Chicago Bulls’ Alex Caruso reaches ‘another tier’ with selection to Team USA player pool for Paris Olympics

USA Basketball is focused on assembling another Dream Team for the Paris Olympics this summer — and Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso has a chance at making the cut.

Caruso was named to the initial Olympic player pool USA Basketball released Tuesday. Team USA managing director Grant Hill and coach Steve Kerr selected the group, which will be whittled down from 41 to a final 12-player roster ahead of a camp and exhibition in July in Las Vegas.

Caruso recognized the selection as an important step in his career.

“It’s really cool,” Caruso said. “It’s another tier in the career path of what I’ve been able to accomplish and grind towards and work towards. Hopefully I’m lucky enough to be selected to actually go, that would be an even bigger accomplishment and exciting adventure.”

Caruso learned about his place in the player pool a week ahead of the announcement and spoke with Hill before the Bulls’ game in Toronto on Jan. 18. But he has been on the radar for much longer, initially earning experience with the national team when he was a two-way player in the G League contributing in World Cup qualifiers.

Coach Billy Donovan said Kerr first reached out to him about Caruso last summer. At the time, the guard was still dealing with a foot injury that prevented him from earning a spot on the FIBA World Cup roster. But Donovan feels Caruso is more than prepared right now to make an impact for the national team.

After three coaching stints with the U-18 and U-19 national teams, Donovan understands the qualities that set apart FIBA tournaments. He feels Caruso will thrive in those environments because of his defensive versatility and ability to read and manipulate zones.

“One thing that is really underestimated is how physical the game is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of touch fouls on the perimeter, but it is a complete fisticuffs war at the basket. So you need physicality. You need guys who understand how to play against zones. For a lot of the guys, it’s new, the rules are totally new. And so they’re looking at teams in terms of ‘OK, what are the skill sets I’m going to need to build that team?’ And I think Alex’s skill set fits really well.”

Caruso knows what made him stand out to the national team brass.

An All-NBA defensive selection last season, Caruso has carved out a name for himself off his defense. He is averaging 1.3 steals, 0.9 blocks and 3.3 deflections this season.

“I’ve put together over the last couple of years a pretty good resume of being a good defender, one of the best defenders in the NBA if not the world,” Caruso said. “I think that carries a lot of weight. It’s obviously one of the main reasons I got on the list. That’s probably going to be my role if I’m on a team that’s All-Stars, All-NBA, at that level.”

Will his defense be enough to make the cut? Caruso has worked to round out his game this season, improving his 3-point accuracy to 42%.

But he understands that his best case for making the Olympic roster ultimately is to maintain the strengths that elevated his status in the league.

“I don’t think I need to go be anybody that I’m not,” Caruso said. “They recognize the things that I do well, which in turn usually correlates to winning basketball. That’s what this tournament is all about. The Olympics is a tournament just like the playoffs or any other tournament in basketball.

“Having a team that can score and do all that stuff but also play winning basketball, defend, do the little things, win possessions, I think those are the things I really excel at.”

The Summer Games run from July 24-Aug. 11.

Full player pool

Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Paolo Banchero, Desmond Bane, Scottie Barnes, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jaylen Brown, Jalen Brunson, Jimmy Butler, Alex Caruso, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards, Joel Embiid, De’Aaron Fox, Paul George, Aaron Gordon, Tyrese Haliburton, James Harden, Josh Hart, Tyler Herro, Jrue Holiday, Chet Holmgren, Brandon Ingram, Kyrie Irving, Jaren Jackson Jr., LeBron James, Cam Johnson, Walker Kessler, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Bobby Portis, Austin Reaves, Duncan Robinson, Jayson Tatum, Derrick White, Trae Young