If you’re an avid NBA fan, you first remember Kent Bazemore for his unique bench celebrations during his time in Golden State as a member of the Warriors. Though that earned him some motion capture work for 2K Sports in helping bring another facet of realism to basketball’s top-selling video game; times have changed.
While those joyous sideline outbursts are a part of Bazemore’s NBA journey, they’re now in his rearview mirror, as the attention he receives now is rightfully for his time on the floor. Now starting in his second year for the Atlanta Hawks, the fourth-year wing is putting up career numbers across the board, averaging a solid (12.5 ppg) and (4.8 rpg) in the Hawks’ balanced system.
With Bazemore set to hit free agency this summer, he is expected to be one of the top wing players available, as many teams will be vying for his services. This is a complete contrast from when he entered the League going undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2012 and emerging from the D-league.
SLAM recently caught up with Bazemore to discuss the season he’s having, the Hawks best basketball being ahead of them, his former team the Golden State Warriors, and his pick to win the Super Bowl.
SLAM: With you going undrafted and how hard you had to work to get to where you’re at now, in starting and helping the Hawks battle for home court in the East; have you had time to really sit back and appreciate your play so far?
KB: Everything is happening so fast, man. Game after game, back-to-backs; big nights and not-so-good nights—it’s a lot being thrown at you. You don’t really have the time to catch your breath. You just have to go with the flow. You get into such a routine, you don’t really have time to sit back and appreciate what you’re doing. The All-Star break is really the first time I will actually be able sit back and recollect on what I’m doing now.
SLAM: You knew coming into this season you would have more opportunities with DeMarre Carroll signing with Toronto and Kyle Korver having off-season surgery. Did you do anything different in terms of your preparation or workouts leading into the season?
KB: No, not really. Me, being with the same team for a second year, it was about learning more about the offense and my game, just getting smarter in the weight room, working out more efficiently to kind of come into my own. It’s one thing to go in the gym and do all this stuff, but you have to go in there and have your strengths, and you keep them sharp and then you try to work on the things that can make you a better player. For me, that was my jump shot. I did a ton of shooting, and I stayed in the weight room a bit more. Last year, I was coming off an injury and surgery. So I was dealing with that, but this past summer, I was healthy and being 100 percent healthy over the summer is key in trying to improve.
SLAM: With the work you put into your jump shot, you’re currently shooting around 40 percent from three. I’m sure you’ve noticed defenses don’t play you the same now. How have you had to adjust your game from how you were used to playing to now having defenses respect your range a lot more?
KB: Last year, it was just catch and shoot. I knew that guys were going to close out short. Now, I have people running out at me, guys aren’t really shifting off of me anymore. Bigs are more aggressive in jumping out at me in the pick and roll. It’s definitely a different game now with a different challenge. I’ve kind of been up and down this year with handling it, but that’s just part of my growth. Honestly, this is only like my second year being in a rotation, so I’m still learning the game, learning the ins and outs and the little nuances that give you an advantage on both ends of the floor. It’s a new challenge for me, but I’m handling it well and consistently. It’s just something that will come with time.
SLAM: Last season, the Hawks were the surprise team of the season before injuries hampered you guys at the wrong time. Looking back to last season, you’re obviously missing critical pieces, such as Pero Antic (signed deal with Fenerbahce), and DeMarre, but is there any singular reason you see that you guys haven’t been able to string games together like last year, or do you see your best basketball having still yet to be played?
KB: Our best basketball is definitely ahead of us. We haven’t been able to put together the type of run we’re capable of yet. Last year, I think we kind of snuck up on a lot of teams, but now a lot of teams have the Atlanta Hawks circled on their calendar. I think a bunch of those wins last season was us just sneaking up on teams. Now, when you’re getting every team’s best shot and you aren’t hitting on all cylinders, it’s tough to win games. We’re still a very optimistic group. We still have a very talented group—Paul Millsap being an All-Star; also Jeff Teague, Al Horford and the list goes on. We’re on our way. We show up every day feeling good, watching film, coming to practice, enjoying each other as teammates.
SLAM: Can you also attribute what you guys are going through in not being able to go on that extended run just to the overall stronger play in the East this year? There are only a handful of games separating several teams this season, when it used to be like three or four top teams then a huge drop off.
KB: Definitely. When you look at Toronto with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry; those two guys are playing out of their minds right now. The overall play is just something you have to give credit to all these front offices around the League. Those guys are doing their research. It’s just a matter of time and the league is starting to become flat, even in the Western Conference, where you have San Antonio, Golden State and Oklahoma City and after that there’s no other teams that you really fear. The Eastern Conference is the same thing. It’s the top two teams and the rest is just wide open. It’s all about being healthy and the healthiest team at the end of the year is going to win it.
SLAM: I’ve read that you’re an avid golfer. Most young players aren’t really thinking about the game of golf until they’re well into their careers or done playing altogether. How did you get involved with the game?
KB: Golf is my happy place. It’s just good to be out in fresh air, with good music. Go hangout, talk a little trash and be out of your element a little bit. Growing up, I always felt like golf is where relationships and business deals are made. Instead of waiting and trying to get good when I’m retired, why not pick it up now? It’s funny that you mention golf because I’m watching the Golf Channel right now. I got the bug. It’s a great game and it teaches me about change of pace because basketball is go, go, go and golf is played at slower pace. It teaches your brain how to think differently.
SLAM: The Hawks recently tweeted out that you helped your girlfriend lead a yoga class in Atlanta. Is yoga something you picked up recently with how important recovery is now in the League, or have you always been into yoga?
KB: My girlfriend just started teaching last year and she’s definitely into the fitness stuff. She’s a certified nutritionist, so I kind of have the cheat code at home when it comes to what to eat and when to eat [laughs]. She’s amazing and I started taking her classes. It’s a tough workout. It’s an hour long. Unlike basketball, it’s very low impact and it’s working those muscles that you don’t normally work when you’re playing. Everything is small movements and breathing to work those muscles to help strengthen them. You can feel a difference in the way you move on a night-to-night basis because you aren’t overusing the same muscles.
SLAM: Recently you guys had a long road trip out West. With younger teams, everyone can kind of branch out and do their own thing, but you guys are a real close-knit group and a lot of the guys are veterans. Explain that dynamic and how it plays out when you guys are on one of those extended road trips?
KB: It’s a lot of hanging out. We have a lot of married guys on this team, guys with kids, so it’s a totally different dynamic. For us guys that are seriously dating and looking to take that next step, it’s perfect to hang around these guys. They give you all of their insight on how they’re dealing with being away from home and it’s just so much different information than you can learn because the dynamics are so different in each way. We spend a lot of time talking about stuff like that, playing UNO, and learning more about each other and just hanging out.
SLAM: I also read that you created an organization called the ARMS Foundation. What’s the mission of your foundation?
KB: I created the ARMS Foundation to be the bridge from myself to the community. One of my lifelong goals is to get into philanthropy and I always wanted to do that, even throughout college. Eventually I want to build a K-12 academy. I’m trying to gear and shape My ARMS foundation into that. I had my first golf tournament last year. There also was a basketball camp for kids. Now we’re about to start raising money for the Boys and Girls Club. I’m going to start working with them and different youth charter schools in Atlanta. Education is so important. I got two degrees in college and you see a lot of guys in the League now who go back to college to finish. For me, looking back, one of the best things I’ve ever done was to finish school. Being a student-athlete is real, it’s important. Some people look at a student-athlete as a person who misses school, gets to travel and do all this other stuff, but it’s real life. I’ve been a student-athlete my entire life, so I want to help kids who don’t get these opportunities or the information on how to prepare yourself. This is key because that jump from high school to college is a culture shock.
SLAM: Your career begin with Golden State and you gained your initial reputation for your bench celebrations. Knowing the Warriors core group there pretty well, has anything about what they’ve been able to do this past year and a half surprised you at all, including what they’re doing this season?
KB: Not one bit. Not at all! That organization is first class. I will always speak highly of them because they gave me my first opportunity to chase this dream. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those guys and that class that I came in with—me, Draymond, Festus and Harrison—we came in the same. We all worked hard and it just so happened that they had a guy who was going to become one of the best players in the world in Steph Curry. I remember I was playing like four minutes a night and he was playing 35-40 minutes a night. I would be in the gym getting up shots after practice and Steph would be doing the same thing. During the summer, all the guys showed up, got in early and went to work. It’s just about having 13, 14 guys who all continue to put in the work. It’s definitely showing right now with their success.
SLAM: Your home state Carolina Panthers will play the Denver Broncos this Sunday for a chance at a Super Bowl title. I don’t have to ask you who you’re riding with, but just how amazing has it been to watch the tear the Panthers have been on this season?
KB: I’ve been in the locker room since the summer trying to tell guys that they’re for real. Those guys are playing lights out and they’re the real deal. No one wanted to listen. They thought the Seahawks were going to give us a run and we smashed them. Then we smashed the Cardinals [laughs]. It’s just a testament of a team working hard. Cam Newton is a winner. He won at Auburn. When he beat Alabama, I knew he was special because no one was beating Alabama those days. He just keeps checking off all those boxes on the checklist to greatness. As far as my prediction, it’s two great defenses, but Cam Newton’s speed is the X-factor. I don’t think Peyton can move his feet that well with the way our defense puts pressure on the pocket. So I’m going to say—and this is bold—the competitor in me wants the blowout, but I’m going to go 31-17, Panthers. Denver’s defense is very good and that’s the only thing that’s a real concern for me. But we faced two pretty stout defenses in Seattle and Arizona and we had our way with them. I think the pace that Carolina plays with is unreal on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a good game. I can’t wait.
SLAM: All season long, there has been criticism by some of Cam Newton and, in my opinion, the overall joy and emotion that he plays the game with. He’s addressed it numerous times, but for someone who made his initial mark with his expressions of joy with the play of his teammates, what is your opinion on the criticism Cam’s faced?
KB: I think some guys get judged by the passion in which they play the game or how they choose to express themselves. To me, he’s just a guy that’s having a great time. He’s a very energetic guy, always smiling, always having a good time and he’s winning. You really can’t knock a guy for acting the way he is when he’s out there getting it done. It’s not like he’s a distraction for the team. It’s good for him to transcend the game because sports are supposed to be fun. It’s very competitive but at the end of the day, if everyone is out there having fun, that’s what it’s all about. He’s just a leader and the team’s success really reflects that.