Game Notes: Olympiacos at Cavs
The education of Patrick Beverley.
Practice was supposed to be over. Instead, Olympiacos point guard Patrick Beverley picks up a ball and summons a coach. Armed with a football-style blocking pad, the coach digs in underneath the basket as the 6-1 Beverley lowers his head and locks in on his target some 18 feet away. Leather hits hardwood once, twice, and without warning he’s hanging in the air, ball cocked in his right hand as the left fends off the coach’s blow.
After a violent throwdown, Beverley retrieves the loose ball amid the coach’s congratulations and jogs back to the starting block. Another couple dribbles and another angry slam. The more explosive the leaps become, the more effortless they appear. The fiercer the coach’s jolts to the body, the louder Beverley’s dunks fight back.
This was supposed to be my metaphor for toughness. Instead, Patrick Beverley soars above lazy clichés. While many sport folk kick around words like “adversity” and “toughness”—terms that have been emptied of all substance by today’s sports media—Patrick Beverley uses words like “blessed” and “fortunate.” A couple of years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find anybody who would volunteer such a positive outlook on Beverley’s situation.
The runaway choice for SEC Freshman of the Year in ’06-07 with 13 points and 3 assists per game, Beverley’s sophomore campaign for the Arkansas Razorbacks was just as solid. However, the offseason brought allegations of academic violations, and the budding star was suspended from the team, and a promising career had been temporarily derailed.
Beverley decided this might be a pretty good time to grow up. “The biggest thing I’ve learned as a person is to be accountable for everything,” says the 21-year-old after a 111-94 preseason loss to the Cavs.
Instead of sitting out a year, Beverley packed his things and signed a contract with Dnipro of the Ukrainian Basketball League where, in his words, he played “extremely well.” That might be an understatement, as he piled up an insane line of 16.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals and even 1.3 blocks in 46 games in the Ukraine. No regrets; no second guessing. That’s the mindset necessary to follow the undulating trajectory of Beverley’s career.
“Making your own decisions is a big part of your character and a big part of being a man,” says Beverley, who turned his stellar play into a two-year contract with Euroleague powerhouse Olympiacos, home to former NBA-ers Josh Childress, Von Wafer and Linas Kleiza and instructed by renowned player and coach Panagiotis Giannakis. “With [Coach] being a [former] point guard and such a phenomenal player in Greece, he definitely sees a lot of himself in me, and one thing he tells me is to be patient.”
Patience will be paramount for Beverley, whose terrific pro debut pushed him into the 42nd pick of the 2009 NBA Draft which the Lakers then traded to the Heat for a future 2nd rounder and $1.5 million cash. And if you think playing in Europe will stunt his growth or hurt him as a prospect, Beverley would like you to reconsider.
“You got a guy there who’s 33 years old,” he says as he motions across the locker room toward Euroleague living legend and backcourt mate, Theo Papaloukas. “That’s a grown man.”
“I’m 21—just turned 21—so this would be my senior year in college, and now I’m on a team that could compete in the NBA?” he answers through an ‘are you kidding me?’ type grin. “To me, that’s an advantage.”
Heat President Pat Riley told Beverley to think of this year as a “redshirt year,” and while the guard from Chicago values his time in Europe, he makes it clear that his intention is still to end up on the other side of the pond: “As a dream, my goal is definitely to play in the NBA,” confirms Beverley. “You have to set personal and team goals, and if one of your goals is to play in the NBA, that’s what you strive for.”
Couldn’t this desire to play elsewhere lead to a schism in the locker room? Some resentment among the players or coaches? Before I even finish my question he’s spitting out his answer.
“It’s not like that. It’s nothing like that at all,” he says. Then, spoken like a true veteran, “At the end of the day, this is my job, and this is something I do. This is how I take care of my family, and that’s a big thing for me.”
And unlike most guys his age, that family includes not only a mother back home in Chicago, but a son, a daughter and a wife. When I ask him if it’s been tough, a string of “no no no’s” leave his mouth before I even get the whole question out.
“It’s definitely a learning process, but I’m able to enjoy it and I feel myself getting better,” says Beverley. “Who knows what happens next year?”
This was supposed to be about Patrick Beverley, the screw-up. Instead, it’s about Patrick Beverley, the grown-up.
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.