Zach LaVine is still breathing heavy.
Moments ago on this May afternoon, the 19-year-old was engaged in a high-intensity workout with his trainer in Santa Barbara, CA. Now he’s on the phone explaining, while cooling off, why he’s training so intensely.
“First and foremost, I want to be an NBA player and I ain’t reached that goal yet,” LaVine says. “I have to keep working hard until I reach that goal.”
It seems like the native of Seattle, WA, is headed in the right direction.
After an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, one that saw him take the nation by storm through the first 10 games of the season before sliding into months of feast-or-famine outings, LaVine showed out last week in Chicago, IL, at the Draft Combine.
The combo guard measured nearly 6-6 in shoes, and he weighed in at a trim 181 lbs., with a body fat of 4.7 percent. The height and fat count are outstanding numbers for a player of his ilk. More than that, already known as a superb athlete and three-point shooter, LaVine opened eyes with a 41.5-inch max vert and solid shooting outing during the drill portions of the Combine.
“I have the utmost confidence in my game,” LaVine says. “I [went out to Chicago] with a chip on my shoulder. I love proving people wrong. I love that I’ve always been doubted, and I love proving people wrong.”
With those Combine digits on his resume, alongside the 9.4 points and 2.5 rebounds he averaged in 24 minutes per game at UCLA, LaVine has seen his name rise up Draft boards. He is now slated by most experts to go anywhere in the 10 to 20 range in the first round.
Between shooting drills and Draft prep, LaVine found some time to call SLAM. He talked about his training regimen, his time at UCLA and his goal of one day being an NBA star.
SLAM: Are you done with finals and school and everything?
Zach LaVine: Yeah, yeah. I actually haven’t gone back to school since I left. I might have to go back to finish all of that.
SLAM: You’ve been working out full-time?
ZL: Full-time, I’m on the grind (laughs).
SLAM: What’s that like? Where have you been working out at?
ZL: I’ve been in Santa Barbara working out. Just working on my game, working on my weaknesses, different skills.
SLAM: You said you’re working on your weaknesses. Are there any specific focuses?
ZL: Last year, since I didn’t really get to play my position to the full extent that I thought I could of, I’ve been working on my point guard skills. I’m working on being more focused, more vocal and just being more consistent on the court.
SLAM: Maybe this is a bad question, but how do you practice being more vocal?
ZL: We go through different [scenarios], like, coming off of pick-and-rolls and telling different dudes on the court what reads to do. And I’m just being vocal and getting used to being loud on the court.
SLAM: I hear that. Just practicing calling out plays and defensive reads and stuff.
ZL: Yup. I probably have two or three dudes on the court with me doing it as well, so it makes it more like game action. I [find it] definitely to be helpful. I feel like I’m getting it down pretty well, so when I come into a real team setting and get on the court and it’s loud I’ll be able to lead my team.
SLAM: You’re also a skinny dude right now. Is one of your workout goals to bulk up?
ZL: Yeah. I feel like my frame isn’t going to change much—I’m the type of player, I’m going to be slim—but I just have been working on putting strength on that. I haven’t been working on necessarily adding a whole lot of weight—I’ve added eight or nine pounds since I’ve been working out in Santa Barbara—but I just have been adding strength. I want to feel strong on the court, that’s the main thing.
SLAM: You’ve proven yourself to be a great athlete, but are you still trying to even get better in that area?
ZL: Yeah, definitely. You can’t do anything but gain. I feel like, working out over here, I’ve gained. I definitely added more strength and more power to my athleticism. More quickness and more speed, too. So, there’s always stuff to improve on.
SLAM: When it comes to your jumper, you’ve proven that you have range from well behind the NBA’s three line. So are you just trying to get more consistent with it?
ZL: I’ve been working more on my balance. I feel like I can shoot consistently from range, but I have been working to become more consistent with my follow-through and my balance on my shot. That’s helping me become a more consistent shooter.
SLAM: Is there a specific drill you do to work on that, or is it all about repetitions?
ZL: Just making sure my feet are squared, bending more through the hips, and always following through and not leaving my shot short. If you keep in mind to do that over and over again, it’ll become muscle memory.
SLAM: Are you also working at different ways of getting to the basket?
ZL: I feel like I can get to the cup really easily, especially with my speed and quickness. I have been focusing on finishing through contact a lot better. You know, being able to take the hit and still finish is definitely going to be a pivotal part of my game, so I’ve been working on that.
SLAM: An important question—what kind of music do you have on in the gym when you work out?
ZL: Chief Keef is definitely going on in the gym right now. Him, YG, a little bit of Kendrick Lamar. Chief Keef is definitely at the top of it, though.
SLAM: Sosa! What position do you see yourself playing in the NBA?
ZL: (Laughs) I can see myself playing whatever the team needs me to play. I feel like I’m more of a basketball player than a specific position. If they need me as a scorer, I can score the ball. And if they need me to run the team, I can play the point guard as well. I’ve been working on both of those.
SLAM: Over the course of your season at UCLA, your minutes and looks fluctuated. But do you feel like you improved a lot just by being there?
ZL: Definitely. You improve on everything every single time you step on the court or into a workout facility. I feel like I matured a lot [at UCLA] and it was a part of getting myself ready for this journey coming up.
SLAM: If you were an NBA GM, where would you select yourself? No. 1?
ZL: I have the utmost confidence in myself right now. I have a lot of competition in this Draft, but I’m not going to put anyone’s talents over mine. I’d definitely, if I was a GM, look at myself first.
SLAM: Between the combine and the Draft, do you expect to keep working out at the same level?
ZL: I’m gonna stay on my grind, keep working harder and harder. You know, I haven’t reached my goal and what my goals are for the future. I have to keep working if I want to reach those goals.
SLAM: What are those goals?
ZL: First and foremost, I want to be an NBA player and I ain’t reached that goal yet. I have to keep working hard until I reach that goal. I want to be a great NBA player. You know, I want to go down as one of the greatest NBA players to ever play, but you can’t reach that until it’s all said and done. Until you reach it, you just have to keep working harder and harder until you reach that goal.
SLAM: Before this past season, even though you were Mr. Basketball as a high school senior in Washington, you were slept on nationally. Did you always know how good you were though?
ZL: Oh, yeah. I went to different elite camps and feel like I showed out. With that said, I like proving people wrong. Like, at the end of the year, I was on a top 10 freshman list. I feel like I proved myself a little bit in college after being slept on in high school, and I’ve just got to keep proving people wrong. I’m OK with doing that (laughs). It’s better off for me. I’m going to keep working hard and stay humble.
SLAM: When people talk about you, they tend to focus on your range and on your athleticism. You ever feel like because of that they overlook the rest of your game?
ZL: I feel like those are two of the most exciting things in basketball: being be able to show speed and jumping ability, and also, the three is exciting as well. But I feel like people will see other skills in my set, like dribbling. I’ve been working on different things, sharpening all my tools, being more focused. I feel like I’ll be really ready for this upcoming Draft.