by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

A couple of notes to begin…

• The NBA Draft is on Thursday night, and as usual, the SLAM crew will be at Madison Square Garden to cover it live here on SLAMonline. This year, however, we’re going to try something a little different: We’ve added a new member to our crew. I’ll be liveblogging it, like I’ve done the last few years. But this year I’ll have a guest sitting in with me throughout the first round: Milwaukee Bucks PG Brandon Jennings.

No player had a crazier Draft night last year than Brandon — remember him showing up late to shake David Stern’s hand? — and only one or two rookies had better first seasons than Brandon. Few of the Draft “experts” you’ll hear from on Thursday night (including myself) actually played in the NBA. But none of them averaged 15.5 ppg and 5.7 apg and led their team to the Playoffs last season.

Brandon and I talked last night about how we’re gonna do the live blog: Brandon and I will both share thoughts and comments in the main part of the post as the Draft rolls along, and we’re also going to turn Brandon loose in the comments section to interact directly with you guys during the Draft. (There’s more from Brandon on what you can expect from him on Draft night coming up at the end of this post.)

I’m pretty excited about this. And I really hope you’ll join us here on SLAMonline.com during the NBA Draft.

• BTW, anyone catch this BEN HANDLOGTEN sighting yesterday!!! Yee-uh.

• Finally, this is Draft Week in NYC, which means a bunch of events with players and agents and GMs and media and parties and…all kinds of stuff. Last night EA Sports threw a bash at the Bryant Park Hotel to announce that Kevin Durant would be on this fall’s cover of NBA Elite 11. Remember NBA Live? Well, forget about it, because EA’s changed the name from Live to Elite, which is representative of EA’s attempt to completely reboot the franchise. Elite 11 will introduce something they’re calling Hands-On Control. Instead of hitting a button or button combo to trigger a player animation, in Elite you’re able to control everything, from dribbling to moves to the basket. The two control sticks work in tandem — one moves the player, the other moves the player’s hands. It’s a big departure from any basketball game you’ve played before, and it’s EA’s attempt to take over the basketball video game category.

The game isn’t quite finished yet, but there were demos set up all over the Cellar Bar, and everyone from J. Cole to Steph Curry was there putting the game through its paces. I managed to snag some one-on-one time with both Kevin Durant and Brandon…

Talking With…Kevin Durant
LANG WHITAKER: SO WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM LOSING TO L.A. IN THE PLAYOFFS THIS SEASON?

KEVIN DURANT: No matter what — how bad you’re shooting, how many turnovers you have — you just have to keep playing because every possession counts. Down 20 or 10 or 5, you have to keep playing, you have to play through it and do whatever it takes for your team to win. Trying to get stats, all that stuff is out the door. It’s all about winning basketball games, ugly or pretty, it doesn’t matter.

WERE THE PLAYOFFS ALL YOU THOUGHT THEY WOULD BE?

Yup. (laughs) It was tough, a grind. They let us play a little bit more than they did in the regular season.

HOW ABOUT THE CROWD IN OKC?

The crowd was unbelievable.

YOU GUYS ALWAYS HAVE AN AMAZING CROWD. YOU MIGHT HAVE THE LOUDEST FANS IN THE NBA DURING THE SEASON.

We might, but during the Playoffs it was on steroids. In both arenas, in ours and in the Lakers, the crowds were great. And playing in L.A., you see all those celebrities all around the court. And in Oklahoma City, to see how dedicated and energetic our fans were, it was…it was…

WAS IT LIKE COLLEGE A LITTLE BIT?

It was better than college. They were up all game, they were there two hours before the game. It was like the Superbowl.

YOU SAID DURING THE SUMMER YOU’RE WORKING ON YOUR GAME. IS THAT A FULL-TIME JOB FOR YOU?

Every day. I’m lifting weights, trying to eat good, trying to eat as much as I can. Just getting in the gym man, that’s what I’m about.

nba-elitex-largeARE YOU ONE OF THOSE DUDES WHERE IT’S JUST HARD FOR YOU TO GAIN WEIGHT NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO?

Yeah. They used to call my Mom “Tweety Bird,” because she was real skinny. My Granddad was real skinny. But my Dad and my brother are fat. So I guess I take after my Mom and my Granddad.

I DON’T HAVE THAT PROBLEM OBVIOUSLY…

(laughs)

BUT MY WIFE WAS THE SAME WAY GROWING UP AND HER MOM USED TO FORCE HER TO DRINK MILKSHAKES, WHATEVER…

Yeah, man. I’m trying everything. They say eat peanut butter and jelly, I did that. Eat potatoes, I do that. I can’t gain weight! But I’m getting stronger, I feel myself getting stronger. I’m just naturally skinny. I think when I get old I’ll get a belly on me, but other than that, I’ll just stay skinny.

DURING THE PLAYOFFS I NOTICED THAT YOU WERE THE FIRST GUY I’VE SEEN WEARING AN ARM SLEEVE WHERE THE ARM SLEEVE WAS LOOSE AROUND YOUR ARM.

Yeah, a little baggy up top! I tried to pull it and pull it because it was baggy. I guess they don’t make ‘em my size. But I think that’s what makes me unique, man. A lot of people hit me on Twitter and say, You’re an inspiration to skinny guys.

I MEAN, BUT YOU’RE NOT COMPLETELY SKINNY. SITTING HERE, YOUR FOREARM IS BIGGER THAN MINE.

Yeah, I’m skinny compared to guys at my position. So a lot of people say it’s inspiration for them to continue improving. I’m me. I can’t go put 20 pounds on tomorrow.

HAVE YOU THOUGHT MUCH ABOUT THE WORLD BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS SINCE THEY NAMED YOU TO THE TEAM LAST WEEK?

I’ve thought about it, of course. I’m really waiting to see who else is going to be on the team. I’m really going to enjoy getting better with those guys, and that will help me next season and in the Olympics as well. And I want to see how they are, off the court. I’m the type of guy, if I watch something, I can learn from it — I pick things up quick. So guys like Lamar Odom, Iguodala, Rudy Gay, those guys have been in the League longer than I have and I can learn from them.

LAMAR SAID TODAY THAT HE’S GOING TO PLAY.

He’s going to play? I can learn from a guy like that, a guy with a body similar to me, I can definitely learn from that.

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO PLAY NBA ELITE 11?

Yeah, I played it. It’s different. Some games you can press one button and do everything, but in Elite you’ve got to control everything yourself. It’s going to be tough, but in video games you want a little challenge, and I think that’s what this game is about.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET TO PLAY DURING THE SEASON?

Not too much on the road, but I play every day when I’m at home against my teammates, my brother. Every game day when I’m at home I gotta win a game before I go to the arena.

DO YOU PLAY IN THE GAME AGAINST THE TEAM YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY AGAINST IN REAL LIFE?

Sometimes. We usually play random teams, and we play with like the ’70s East All-Stars, someone like that. We just have fun with it. When I see guys in the game playing, it kind of gets me pumped up to play the real games.

I KNOW THERE’S GUYS IN BASEBALL WHO PLAY IN THE CLUBHOUSE AGAINST THE PITCHERS THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY THAT NIGHT AND SEE WHAT KIND OF STUFF THEY HAVE.

Oh yeah? I never took it that serious, but I might try that — hook up a little game in the locker room and play. Because we got a lot of time from when you get to the arena until you play, so that would be the perfect time. I might try that.

DON’T BLAME ME IF IT DOESN’T WORK. DO YOU PLAY OTHER GAMES?

Madden, Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, stuff like that. That’s all fun to me, riding around, trying to complete missions. I always like a challenge.

I JUST FINISHED ASSASSIN’S CREED 2 AND IT WAS INCREDIBLE, WAY BETTER THAN THE FIRST ONE.

Oh yeah? You play all that stuff online?

NO, I LIKE JUST PLAYING BY MYSELF IN THE SINGLE-PLAYER MODE.

Them dudes online, they get too into it.

YEAH, ESPECIALLY ON CALL OF DUTY.

Right? I get so frustrated. Then they talk trash to you.

RIGHT, THEY KICK YOUR BUTT, AND THEN YOU FIND OUT THEY’RE LIKE 12 YEARS OLD.

Yeah! I played Madden one time and this little kid kicked my ass, beat me by like 30, and he was like, ten years old! I was like, Aren’t you supposed to be in school or something? But it’s all fun.

Talking With…Brandon Jennings
LANG WHITAKER: SO, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS SUMMER?

BRANDON JENNINGS: Chilling man. I’ve been in L.A., working out. Just got back to working out. I saw the Finals, and that’s about it.

I SAW YOU TWEETING ABOUT GOING TO ROSCOE’S.

Aw, I go to Roscoe’s all the time. Roscoe’s is the spot! That’s the best spot.

I WENT WHILE I WAS OUT IN L.A. FOR THE FINALS.

Oh you was there? You were in L.A.?

YEAH, DURING 1 & 2.

Which Roscoe’s did you go to?

WE WENT TO THE ONE ON PICO…

Yeah, that’s the one I go to.

BUT IT WAS CLOSED FOR A SPECIAL EVENT, SO WE WENT TO THE ONE IN HOLLYWOOD INSTEAD. THAT ONE’S KIND OF WEIRD BECAUSE IT’S ALL DARK IN THERE.

Yeah, and there’s no parking. The one on Pico’s the best one.

RIGHT. WE PARKED ON THE STREET IN HOLLYWOOD WHERE IT WAS A DOLLAR, AND THE DUDE IN THAT LIQUOR STORE ON THE CORNER TRIED TO MAKE ME PAY HIM FIVE BUCKS FOR US TO PARK THERE.

(laughs) That’s L.A.

SO WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON THIS SUMMER?

Everything. I’m getting back to the basics. Working on my right hand more, dribbling, dribbling right to my shot, finishing with my right. And also Euro stuff, everything I’m doing is Euro stuff.

REMIND YOU OF BEING BACK IN ROME?

Yeah. You know, just having a different outlook on the game, being open-minded about it, doing things I know I can’t do and working on them.

DURING THE SEASON WHEN YOU GOT FORCED INTO A SITUATION WHERE TEAMS WERE MAKING YOU DO SOMETHING YOU, AS YOU SAID, KNEW YOU COULDN’T DO, HOW WOULD YOU REACT?

I just had to have confidence to do it. Now I have more confidence and it’s going to be a lot harder to guard me; guys are going to have to guard me straight up. If I’m able to make more plays going right — everybody knows what I can do going left — going right it’s going to be really hard to guard me.

WHAT WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING FOR YOU LAST SEASON?

When guys started getting hurt. When Bogut went down, that was terrible, the timing was just bad. Delfino was out for a while, and also when Mike Redd went down. Mike Redd went down early, but when Bogut went down, with the Playoffs coming up, it was like, “Damn.” We were trying to stay between 5 and 6, and we weren’t sure how we were going to do it, but guys stepped up, Salmons stepped up. It all worked out.

I’M A HAWKS FAN, AND YOU GUYS PUT A SCARE INTO US.

I thought we had you guys. I thought we had Game 6. I thought we were going to go home and take care of business.

I COULDN’T EVEN WATCH THAT GAME, I WAS SO NERVOUS.

(laughing) For real?

YEAH, I WENT OUT TO DINNER WITH SOME FRIENDS AND JUST FOLLOWED ON MY PHONE. WAS THAT SERIES FUN FOR YOU OR WERE YOU NERVOUS?

It was more fun. I felt like, it was a whole new season. Everybody puts so much on the Playoffs, but it was fun because the fans really come out. During the regular season the fans are not as loud as during the Playoffs. During the Playoffs the Bradley Center was ROCKING every night. Just to experience that. It was crazy in there. I’m not gonna front, our fan support was way better than the Hawks’ was. People were there way before tip-off.

WAS THAT ENOUGH OF A TASTE OF IT KEEP YOU WANTING MORE THE REST OF YOUR CAREER?

Oh yeah. Now you want to come back and win 50 games and get out of the first round. For me, I just set my goals even higher. I proved to everybody that I could ply, I could hang. Now the hard part is trying to come back next year and do it again. Now the pressure is on me.

AS A ROOKIE, IS IT HARD BEING A POINT GUARD?

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, playing for Skiles. You know, Skiles let a lot of things go.

BECAUSE HE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE AS A POINT GUARD?

Well, I think after the 55 (laughs)…things were a little bit easier after that. He was still tough. Training camp was tough, and he was always riding me, always riding me. But he was doing that because he wanted me to be on that top level, because he cared. If it wasn’t for him, none of this would have been possible.

WHAT DID THE 55 FEEL LIKE?

It was crazy because I didn’t score in the first quarter. That’s the crazy part about it. If I’d scored 5 points in the first quarter I could have had 60. But just to be in that zone and hit back-to-back jump shots, to score 29 in a quarter…and you know, a lot of people didn’t understand that we almost lost that game.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THAT HOT BEFORE?

In high school when I scored 63. I scored 63 and came out the game with 4 minutes to go. But the 55, what was crazy was I got there at 4:30. The game was at 7:30. I got there three hours before the game and was shooting, shooting, shooting. Things wasn’t falling in the first half and I was like, Damn, what’s going on? Next thing you know, things just started falling and I just couldn’t miss.

THURSDAY NIGHT YOU’RE GOING TO BE OUR GUEST NBA DRAFT ANALYST ON SLAMONLINE.COM. WHAT CAN OUR READERS EXPECT TO HEAR FROM YOU.

Um…a lot of trash talk. I’m going to be the guy critiquing everyone.