In a USA Basketball feature published Thursday, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson aka “the Twins” talked about how the superstar trade that brought them to the Nets in February solidified their friendship ... and collaborative efforts that have now taken them to the FIBA World Cup after time in Phoenix and Brooklyn.
“It’s a blessing honestly,” Bridges said. “Getting traded to Brooklyn together made us come even closer and realize that we’re all we got. And then being here representing USA Basketball has been just crazy. We’re going to experience it together. We go everywhere together.”
“Everywhere” currently means Abu Dhabi where Team USA will play the Greek national team Friday at 12 noon ET on FS1. then Germany on Sunday, also at noon on FOX. Before that, it included training camp and an exhibition game vs. Puerto Rico in Las Vegas, then a trip to Malaga, Spain, and games vs. Slovenia and Spain and soon, there will be the trip to Manila in the Philippines for the FIBA World Cup games starting a week from Saturday and running through September 10. Then, it’s back to Brooklyn.
“Playing for USA basketball is a huge honor and all the guys understand that,” Johnson said. “We have a great group of guys and our goal is to obviously win a gold at the World Cup. We are working on getting better and sharper everyday as a unit.”
Bridges told USA Basketball how his bond with Johnson began back in 2019. The two met after Johnson was drafted by the Phoenix Suns as the 11th pick that June. Bridges was already there, a lottery pick at No. 10 a year earlier. It took a single summer practice session in Las Vegas in 2019 to forge a close friendship between the two, they told Vishakha Deshpande.
“Watching his [Bridges] game grow over time has been just crazy,” Johnson said. “We have seen each other grow year after year and season after season. Not just our game but our friendship too has grown and it’s amazing to see him elevate his game to different levels. Being here together is just great.”
It’s great for the Nets too. Every minute the two spend together solidifies the bond which Brooklyn hopes will strengthen when NBA games start on October 24. Sean Marks, who endorsed the two players joining Team USA, will lead a Nets contingent to Asia, starting with the Abu Dhabi games and continuing through the World Cup. Jacque Vaughn had already picked up the team in Spain.
“It’s been amazing,” Bridges said of the experience. “We’re all kind of like the same age. It’s a fun set of guys and we got along really fast. We weren’t worried about that at all when we got here. The goal is to get gold for USA.”
“We just want to play by our style and standards,” Johnson said. “We want to focus on playing with pace, aggression, and sharing the ball. If we play that way, we’re going to be pretty hard to beat.”
So far, so good. Team USA is 3-0 in exhibition games, with only Spain forcing them to break a sweat. Bridges is averaging 11.7 points a game and Johnson 10.7. Both proved critical in the win over the Spaniards, hitting all five of the 3-pointers they attempted in Malaga, often at key points when Spain tried to make a run.
Both Steve Kerr, their head coach, and Grant Hill, who is the managing director of the men’s senior team, have praised their work effort and culture-setting ways.
“They’re both really mature,” Kerr said. “I already knew what kind of players they were from coaching against them. There’s a calming sense from both the guys and they’re also modern-day basketball players: shoot the three, guard multiple positions, they’re just huge components of this team.”
Bridges returned the favor.
“He’s a freaking champ,” Bridges said. “The number of championships he’s got as a player and coach is unbelievable. He’s a great guy, a great coach and just has a unique calmness about him. You just feel like playing hard and getting a win for him.”
“They’re just culture guys and they’re good people, and they have leadership quality about them but they can play,” said Hill. “I mean Cam is as good a shooter as there is in the league. Great size. Mikal has expanded his offensive game. I think the traded helped unleash a side he hasn’t shown thus far in the league. And they just want to win. You know, it’s not about them. It’s about winning.”
The two are also expected to introduce themselves to the other Nets player participating in the World Cup, Patrick Gardner, the 6’11” training camp invite who’s playing for Egypt both in Abu Dhabi and Manila. Arab News reported Thursday that both Johnson and Bridges want to “check out” Gardner, who played for Miami Heat in the Summer League last month before agreeing to sign with Brooklyn.