Jared Dudley says he’s ready to play a major role for the Suns.
by Adam Fleischer and Tzvi Twersky
There are two basic ways that players make it to the League: They’re either gifted athletes or they’re good-enough athletes that put in constant work. Jared Dudley fits into the latter category. No one will argue otherwise, and the 6-7, 225-lb, hops-challenged baller will admit as much. And that’s why he’s made it this far.
Utilizing a unique blend of self-made skills and an honest, approachable personality, Jared Dudley is in the process of becoming a major factor in the Phoenix Suns lineup. Not bad for a husky high schooler who went nearly unrecruited out of high school. What Boston College saw in him then—not his hops (or lack thereof), nor his OK J or physique, rather they just saw a player, plain and simple—is what everyone is going to see this year.
Via questions fans of SLAM and J.D. posed on Twitter (some of which run here in a cleaned up fashion) and an afternoon phone conversation with J.D., we learned a lot about a rising, 24-year-old role player— beginning with thoughts on his standout college career.
SLAM: It’s been well-documented, but why do you think Coach Skinner gave you a look when no one else really did?
Jared Dudley: Coach Skinner relies on his assistant coaches and their advice, and they actually go after guys that aren’t heavily recruited—they don’t want any top 25 or top 50 guys. They want guys that have something to prove. I was somewhat lucky with BC because a couple guys got kicked out and they were looking, and I happened to be there at that time. And also I think they felt, Hey, this a guy that fits our mold, that’s underrecruited and has a chip on his shoulder. It was a good match.
SLAM: In ’04-05, you guys started the year by winning 20 straight games at Boston College. What was the locker room like?
JD: We definitely thought that was our year. 20-0, no one expected that. We thought we’d be good, but we got on a roll. We beat UConn early when they were ranked high, top ten. I think that was big for our confidence, it made us 9-0 or 10-0. And, from then on, you walk with a different swagger, you play with a more confidence. We’re 20-0, man, we really wanted to win that game against Notre Dame. When we lost that, I think it shook our confidence a little bit, cause we were expecting to win that. At that time, it was fun going to practice, fun at the games. Sell out crowds, with everyone expecting us to win. It was definitely one of my best times at BC.
SLAM: Did the hot start to that year and disappointing end make you more focused for the next year, or maybe leave a bitter taste in your mouth?
JD: Yeah, definitely. I think that we kind of let things slip. We got into Big East play, and the Big East is different in terms of teams you’re playing early on. I think the next year we came in with a different mindset and even though we didn’t get off to as good of a start, we were in it for the long haul. We definitely had a chance. If it wasn’t for a game winning buzzer beater by Randy Foye to beat us, you never know how things would have shook up.
SLAM: When Craig Smith graduated and you kind of became the leader of the time, how did your role change?
JD: You’re more of an example and now people are more looking at you. I’m more of a vocal leader than Craig. You try to put people in a position to succeed, and by then I knew the offense in and out and I knew what we needed to do to win and what we needed from players to step up, and I though we did a pretty good job. Sean Williams got suspended, so it kind of hurt us to see how far we could go, because he’s an NBA talent and we needed someone like him to be there for us all year in order for us to have a chance. With him not being there, I thought it was pretty good for us to make the Tournament.
SLAM: One of the most talented players to recently come out of BC was Sean Williams, I think.
JD: I think Sean Williams, when it comes to NBA talent was probably top. 6-10, long wingspan, could run like a gazelle, block shots. But, you know, that’s why basketball is so good. It doesn’t matter how talented you are; it’s all about how hard you work, mentally. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into being a great basketball player. Sean has the talent down, but mentally he’s not as mature as he needs to be and there’s a lot of stuff he needs to work on still.
SLAM: Did he ever ask any of you guys, some of the older heads, for advice?
JD: I don’t think he asked, I think we more just gave it to him. But, you know, it’s kind of like, someone’s advice, if you want to get better, you’re gonna do it. If not, and you’re a know it all, then it’s gonna be hard. Or, sometimes, it’s just having to go through some downs to make it back up to the top. And we could be here five years from now like, Hey, Sean Williams turned it around. That’s what we hope.
You may think that a dominant college career topped off by an ACC Player of the Year Award as a senior—up against the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Al Thornton and Brandan Wright—would warrant some lottery considerations come draft time in June. Such was not the case for Dudley, whose 22nd overall selection by the Bobcats in the 2007 Draft was even a surprise to many.
But, in case it wasn’t already clear, being selected in the first round won’t satisfy the appetite of a hard worker, ready to jockey his way into an NBA rotation. That doesn’t mean earning that spot will come quickly or consistently, no matter what you’re putting into it. The life of a rook or second year cat ain’t always easy. There are ups, like breakout performances, and downs, like not even getting on the court. The question, then, is how you react to and learn from those earliest your professional days.
SLAM: In the third game of your career, you had 16 and 11. Were you like, Now it’s gonna be easy, I kinda figured it out?
JD: You know what, I didn’t think that. I just thought that I was happy because rookies aren’t guaranteed to play, and I played a pretty good amount. We had a rookie coach. I thought that once he saw me play, around mid season Gerald Wallace got hurt and we went on a five game winning streak and I started I think three of those games. Had 20 rebounds against the Warriors. I though, Hey, now I’m coming into my own. I knew it was always going to take time. Even at BC, if you look at my freshman and sophomore years, it wasn’t until junior year I was putting up big numbers. It takes time to learn the game. I just thought, Hey, I’m a player, I’m gonna play 10 or 12 years, you have to do all the little things, and throughout summers you have to get better at this NBA game.
SLAM: When you were coming into the League, did your former BC teammate Craig Smith have any advice for you or anything?
JD: Craig was someone, he more provided leadership by example. He’s not someone that’s like, Hey, this is how you gotta do it. He’s more someone that had good work ethic in the weight room. Did extra stuff. Got his shots up. With me, I see how someone conducts themselves, and if they’re successful, then I’m gonna wanna be similar. So if they’re in the weight room, or someone who eats right, and I see by example how this improves you, you don’t have to tell me, I’m gonna follow just by actions.
@KenScottE: How did it feel to switch teams midyear last season?
JD: It felt great because I went to the Suns. I have one of the best point guards in the game; I’m back on the west where I’m from; we play on national television on ESPN, ABC. I stayed in a hotel for a month, [but] the Suns paid for that. But it was nice to get settled in Phoenix.
SLAM: What’s it like playing with Steve Nash? How much does that help your game?
JD: You know, it’s crazy. In the first 15, 20 games I didn’t get to play with him. Coming off the bench—I didn’t come off right away—so he was usually done for the night. But once I started improving, and playing well and shooting the ball better, he just makes the game so much easier. He has so much eyes. You can slip backdoor, or he’s gonna make a pass that you’re not normally expecting. I would say he just makes the game so much easier, and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m playing 15 minutes with him every game.
@Doink317: What’s it like playing with Grant Hill, a guy you probably watched as a kid?
JD: I told Grant I used to buy his Fila shoes, y’all remember them. But he’s real cool. He plays the game the right way, he takes care of his body. I know he had some problems in the past but what I’ve seen, he can play 2 -4 more years
SLAM: Were you looking for a bigger jump in your stats from your first to your second year?
JD: You know what, I was. Realistically, I was. I think they’re (my stats) very, very similar. The thing that hurt me I felt was that I got traded, and when I got traded I played 10 games that were like two minutes or less. Coach Terry Porter really didn’t want to play me, really didn’t know my game or anything. But if you look at how much I averaged the last 15 or 20 games that I played consistently, I think I averaged 8 or 9 points, and my three point percentage went from basically non-existent to forty percent. So you basically see strides of, Hey, when I get the opportunity to play… So that’s why I’m expecting a huge year compared to what I had in the past two.
SLAM: You’ve played now for four coaches in two years. In terms of the different styles, what do you see that differentiates coaches in the NBA?
JD: What I see is coaches under the gun. You have to win and they want to put people out there that gives them the best chance to win. Sometimes politics does play a role in it. If you get paid more, you’re most likely gonna play. That doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens the majority of the time. When you get the opportunity—if it’s an injury, a blowout—and you perform, at the end of the day the coaches, unless it’s a Larry Brown type, they’re going to play you. Even though I did well with Larry, he loved me, I thought it was a good match. These coaches are trying to win now, and if you can give them a better chance of winning, they’re gonna play you, that’s why I always try to get out there and play the right way.
SLAM: Two years in, what’s it mean for you to be back on the west coast?
JD: It’s perfect for me. A 45 minute flight for my family to come see. I went from a team—the Bobcats are now looking pretty good— [that] when I was there, we were out there just to play. From empty arenas to now every time I play it’s sold out, no matter where we go. I love it here. There’s warm weather—it’s 90 degrees right now, and that’s perfect… I love it here.
On December 10, 2008, Jared Dudley finally returned home to his native West Coast, joining Jason Richardson in a trade to the Phoenix Suns. With his career stagnating in Charlotte, not only did the move bring Dudley within shouting distance of his family (he’s from San Diego), but it also gave his career new life—or so he thought.
The awakening was rude for Dudley, as Coach Terry Porter, not trusting J.D.’s game, played him sparingly. Jared didn’t let the lack of PT affect him, though, going just as hard during and after practice as he always did. Working hard and biding his time proved smart when, with the mid-February firing of Porter, Alvin Gentry took over and extended meaningful minutes to Dudley.
Though Amar’e re-injured his eye and the Suns faltered down the stretch, Jared didn’t, as over the course of his last 15 games he bucketed double-digit point totals 10 times. With his season ending on a personal high note, Dudley went into his first summer as a Sun looking to build off of what he accomplished at the end of last season. With a summer full of workouts now gone, J.D. is hopeful that both he and the Suns will improve on their ’08-09 numbers.
SLAM: This is your first summer as a Phoenix Sun. Is it any different?
JD: I don’t think any different in terms of being with the Suns. I think different in terms of now you’ve played two years in the NBA, you know how the NBA roles and how you’re gonna get your shots. The NBA game is so different from college, the speed is different, so you don’t have that much time to react, so I think just my development as a player I’ve gotten better
SLAM: What have you been working on specifically?
JD: Every year, I always try to get better. You learn the NBA game more. There’s more catch and shoot, one dribble pull-ups. Always trying to get in better shape every year. I think, for me, it’s just extending my range, because you get so many open looks playing for the Suns, whether it’s catch and shoot or if they’re running out on you catch and one dribble pull-up. I mainly worked on that.
SLAM: So have you been doing a lot of one on one workouts?
JD: I did either individual workouts—two on twos, three on threes. I definitely played pick up, I tried to play pick up two or three times a week, at UCLA and then in Vegas in August. A lot of drills, you know. People closing out, or coming at you, or off pick and rolls, with me kind of rolling up to the wing three or dropping down to the corner.
SLAM: What do you think it is that is your biggest asset? What’s gonna get you on the court?
JD: That’s a good question. I think it’s a combination of things. One, we’re going to be able to spread the floor now. We’ve been playing pickup and the head coaches and the general managers at every game see my three point range from the wing, top and the corners. With having Amare and Steve getting so much attention—and Amare is gonna get doubled, that’s a fact—you gotta have people that can space the floor. When Grant Hill is in, Jason Richardson, Barbosa, myself, it gives them so much more room. Two, I think defensively. We’re known as a bad defensive team—which we are. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. But I think I’m someone who’s one of our best defenders, I pressure the ball, get a lot of steals, play good team defense. And I think what Coach Gentry loves about me is that I don’t do anything outside of my comfort level. I’m gonna do what makes me successful. I’m not gonna take terrible shots; I’m not gonna take shots that aren’t my type of shots.
SLAM: Have you seen Amare at all this summer?
JD: I’ve seen him a lot. Working out with him, he’s now playing five on five; he’s trying to get his legs back under him. You see glimpses of his athleticism. I don’t think he’s at where he needs to be, in the sense of where he was at last year, and I think that no one would be at that, like Gilbert Arenas. This is a guy who got poked in the eye with a career threatening injury. He now has to wear goggles; so he’s, in a way, trying to come back from it. But he’s in the weight room every day, his jump shot looks good. I think in the preseason he will be where he wants to be. I think, right now, he’s about 80 percent there.
SLAM: As a team, what are you guys looking to do this year?
JD: I think realistically it’s the playoffs. Us saying we’re one of the top two or three teams? I think that’s a little far fetched right now. I think that we are a playoff team that can get in there, and depending on how well we start, I think we’ll build confidence. You know, Shaq’s gone, so we have to be a little better defensively as a team. That’s what the NBA is all about: you gotta have bigs that can block shots and play team defense. No one can guard any of the stars one on one, it’s just not happening. So it has to be a concept. And if you’re not following it, there has to be consequences. If there is, i think we’ll be very successful.
@SnowdaJake: How can you most help Phoenix this season?
JD: I can help Phoenix in a couple ways: my 3-point shooting, to help space the floor for Amare [Stoudamire]; my defensive pressure that I’ll apply, picking up full court and making the game speed up; and being a smart player. We have 2 all stars already, I just need to fit in.
SLAM: You’re still a young gun at 24, but you’ve got experience. It’s a little early to talk about, but do you have any specific goals you want to accomplish in the league?
JD: It’s my third year. I’m someone who was fighting to be in the rotation my first two years, and now it’s established, Ok, I’m in the rotation. Now I know my role. Before, the first couple years, it’s, Hey, am I gonna play? When am I gonna go in? Sometimes I wouldn’t play for a half. Now, I’m established; I’m in the rotation. Then, I wouldn’t know what my limit is; now, I’m someone that wants to play all 82 games, I want to contribute. I want to improve all my stats—I think i averaged four or five points, I want that to be close to double figures, if not double figures; I want my rebounds to go up. And that comes by playing more minutes. That’s just a goal. I don’t wanna put, Hey, I want to average at least this many points, no, but I want to improve, and me playing more should obviously improve that. But for us overall, if we could get to the playoffs, you know, that would be cool to get there.
Having a game is one thing. Everyone in the League can ball. But there’s something more that goes into being a successful individual—both during your playing career and afterwards—than talent. We’ve seen enough athletes in recent years, months and weeks caught in all sorts of trouble that they don’t want to be in and that we, as fans and followers, hate seeing them in.
There’s a lot that comes with the life you’re given as a pro athlete, from temptations to expectations, and it can be overwhelming for some. But if you’ve got goals and your mind right like J.D., there’s not much to worry about.
SLAM: Aside from ball, a lot of players these days have business ventures on the side. You doing anything like that?
JD: Nah, not really. I do a camp in Boston in the summer time; I do a camp in San Diego. You’re not gonna make any money, it’s not a business, it’s giving back. I’m happy if I break even. It’s bring two or three hundred kids to camp, you have fun, throw some NBA guest speakers in there, you try to learn and teach, but at the end of the day you just want the kids to have fun. Besides that, man, I’m just someone that’s trying to save my money and play as long as I can.
SLAM: I talk to a lot of dudes, and a lot of them seem happy to be hanging on the end of the bench collecting a check, but you sound like you want a bit more.
JD: It’s always nice to collect a check, but you never know how long it’s going to be for. I’m someone that has a degree from BC; so even life after basketball I’m gonna be fine. But I’ll never have a job where I make this much money, so you gotta take advantage of it while you can, early. You see, with the economy, there’s a lot of free agents out there this year, it’s crazy.