to jump out of a season, jump right into the Olympics. But I think I kind of said that too prematurely.

“I didn’t give myself enough time to really think it through. I think since I’ve been off, my body’s telling me yes, my mind is telling me yes, people around me are telling me yes. So I feel good about it. And, you know … I want to give it a shot.”

[Paul George to grace the cover of ‘NBA2K17‘]

In his first full season back from a serious injury, George finished 10th in the entire league in scoring (23.1 points per game), and he was the dominant player in the Pacers’ first-round series loss to Toronto in seven games. Over the past season, he played in 88 regular season and playoff games — the team held him out of Game 82 for rest purposes — was the top scorer in his third All-Star game, and nearly sent the Pacers into the second round. He was voted Third-Team All NBA and Second-Team All Defense.

Facing the media after their Game 7 loss and for the final time of the season, George shared how he learned what he was made of over the last seven months.

“I think one thing I can really take away is the game just really slowed down and I had a better understanding of my game and how I can attack different defenders and how I can free myself, regardless of how they were going to guard me,” George said. “I learned a lot. I learned what I was made of.”

Durant and George go one-on-one after Team USA practice in 2013. (Photo via @NBA.)

Durant and George go one-on-one after Team USA practice in 2013. (Photo via @NBA.)

It was 22 months ago when George wasn’t sure if he’d ever play basketball again. He was in a Las Vegas hospital after his right leg snapped on a basket stanchion after he went up to contest a shot in transition.

Fortunately, it was a clean break — no ligaments or tendons effected — of his fibula and tibia. He had surgery within hours and nine months later, he made a powerful return to the NBA floor.

[Paul George has his own resurrection day with family courtside]

Last summer, George chose to sit out of USA Basketball training camp — though he did show up to confirm his interest.

However, it still remains a serious goal of his to play amongst the best and represent his country.

“Injuries are a part of the game,” George said at his basketball camp last July. “The last thing I’ll do is let [his previous injury] keep me from making a dream happen. No hard feelings towards none of the situation. It’s part of the game.

“I still have … dreams of lifting that gold medal. That’s definitely a motivation.”

George is under contract for the next three years, although he holds a player option for the final year. (The 2017-18 season is worth $20.7 million to him.)

The Pacers presumably would prefer that he doesn’t play. They want to have a fresh and healthy PG-13 as they retool the roster this offseason and go into Year 1 with Nate McMillan as head coach.

Paul George talks with Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski at camp in 2014.

Paul George talks with Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski at camp in 2014.

But remember, McMillan was a USA Basketball assistant coach from 2006-12. And Pacers President Larry Bird? He represented Team USA several times, most notably on the 1992 Dream Team.

“Larry of all people knows how important it is to play and represent for your country,” George said in July. “So regardless of the situation, I know he’s got my back on that one.”

Bird then made his stance clear a few days later: “If that’s what he’s got to do and that’s what he wants to do, I’m behind him 100 percent. Now if my owner [Herb Simon] comes in and tells me no, I’ll have him talk to (Paul). We encourage our players to play for their country.

[Coach K discusses his relationship with Paul George]

Team USA, coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski for the final time, is scheduled to hold training camp once again in Las Vegas July 18-21, and then they’ll play five exhibition games throughout the states before traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

See Also: George ‘more than excited’ for Gregg Popovich to succeed Coach K

[Click here to see the Team USA’s schedule for this summer.]

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