Any Given Sunday
Here’s your chance to learn (a lot) more about the 2009 NBA Draft class.
What would you give to spend a day with 35 of this year’s top Draft picks? $200? A month’s rent? Your first-born child? How about two sleepless nights, six nauseating hours in transit and $32.25? Thanks to the NBA and Panini, the brains and majority sponsors, behind the Rookie Photo Shoot, that was my price of admission—well, and a mild flu bug.
Riding up to Tarrytown, NY, home of MSG Training Center, on Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Directions to the facility gripped tight in my right hand, recorder cradled carefully in my left, I tried to focus on the questions I would soon ask the rookies. I tried. And failed. As I journeyed further and further up the majestic Hudson River, heading further and further into richer and richer ‘burbs, I found my usually scattered brain in a full blown tornado mode. Would I get lost on my way to the facility? Would I recognize cats by face? Would the rooks be chill and accommodating? All of this was swirling around in my dome as I drove up the long, grassy entranceway separating MSG TC from the main road.
As I entered the front doors of the pristine facility, all of my doubts dissipated. “SLAM Magazine,” said an aging security guard, reading my credentials. “That’s what’s up.” Feeling two inches taller, I strode into the hallway leading to the gym and the Photo Shoot. At that point, Jordan Hill, mane bobbing as he bounced down the hall, nodded at me. I could feel the love now. The youngs cats were tired from the long trek up to the facility, true, but it was clear: they were still just excited to be here, to be NBA players.
Step by step, foot by foot, I made my way into the gym hopping with photographers, media and, of course, the young talent.
On the near side of the gym, the unbelievable was occurring. Wearing their official adidas NBA unis for the first time (the new ‘6ers and Bobcat joints are fresh), 10 or so of the players were messing around, playing some light-hearted ball. Except their light-hearted ball is the equivalent of the top players at your local Y going full-bore. Bang. Splash. Squeak-squeak. Laughs. All the usual sounds a couple of young millionaires with unlimited potential would be expected to make, were heard.
I walked towards the action, mesmerized by the joyous looks, unbridled energy and massive dunks. As I stood on the baseline underneath the hoop—right next to the EA Sports NBA LIVE ’10 setup, occupied by the rest of the players—I noticed Austin Daye dribbling towards the hoop. As his 6-11 frame glided down the lane and powered it home on a laughing Jrue Holliday, I took aim. Austin Daye was locked in my sights, and he was more than willing to step aside and answer a few questions. Here’s the exchange the Pistons rookie and 15th overall selection and I had.
SLAM: Leading up to the Draft, a lot of people were saying that you would slip in the draft, and that you would be the last guy in the Green Room. What did you think about that?
Austin Daye: I knew I had done real well in my workouts, so I was confident and knew I was gonna get picked up.
SLAM: Since your initial press conference, have you been back to Detroit at all?
AD: Naw, I haven’t. I’m going back actually after this, to work on my game and find a place [to live] out there.
SLAM: Have you spoken to coach at all, about what he expects out of you?
AD: A little bit. He wants me to go in there and play hard, look to score, be a playmaker and help my team as best as I can.
SLAM: Have you been in touch with any of the vets you’ll be playing with this year?
AD: I actually talk to Tayshaun [Prince] ‘cause he works out in the same city I do. So we went out to dinner the other night, talked a little bit.
SLAM: Do you turn to your dad (a former NBA player) or anyone else for advice, as far as what to expect this year?
AD: Definitely my pop, yeah.
SLAM: What does he have to say?
AD: Just told me that it’s tough. You always got to fight through everything, all the adversity and everything, through an 82-game season. He told me that. Then, also, he’s always looking out for my best interest, so I know he’s gonna be there for me.
After wrapping up our little conversation, I was actually nervous as hell. I didn’t hear a single word he said. Luckily, as a I found out at 2 a.m. that night, my trusty recorder did.
Walking away from Daye, I noticed KK, one of the NBA’s skilled employees, standing between the two courts. As we exchanged pleasantries, I asked her if she knew where my man Omri Casspi was. Turns out, he had just walked in the gym. Rocking a fresh white-and-purple No. 18 Kings uni, Casspi looked ready for the season to start. With a big smile spread across his face, Omri gave me a playful punch in the shoulder, and stopped walking to talk.
SLAM: What did you do back home in Israel, between the end of Summer League and now?
Omri Casspi: Relaxed a little bit. Took some time off; I had a long season last year playing overseas [for Maccabbi Tel Aviv]. I started lifting again a week-and-a-half ago, getting my rhythm back. And that’s about it.
SLAM: Did you fly back straight to New York now, or did you stop in Sacramento?
OC: Straight here; I just got in.
SLAM: Have you been back to Sacramento since the initial press conference?
OC: Yeah (nods).
SLAM: So what’s coach saying; what’s he looking for this year from you?
OC: We didn’t talk about goals and stuff like that, but obviously you want to win, and you want to have the best players on the court to help you win. For me, I’m just trying to do everything he wants from me, everything he expects from me, all the things on the court.
SLAM: Israel is a soccer country. How did you get into basketball?
OC: My mother used to play and my older brother. I was taller than everybody. And I really just loved the game, so…
SLAM: Your parents are both from Israel, right?
SLAM: So how is your English so tight?
OC: I mean, playing pro [in Euro League] for four years. I played with a lot of NBA guys, a lot of Americans.
SLAM: Playing for Maccabbi Tel Aviv, who were some of the best NBA guys you played with?
OC: I played with [Carlos] Arroyo, Anthony Parker, Maceo Baston, Nikola Vujcic.
SLAM: Did those guys have any advice for you about playing in the NBA?
OC: (Shrugs shoulders) Everybody gave me advice. It’s all about working out and making myself comfortable on the court. It’s a long season; there are a lot of good players. So you have to stay focused, stay humble, play hard. That’s basically it.
SLAM: The Kings are kind of a young team, coming off a terrible season. Have you been talking to Donte [Green] and those guys about what you want to accomplish this year?
OC: Yeah, I’m talking to everybody. Everybody wants to win now. We got good guys, a new coach, three draft picks, so we’re gonna do good I hope.
SLAM: In some cities, you are gonna get big receptions from Israeli crowds. Are you looking forward to that?
OC: Of course! I’m excited about playing New York, L.A., Chicago. There’s big Jewish populations in these cities, in the States, so I’m very excited (smacks the ball in his palm).
SLAM: You are kinda representing a country. Does that put extra weight on your shoulders?
OC: I mean, it’s just basketball at the end of the day. A lot of people are watching and looking, and there are a lot of expectations, but (long pause) anyway it’s just basketball at the end of the day.
SLAM: So Summer League was your first bball experience over here. Did the athleticism or the level of play surprise you at all?
OC: Nah, not at all.
SLAM: It was what you expected?
SLAM: What do you think the biggest difference between Euroball and the NBA is?
OC: There are a lot of differences, I mean. But fortunately, it’s just about me playing a lot of games. You get used to the different rules, different guys, different players. It’s about a matter of time, I guess.
SLAM: When did you decide to sign with the Kings and stay here, versus going to Europe for another year or two?
OC: When did I decide? As soon as I decided to come workout against players and go into the draft. From day one.
SLAM: Because a lot of people reported that you would play another year or two over there after getting drafted.
OC: I never talked about it with nobody: not my agent, not my parents, not an NBA team that I worked out for. So…
SLAM: Had you worked out for Sacramento?
OC: I worked out for them, yes.
SLAM: Did the workout go well? Did you think they were gonna draft you?
OC: I don’t know. I didn’t really think about it before. But I had a good feeling about a couple of teams, and obviously I’m very happy with how it ended up. It’s a great spot and a great situation, with great players. I’m very happy.
SLAM: Is any family coming over with you for the year?
OC: Yeah, my older brother, Eitan. He’s 25.
SLAM: Last question: Why did you pick no. 18?
OC: You know why. You know why! (Playfully punches me…again.)
SLAM: Is that really why?
OC: Yeah (Laughs).
Other magazine and publications were chasing down all of the name players. I felt the need to show love to some of the lesser-known dudes. DaJuan Summers, formerly of Georgetown, was one of those guys. And, typical of players who are not sought out by the media as much, Summers opened up to me a little bit, and gave me a good chunk of his time.
SLAM: Nice to meet you, DaJuan.
DaJuan Summers: Nice to meet you, too.
SLAM: So what’ve you been up to since the draft?
DS: Training. Working out. We had Summer League out in Vegas for like two weeks. I think I ended up averaging like 18 and six out there. So it was good.
SLAM: Were you surprised by Summer League?
DS: Nah, not at all. I think it’s a different system, a different style of play then people are used to seeing me play, so I feel like I showed more of my skills.
SLAM: Were you surprised by how well you did at Summer League?
DS: Nah, that’s how I play. It’s just a different look, something different than people are used to seeing. At Georgetown it’s just a slower paced game, fewer shots, less attempts, so it’s just a different style of play.
SLAM: You slipped a little bit in the Draft. Was that (Summer League) you sending a message?
DS: Yeah, I mean definitely. I’m always gonna send a message. Every time I step on the court, I’ma work hard, try to show guys why they should have taken me, and how much I love the game. I’m not mad at it, though; it happened for a reason.
SLAM: Has coach Thompson or anyone else had advice for you about what to expect this season?
DS: Not so much, but I kinda know a couple of guys already in the League: Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, just a lot of guys from Baltimore. I just have to be ready, work hard, stay level-headed, not getting too high on the good days or too low on the bad.
SLAM: Speaking of Baltimore, that’s a city on the come up. You’re taking over the League.
DS: Yeah (smiles). We got a lot of good guys coming out.
SLAM: What do you attribute that to?
DS: Hard work finally paying off. I mean, a lot of guys from Baltimore have been overlooked, we’ve had some bad history with some of the things guys have done in the past. But just now, it’s coming all full circle. Guys kept working, and now it’s paying off.
SLAM: Have you been talking to Austin Daye at all, or anyone else on the Pistons?
DS: Yeah. Me and Austin were roommates out in Vegas so we got close out there.
SLAM: What do you kind of expect from yourself this year?
DS: I’ll just try to contribute in any way I can. I talked to coach, and I’m gonna be playing the three and four, so just getting ready for that mentally, and get ready to produce and give it my all everyday.
SLAM: Have you been in touch with Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva at all?
DS: Nah. I’ve talked to Tayshaun Prince and [Jason] Maxiell, but I haven’t talked to those two guys.
SLAM: Have you been back to Detroit since your press conference?
DS: After I leave here, I go to Detroit. I’ll try to get settled a little.
SLAM: Have you been to Detroit before?
DS: Yeah, we played Michigan a couple of times, and I just been through the city. But I’ve never been there, like stayed there.
SLAM: Did the city leave any impression on you?
DS: I’m from Baltimore, and just from hearing about the city, it sounds a lot like Baltimore. From an economic, poverty and crime standpoint.
SLAM: The city is kinda on the decline. Do you hope that by fielding a strong team, y’all can have some kind of positive impact on the people who live there?
DS: Yeah, I mean, that’s our job: to entertain people and just give them a different look so they won’t be so depressed about things that’s going on in the world. So hopefully, we can do that for the people of Detroit.
SLAM: What Are you gonna miss most about college?
DS: Just the atmosphere. I think people don’t really understand what they got in college until they leave. Everything is there; it’s accessible for you. All of your friends are like five minutes away from you. It’s different in the League now. Everyone grows up, and has a family to take care of.
SLAM: I see that you’re real big user of Twitter. Since the JR Smith stuff went down ( Summers hadn’t heard about it; I had to explain it to him), have you thought about getting off of it?
DS: I mean, there’s a lot of things people on Twitter just blow out of proportion. It’s ridiculous. But I think it comes with the territory, it’s our lifestyle now. I have thought about getting off of it because of how people take your words. You just have to be careful.
SLAM: What are you looking to accomplish as a team this season. I mean, new system, new coach, what do you expect?
DS: Detroit basketball! We got to win games. You can’t think of Detroit and not think of winning. Last season was a tough season, but we just got to come in there and do what we got to do. If we don’t make the playoffs or second round, it would be a disappointment.
SLAM: Are you expecting to make an immediate impact?
DS: That’s my plan, man. Whatever roll will be given to me, I’ma work hard to make it be what I think it should be.
SLAM: I like that attitude. Reminds me of Ben Wallace. I know they just actually signed him back. Are you gonna look to him as a mentor at all?
DS: He’s a stand-up guy; that’s all that I’ve been hearing about him. Very professional, hard worker and clearly, from his career, he knows how to win championships. So I would be a fool not to [listen to him].
SLAM: A minute ago you said something about “Detroit basketball.” But I saw an interview where Ben Gordon said the script had been flipped, and y’all will be running this year.
DS: That’s up to the coaching staff. As a player, I can’t come and make a demand. I just got to do what the coaches ask of me. I just need to do my part.
This past year, overly busy with work and life, I didn’t get to catch as much college basketball as I would have liked. One of the games I did catch, though, and a game I’ll surely be telling the next generation about, was the night that Jodie Meeks dropped 54 points on the Tennessee Vols. It left the kind of impression on me that a fat dude leaves on a leather couch. And, so, when Meeks walked by me, I couldn’t resist the temptation to talk him up a little bit.
SLAM: Jodie, what have you been up to since the draft?
Jodie Meeks: Working out, my man. Just soakin’ it all in. I don’t think it’s really hit yet.
SLAM: You went out and did pretty well in the Summer League. What did you expect?
JM: I always have a lot of confidence in myself. I just want to go out play hard, and just worry about winning.
SLAM: Depending on who you ask, you may have slipped a little bit in the draft. How do you feel about that?
JM: I wasn’t really too worried about that. I was more worried about going to a good fit; a place where I could do a good job and be a good fit. And I feel like it’s happened, and it is a good fit.
SLAM: Are you gonna be looking to send a message to all those teams that passed on you?
JM: Oh yeah! I think I always play with a chip on my shoulder, but now I’ll definitely have one. Either way, I’m just going out there and trying to prove myself every play.
SLAM: Are you looking forward to playing anyone or team specifically or you just want to start playing ball?
JM: I just want to play ball! I think being in the NBA is definitely gonna be a challenge itself. So, I’ma good player, and I’m happy to be here.
SLAM: You finally put it all together this past year, and obviously that didn’t surprise you. But did you do anything or prepare any differently?
JM: Nah, I think it was just a matter of being healthy. My freshman year, I played pretty decent. I think, at the end of the year, I played well. My sophomore year, I was hurt. So this year, I was older and healthy.
SLAM: How did you decide to go pro versus staying for your senior year?
JM: It was a hard decision, but I feel like it was the best one for me and my family. I felt like I did a lot during my college career, proved to a lot of people that I’m a high-caliber player. So it was time to move on.
SLAM: What’s gonna be your trademark? What’s gonna keep you in the L?
JM: I think shooting. I’m a good shooter.
SLAM: Mid-range or from deep?
JM: Both. I think people label me as a catch-and-shoot player, but I can do other things—I can dribble.
SLAM: Have you been to Milwaukee at all since the initial press conference?
JM: Yeah. I went a week before Summer League and worked out with the coaches and trainers, and learned some of the plays and stuff like that.
SLAM: What do you hope for the team this season?
JM: I hope we win a lot and make the playoffs. I think we have a good team coming in, and hopefully we can figure it out.
SLAM: Another rookie for the Bucks is Brandon Jennings (he was standing over our right shoulder). Did you pick up some chemistry with him in the Summer League?
JM: Yeah, Summer League we did great. I think our chemistry is real good, and the whole team’s [should be good]. But he and I definitely connected well. Let’s hope that carries over.
SLAM: Speaking of Brandon, he didn’t play in college. What are you gonna miss most about college?
JM: You know, the camaraderie. I think college is all about the fans, who are so into it, and your teammates. I’m definitely gonna miss Kentucky; it was a great three years of my life.
SLAM: How do you think the Wildcats are gonna do this season?
JM: Hopefully they win it all. I think they have a great team coming in, good young talent and a good coach.
SLAM: After playing in Summer League, do you think Patrick Patterson’s gonna be an NBA player?
JM: Oh, definitely. I think Patrick definitely will be a pro player. He works very hard at what he does. If not next year already, then after his senior year.
Lunch, sponsored by T-Mobile (what does that even mean?) had somehow crept up on us. According to the official event rules, everything said at lunch was off the record. Of course, I kept my end of the deal: I didn’t record anything at lunch, but when Earl Clark left the designated food tent and re-entered the gym, burgers and chicken in hand, with his permission, we had a little convo—on the record.
SLAM: What have you been up to since Summer League?
Earl Clark: (Long pause as he gnaws a massive piece of chicken) I’ve just been chillin’. Working on my game, spending a lot of time with my family. I’ve also been running around a whole lot. So the last couple weeks I’ve just been workin’ out, catching up with my fam and that’s about it.
SLAM: Since your press conference, have you been in Phoenix at all?
EC: Yeah, I’ve been in Phoenix. You know, worked out a couple times with the team, and I had to find a place. So I’ve been there an awful lot.
SLAM: You gonna be living by yourself or are you bringing some family with you?
EC: Nah, I’ma bring my family. I have a beautiful daughter, a newborn, and a girlfriend, too.
EC: Thank you.
SLAM: So kinda what do you expect from this season, you know at all?
EC: You know, just expecting to get better, and find things that I can get better at and find how the NBA game is played and where I can be successful at.
SLAM: Do you still ever talk to coach Pitino?
EC: Yeah, I haven’t talked to him in a while. I don’t think he got my new number, but I talked to him a couple of times after the draft and he was just real supportive. He told me that I was prepared to succeed, and that anything can come from the program; that’s what we do at Louisville. And it’s just a great feeling.
SLAM: You got another teammate that was drafted in the first round also (we both look at Terrence Williams)—
EC: Yup, Number 11 (smiles).
SLAM: Have you been talking to him a lot, comparing your experiences?
EC: Yeah, you know. We just joke around about how when we was in college we always used to say we can’t wait till we get here. And we here, and we miss the ‘Ville a little bit.
SLAM: What do you miss about it? A few guys have told me that. It is it being a grown up—paying bills and all that stuff—that makes you miss it?
EC: Yeah, man. Bills. You got to take care of your family now. Everyone wanna talk to you. Everybody got a big idea, a get-some-money-idea. Everybody think you a $100 million man, just ‘cause you got drafted.
SLAM: So you ended up a coast apart from T-Will.
EC: Yeah, I think it’s a great fit for him and me. You know, it’s funny, ‘cause he’s from the West Coast and I’m from Jersey. We flip-flopped.
SLAM: Do you talk to Steve Nash or any of the vets at all?
EC: Nah, I talked to Amar’e a couple times; you know he’s pretty good like that. He’s working out getting ready for the season. He’s getting ready to have a big one!
SLAM: You looking forward to playing with Steve Nash, one of the best point guards in the game?
EC: Yeah, definitely. I’m gonna watch his every move, because you know he a professional at everything he do. You can tell, he perfects his game, and he’s got a lot of skills that I’d like to pick up. So, I’ma watch him close.
SLAM: As an individual, what do you expect from yourself this season. I’ve heard people say that you are Shawn Marion two-point-oh.
EC: Yeah, I’m just going out, trying to be me, play my game. I’m just trying to win games.
SLAM: From what you’ve seen what’s the biggest difference between college ball and the NBA, in terms of the level of play?
EC: You know, yeah it’s a lot more, your talent sticks out more. You can get exposed a lot easier out here because the talent is so great around you. There’s no time when you can come out and take a day off, na’mean?
SLAM: How’s that burger?
EC: It’s real right.
As Clark gave me a greasy dap, I decided to check out NBA LIVE 2010 for myself. Not the biggest fan of this past year’s version, I was blown away by everything from the opening credits to the gameplay. Suffice to say, I’ll be coping the game when it officially comes out.
With the players returning from lunch, I gave up my controller and resumed observer status. A guy wearing a crisp, new Dallas jersey was also watching. I knew little about the french-speaking Roddy Beaubois, the 25th pick in the draft, but I took the opportunity provided and asked the young man a few questions. A lot of our back-and-forth was lost in translation, but the bottom line was understood: Being in the A is reason enough to smile.
SLAM: Nice to meet you, man.
Roddy Beaubois: Nice to meet you, too.
SLAM: That’s okay, man. You can ask one of these cats later or I can catch you later. But, going into the Draft, did you expect to get chosen in the first round?
RB: I wasn’t sure. But I wanted it. But I wasn’t sure. But I’m very happy about that.
SLAM: Were you at the Draft?
SLAM: Did you come out of the stands?
SLAM: Who’s idea was that—your own, your family or your friends?
RB: Yeah, friends, family, everything.
SLAM: So have you been in Dallas yet?
SLAM: Have you met any of your teammates?
RB: Just Jason Terry, Erik Dampier, that’s it.
SLAM: Jason Terry? Did he give you any advice?
RB: He was a real nice guy. He told me that he’s happy I am gonna play with him. He told me, just play hard. He was just a really nice guy.
SLAM: Were you surprised by how well you did at Summer League?
RB: Surprised? Not really, no.
SLAM: (Laughs) Let’s put it this way: you surprised a lot of people.
SLAM: Were the guys as good as you expected?
RB: Yeah! It was a good experience; everybody showed what they can do.
SLAM: Are you looking forward to this coming season?
SLAM: You got any family coming to live with you?
RB: I don’t know yet.
Most of the rooks seemed to be enjoying the day, long as it was. A few of them seemed to realize that this was the last week before they became grown ups. (The rookie symposium is taking place this week; after that dudes are on their own.) One exception to the cloud-nine rule was Tyler Hansbrough. Hobbling around in a heavy boot, Tyler couldn’t even run from the approaching journalists if he wanted to. Here’s what the Pacer’s injured PF had to say.
SLAM: Aside from the recent injury, how have you been since the Draft (when I had spoken with him last)?
Tyler Hansbrough: I’ve been doing good. Just finding a place in Indianapolis, working out, trying to get a feel for the city and the program.
SLAM: Have you been talking to any of the vets on the team, to kinda help you out?
TH: A few. I talked to Jeff Foster, and he just kinda gave me a little bit of advice. But you got to do your own thing.
SLAM: Right. What kind of things is he telling you to look out for?
TH: He just says, keep playing the way you are and you’ll be fine. Nothing crazy, I just have to brace myself for a long season.
SLAM: What’s it like meeting Larry Bird?
TH: I mean, yeah, I met him before the Draft. It’s cool. I mean, I know the history—Larry Legend, it’s pretty cool.
SLAM: Just to catch up on your injury: how are you feeling?
TH: Everything’s feeling good. I’m hoping it’ll be a quick rehab and I can get back on the court.
SLAM: What do you have to do—just rest it?
TH: Yeah, I’m just resting it right now.
SLAM: Do you hope to be ready for camp, before the season starts?
No sooner had I left Tyler’s side when Wayne Ellington entered into my line of sight. As I watched him sink of eight of nine threes, while messing around, I asked the National Champ to join me on the sideline for a few. With a a flash of pearls, Wayne threw the ball towards the hoop and walked away from the court, towards me. I’m the same general age as WE and grew up in the same area as him, so our paths have crossed a few times before. I remembered that; he probably didn’t. Still, talking to Wayne, reporter to NBA player, was a long time coming.
SLAM: It’s kinda funny. I saw you play Summer League with Gerald Henderson, right?
Wayne Ellington: Yeah.
SLAM: First time you played together since high school. What was that like?
WE: It was cool, man. It was fun. We had some flashbacks. I mean, we really didn’t get to get on the court together, but it was fun. We still got that chemistry, man (smiles).
SLAM: Was Summer League everything you expected it to be?
WE: Yeah, it was a good experience. You got to learn the NBA game a little bit, get accustomed to your teammates and play with your coaching staff. So it was definitely beneficial.
SLAM: Have you been talking to any of the veterans on the team?
WE: Oh, well, we’re a young team; we don’t really have too many veterans (laughs). It’s gonna be a fun season. I feel like we’re gonna be a team that gets better as the year goes on.
SLAM: Have you been home to Philly at all since you’ve been drafted?
WE: Yeah, that’s where I’ve been working out at.
SLAM: Yeah, working out with the vets and everything out there?
SLAM: So…what’s it like getting drafted. Is it everything you expected?
WE: Man, it’s a dream come true! I’m just living the NBA life, being an NBA player. This is what you work for.
SLAM: Aside from Coach Roy Williams, who’s had the biggest impact on you getting here?
WE: My high school coach, coach Dougherty. And, also my coach before that, a guy by the name Brian Bosworth, he taught me a lot.
SLAM: If you hadn’t won the championship this year, would you still have come out?
WE: It woulda been a harder decision than it was. After the championship it was a no-brainer. But if that hadn’t happened? I would’ve had to have put a lot of thought into it.
SLAM: Do you and the two “Ty’s” (Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson) still talk to each other?
WE: Definitely. Yeah. All the time, man. Got to.
I most have had good karma Sunday, ’cause Gerald Henderson walked by just as I was finishing up with Wayne. High school teammates at Episcopal, the two are close as can be, yet are different in many ways. Most noticeably though, Gerald is a skywalker and Wayne is a deadeye shooter. Add that to the UNC (Ellington)/Duke (Henderson) thing, and I had some questions that needed answering. Standing tall and staring me in the eye when talking, coach K’s No. one soldier last year reminded me a little bit of his new boss, the same one he refers to as a “good dude.” (Not much though, don’t worry.)
SLAM: So Summer League you played with Wayne, eh?
Gerald Henderson: Yeah.
SLAM: You haven’t played with him in a while, in a venue like that. Did it bring back a lot of memories?
GH: Yes, it was pretty cool. We haven’t played with each other in a while, and our games have changed, but are also kinda the same. So it was cool playing with him.
SLAM: Chemistry was still there?
GH: Oh, yeah. It was definitely still there.
SLAM: So what have you been up to since Summer League ended?
GH: Took a little time off, tried to get a little rest, but I’ve been back on the horse the last week or so.
SLAM: You getting settled in Charlotte at all?
GH: Once I leave here, I’ll go down there for a day or so, maybe try to find a place and get settled.
SLAM: You kinda know the general are from college. Is that gonna help you out at all?
GH: It will help me out, hopefully with fans also. Charlotte’s about two-and-a-half from Durham, so it’ll be cool to be close to school.
SLAM: Is anyone moving out there with you?
GH: Naw, my parents will probably be down there a lot; they might get a spot. But for now, I’ll just be on my own.
SLAM: Have you been back to Philly at all this summer?
GH: I’ve been back there a good majority of the time, especially after the Draft. You know, just working out and seeing some old friends and stuff.
SLAM: Had you worked out for Charlotte before the Draft?
GH: Yeah, I worked out for them twice before the Draft.
SLAM: Did you get to meet Michael Jordan?
GH: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Mike’s a good dude.
SLAM: Were you star-struck at all?
GH: Well, I’ve met him before, but, you know, it’s Michael Jordan. But I was there to work out and really interview for them, so that’s what I was focused on. But Mike is a great guy.
SLAM: Does he make any jokes about you being Duke and him being UNC?
GH: Yeah, and plenty of them. I’m sure they’ll never end.
SLAM: So who you turning to for advice?
GH: A lot my mom. She’s a great mentor for me. She’s very smart, and gives me good advice.
SLAM: Any NBA vets impart any wisdom on you?
GH: (Pause) My dad’s been the best NBA vet for that.
SLAM: Have you met Gerald Wallace or any of the guys you’re gonna be playing with?
GH: Nah, I haven’t met him yet. I know Sean Singletary —Bobcats still aren’t sure if he’ll sign or not.
SLAM: He played against you in high school. He went to Penn Charter?
GH: Yeah. Yeah. DJ Augustin. We came out of high school the same year. So yeah, it’ll be good to get out there and meet the other guys.
SLAM: Aside from your dad and coach K, who’s had the biggest impact on you as a basketball player?
GH: I’d say Kobe Bryant, when I was growing up he was always one of my favorite guys to watch. Now being in the NBA, he’ll be a guy that I’m seeing a lot more often, and I’m looking forward to playing against him.
SLAM: Yeah, I was about to ask: anyone in particular you’re looking forward to playing?
GH: All the guys, Kobe. Some of the guys that are the best at my position. I look forward to going up against that. I hope to learn a lot from them, too.
SLAM: So now you’re in the NBA. What are you gonna miss most about college?
GH: (Pauses and laughs) Probably my teammates. I had a lot of good friendships. You know, depending on who you in with, you go four years with guys and have a lot of fun. I’m gonna miss playing in Cameron, and the whole Duke experience.
SLAM: After playing in the Summer League, do you think Kyle Singler has a bright future in the NBA?
GH: Yeah. He’s gonna have a great season this year. He has a chance to be All-America, Player of the Year. He has a chance to do all those things. National Championship as well—it all should only help him.
SLAM: Anyone else at Duke to watch out for?
GH: Nolan Smith. Jon Scheyer as well; it’s his senior year. They’ll all be doing good things.
SLAM: Were you and Nolan close at all, your fathers both playing in the NBA and all?
GH: Yeah. I’ve known Nolan since I was little. His mom and my mom are real good friends. He should be really good this year.
Five hours into the event, I was feeling as tired as John Smoltz’s looks on the hill. Just as I was about to grab a bottle of water and chill on the sidelines, the Knicks new combo-guard ran by me. With all of the Knick fans I know in mind, I made my pitch, and he swung for it. Little did he know, though, that I had some unusual questions for him. My reasoning for asking them? Due to the location of Tarrytown, plenty of New York media was present. So, figuring that he had been asked every hoops question under the sun, I took a different route—football.
SLAM: Alright, Toney. Let’s talk a little football.
Toney Douglas: (Eyes go wide as he smiles) Football? What’s going on with football?
SLAM: Are you a Falcon fan?
TD: (Laughs) Why wouldn’t I be a Falcon fan? You know I’m a Falcon fan (laughs).
SLAM: What happened with your brother? He just got hurt, eh?
TD: Yeah, he tore his ACL.
SLAM: Who do you think’s more athletic between the two of you?
TD: My brother.
SLAM: Is he taller than you also?
TD: Naw, he’s like 6-0.
SLAM: So he’s been dealing with the media for a year or two already. Did he have any advice for you on how to handle it?
TD: He always gives me wisdom, mentally and physically, about watch what you say. The media can be your best friend and it can be worst enemy. The only thing you can control and dictate is what you tell the media.
SLAM: In New York the light is gonna be magnified times a thousand.
TD: I know.
SLAM: Are you looking forward to playing in the Garden?
TD: Most definitely! I never got to play there in my life, and I always wanted to.
SLAM: Oh, yeah. You’re an ACC man. So have you gotten to talk to any of your teammates yet?
TD: Only Jordan [Hill] and Chris Duhon, a little bit. I’m looking forward. And my coaching staff I love; we building a great relationship.
SLAM: Have they told you what they’re looking for from you this season?
TD: Just like, you know, I’ma be playing both guard spots. Like, our system, that’s how it runs.
SLAM: You ready to run and shoot all day?
TD: Yeah. Whatever I have to do, whatever the coach wants me to do, I’ma do. If that’s play defense, make my teammates better, score, whatever, that’s what I’ma do.
SLAM: For real though, we have important things to discuss: How are the Falcons gonna do this year?
TD: They gonna do good.
SLAM: Yeah, like 10 and six?
TD: Pro’ly…nah. I would say like at least 11 or 12 wins.
SLAM: Were you a Falcon fan when you were coming up?
TD: A little. I really didn’t like the NFL like that. I didn’t start really paying attention till my brother got to the NFL.
SLAM: Did you follow college football or are you strictly about hoops?
TD: Nah, [I followed] college football.
SLAM: So what team did you like?
TD: You know, I’m from Florida State, so even though even we haven’t had a good season in a while, I’m gonna stay with the Seminoles.
SLAM: Once we’re speaking about football: Do you have any thoughts on the whole Michael Vick thing?
TD: (Pause) I don’t really get into all that (laughs).
SLAM: Everyone deserves a second shot right?
TD: I feel like it. But yeah, maybe it depends who’s willing to give him that shot. But I make [sure] that I’ll never be in a position like that; I’ll always use wisdom.
SLAM: From what you hear from your brother, are players in the NFL or NBA better athletes?
TD: Like, I wouldn’t know, to tell you the truth.
SLAM: Did you ever go to a Falcon workout or practice?
TD: I go to his practice, but like football is way different than basketball. You can be athletic at your sport, but if I go out there on the football field, of course a football player would be more athletic than me. Because the sports are so different.
SLAM: Some of those wide receivers, T.O, Randy Moss, they got the hops and speed for hoops though.
TD: Yeah, they versatile. My brother, he played basketball. He was athletic; he could jump out the gym. He was quick and fast, too.
SLAM: So how’d he decide to go into football?
TD: He liked contact. That’s why he plays football.
SLAM: Do you ever workout with him?
TD: I workout at his practice facility sometime.
SLAM: Are you trying to get bigger at all or are you happy with what you are?
TD: Nah, I always get bigger. But I’m gonna stay like 200 [lbs]. I know I’ma end up losing the weight though, with how we play. I’ma try to stay at 190-195.
SLAM: Has anyone given you advice about the 82-game grind?
TD: Yeah. You just got eat right, and take care of your body. It’s different than college—82-games instead of 30, and you traveling and all that. You just have to be ready, mentally and physically.
After parting ways with Douglas, I sat down and watched some more XBox 360 action. Terrence Williams was holding court on LIVE. Despite being in the midst of a game, Williams said it was cool to talk to him while he played. He was into the game, heavily. Maybe that explains his flippant answers. Maybe not.
SLAM: I was talking to Earl earlier, and I thought something he pointed out was interesting. He’s actually from Jersey and you’re from the West Coast. Have you asked him for any advice on the area?
TW: Nah, I don’t need no advice. I learn stuff on my own.
SLAM: You’re not asking any veterans any questions?
TW: No. I’m gonna learn on my own.
SLAM: Ok. Have you talked to Coach Pitino at all since the Draft? Did he have anything to tell you?
TW: Yeah, we talked. But ain’t nothing else to talk about. I don’t—
SLAM: He didn’t have any last minute advice or nothing?
TW: Nah (still playing LIVE 2010). (Pause) Save your money; that’s it.
SLAM: Well, that’s big. You gonna be living in Jersey or New York?
TW: I live in Edgewater.
SLAM: You gonna be living by yourself or have you brought family with you?
TW: I stay with my best friend and my girl.
SLAM: Are you trying to prepare for the 82-game grind?
TW: You can’t. How can I answer that?
SLAM: Aright, man. Thanks.
TW: (Still staring at the video game.)
As the day came to a close and my train pulled out of Tarrytown‘s Metro North station, I couldn’t help but rehash the entire Photo Shoot in my mind. I realized, and I think many of the players did too, that this Sunday was the beginning. 35 young millionaires, all yet to suit up and earn their first paycheck, all yet to bore of the media attention, all set to face down similar challenges and all under the same roof? This was anything but a given Sunday.