LAS VEGAS -- Warriors guard Klay Thompson emerged from practice against Team USA looking as if he had just been in a fight. Sweat dripped from his goatee. Red blotches covered his neck, chest and arms. He walked gradually and panted between words.
As part of the practice squad at Team USA training camp earlier this month, Thompson took a weeklong pounding from the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. But by camp's end, he had accomplished everything he hoped to. He got some intense training. He got to test his skills against the best in the game.
And he got some respect.
"I like Klay. I think he's got one of the brightest young futures in our game," James said. "With his ability, the way he can shoot the ball and make plays, and with his size, Golden State's really got something in him."
Thompson said he still feels the sting of not being invited to the Rookie-Sophomore game during All-Star Weekend in February, an honor usually bestowed upon the league's best young players. But if the way he ended last season (starting the last 29 games, averaging 21.2 points during that stretch and being named to the All-Rookie team) wasn't enough validation, Thompson got more in Las Vegas.
He walked into camp as one of the lesser-known on the Select Team, a collection of young NBA players who practiced against the national team headed to the London Olympics. Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis
Most important for the Warriors, who already have anointed Thompson their shooting guard of the future, it also gave him a blueprint for taking his game to another level.
"One of the best basketball experiences of my life," Thompson said. "I'm taking a lot from this experience. I know what I've got to work on now."
Thompson had a to-do list of things he's eager to improve. He wants to work on his explosiveness -- quickening his first step and improving his leaping ability. He wants to get stronger so he can become more adept at finishing through contact, because "that's what these guys do so well."
Thompson knows that spotting up for jumpers isn't enough. The league knows he's a shooter, so opponents are going to try to negate that aspect of his game. He'll have to diversify and become more comfortable creating off the dribble and setting up teammates, especially on the pick-and-roll. Thompson wants to expand his arsenal with floaters, pull-ups and runners.
He also will have to defend his position, rebound better than 2.4 per game, and get to the free-throw line more than 1.4 times per game.
"This is more for him than it is for us, giving him an opportunity against great competition," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said of Thompson. "We'll just be monitoring his progress. We want to see him develop into an all-around player. Not only develop the skills that he has -- he's a shooter, he's a scorer -- but you want to see him defensively pick it up. He's going to get stronger, naturally. But you look at the other parts of the game, his total parts of the game."
A few members of the coaching staff and several national team players said they expected growth from Thompson. For starters, they marveled at his shooting ability, which Team USA assistant coach Nate McMillan said is always coveted.
"He shoots the ball especially well," said Jay Triano, coach of the Select Team. "He has a great release, great balance. At this level, the game is so much faster. But he was able to adapt, and he was still able to get his shot off."
But what seemed to impress others were other elements of Thompson's game. Bryant took notice of Thompson's competitiveness. McMillan liked his decision making. Triano noticed how well Thompson uses his 6-foot-7 length on defense.
"He just knows how to play the game of basketball," Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams said. "I think he's going to be special as the years go on. As a rookie last year, I thought he made a great impact. He'll continue to get better."
Thompson, who switched between shooting guard and small forward at camp before last season, rolled his eyes when talking about the difficulty of defending the NBA's elite. On top of that, members of the Select Team were quick to point out the physicality of the national team players and how the referees didn't do the youngsters any favors.
But what shined was Thompson's willingness to mix it up.
"That's one thing he's showing -- toughness," said Select Team member DeMar DeRozan, star shooting guard for Toronto. "I think everybody on the Select Team definitely can play. But when you come out here, show another level of your game, your toughness on defense, your passion for the game, it says something."
Thompson said that after summer league he's going to see his family, then take a vacation to "the Bahamas or something." But expect the R&R to be short. One of the main lessons Thompson said he learned from practicing against the best is that the grind never stops.
"They don't let up," Thompson said. "It makes you more motivated when you see how hard these guys work. I'm not satisfied with making the All-Rookie team and going 23-43 (the Warriors' record). It's not good enough. I'm trying to make a name for myself, and that's where you do it -- the playoffs. I want to win. I'm not taking this experience for granted."