by Aggrey Sam
They said I was the next big thing out of France, taking this Tony/Ronny/Boris/Pietrus thing to the next level. A lottery lock in ’08, the scouts said. A lot of good Americans coming out that year, Michel Beasley, Monsieur Mayonnaise, Monsieur Rose, the one they call Amour. But I held my own against them in an All-Star game. Basketball is basketball, no matter quelle langue you speak.
Still, I was only 18. I played another season in France and thought I did better. My numbers said so, the critics didn’t. They said I was passive. Inconsistent. Not strong enough. In reality, I had a target on my back. The older players didn’t want me to live up to the hype against them. I had injuries. I’d say my season was…comme ci, comme ca.
Anyway, I figured I’d test my stock in the Draft. Then, it seemed like NBA teams didn’t really want me. I didn’t want to be a second-round pick. I would rather stay in Europe. There were rumors I had a heart defect. A lot of teams backed off, but Tony’s team wanted me. Turned out that Portland drafted me before they could.
I didn’t know a whole lot about Portland, but the team had some good things going for it. They had the No. 1 pick in ’07 and he got hurt for the whole season. He probably felt a lot of pressure. I could relate. They had the Rookie of the Year the season before that. He was an All-Star last year. Must be a pretty good player. Rudy and Sergio from Spain play for them. I’ve seen those guys play since we were young. At least they have a couple other guys from Europe.
I hear they might keep me in France for a few more seasons. The team has too many good players and I won’t play. I’ll show them I’m good enough in training camp. The coach likes defense. That’s what he did best when he played. I’ll find my spot.
These guys are all young, like me. A lot of guys play my position, but I’m getting some playing time in the preseason, even started. I really can play at this level! Who knows, maybe I’ll start in the regular season, too? At least I know they won’t send me back to France. We don’t travel on these nice planes and stay in these nice hotels (with no roommate) in Europe. If my friends in Paris could see me now.
Actually, they might! We played the Lakers on TV on opening night. But Coach didn’t start me at the beginning. He tells the local media it was a last-minute decision, but I’m a little disappointed. It is the Lakers and Kobe, on national TV. But after Greg gets hurt, I can’t feel bad for myself. Poor guy.
Coach starts me against Houston! I’m guarding Tracy McGrady. It’s a dream and a nightmare, all at once. But like always, I hold my own. I’m starting to get comfortable. After playing the superstars I used to dream about playing night after night, I just have to play my game. Now we’re in New Orleans (it’s nothing like the city named Orleans I know), playing against the Hornets and Chris Paul. I do an okay job against Peja (although he used some veteran moves against me a few times) and even though I struggled on offense, I hit a three and I was active. We ended up losing a close game at the end, but I’m happy Greg played well.
Rudy and I talk about the game. Chris Paul is even better than I thought. Rudy said he could tell after the Olympics. Damn my underachieving national team. Wait until 2012. Now a reporter wants to talk to me? I didn’t even play well. My publicist must be good at his job. I’ll talk to him after I get dressed. Okay, here we go.
“It’s nice,” I tell him when he asks me about starting as a rookie (what does he expect me to say?) “Last year, I come from France, now I’m in starting lineup in NBA.”
“Coach Nate, it’s a great team,” I respond to a question about how I’ve been able to adjust. “Coach comes talk to me every time. He just tells me play your game.” And when in doubt, pass to LaMarcus or Brandon, I want to add.
“More everything,” I say when he asks about the difference in play. That’s the best way I can put it. Now he wants to know about Coach Nate’s deathwish for me by matching me up against the best small forwards in the League?
“Last year I was watching them on the TV, you know,” I say. “For my first start, I had to play against McGrady, then guys like Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo.”
“Amazing,” I tell him, when he asks about the travel and my new lifestyle in general. That’s true, but I’m thinking about the entire experience, the future of this team, my potential role on a championship-winning team down the line. Maybe I’d better say it in my native tongue.