by Ben Osborne
Getting at least one baseball and football player per season that played basketball growing up and/or follows the game closely today into our monthly Dime Drop column is, by design, a goal of our magazine…the fact that this season’s interviewees play for my favorite teams is a lucky coincidence.
As those of you who have read through our new issue should have noticed, this month’s Dime Drop interview is with Matt Kemp, center fielder of my favorite MLB team, the Los Angeles Dodgers (and, as you basketball-only folks out there might not know, a future star to boot. Matt, who plays an athletic, exciting brand of baseball with power, speed and defense, almost got that “fans’” 30th All-Star slot this season—by next season he’ll be an obvious choice.) Much like when I got at Giants’ TE Kevin Boss for issue 125, I came about this story legitimately (as in, it’s not like I scouted the Dodgers’ roster to find a basketball fan). It was probably about two years ago that I read about this up-and-coming Dodger prospect who had played high-level high school basketball alongside Shelden Williams. I kept this knowledge in the back of my head and then, totally out of the blue, bumped into Matt at the T-Mobile party held during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. I introduced myself, we rapped for a minute, and he expressed serious interest in being in SLAM (said he used to read it a lot back in the day).
Once the season started and Matt showed his promise was now a reality, the story was a go. I would have been happy to go through Dodgers’ PR to do this, but Matt was cool about getting back to me via cell phone so we just hooked the interview up ourselves. And now, with the issue on sale everywhere (with the star of his favorite team on the cover, no less) and Matt the star of yesterday’s game, I wanted to get this online.
Here’s the story as it runs in issue 131…
Young baseball star Matt Kemp was almost as nice on the hardwood as he is on the diamond.
As baseball season takes center stage in the sports world (maybe not in these pages, but it is the biggest sport playing real games right now), we figured the time was right to check in with one of the game’s freshest young players, the first-place L.A. Dodgers’ 24-year-old centerfielder Matt Kemp, who also has some great basketball history. The 6-2 Kemp, hitting .311 with 8 home runs and 16 stolen bases through mid-June, came up on the outskirts of Oklahoma City and used to play big-time bball.
SLAM: Is it true that basketball was your “first love?”
MK: Definitely. I went to a high school (Midwest City) with a powerhouse basketball program. We won the state two years in a row and we were ranked as high as third in the nation. We had Shelden Williams and some other really good players.
SLAM: How many years did you play varsity, and at what position?
MK: I played from my sophomore to senior years, and I played all over. I could bang down low if needed, but mostly I was a shooting guard.
SLAM: Did you have college interest for basketball, and when did baseball become the more obvious route?
MK: I heard from some colleges for basketball but my senior year things pointed to baseball. If you’re my size in basketball, you better have hops like Dwyane Wade. In baseball, I was big. There were a lot of scouts coming to my baseball games, and then the basketball coaches heard I was going to play baseball so they stopped coming around.
SLAM: Did you play any big names?
MK: Yes, when we were ranked we traveled and played a national schedule. We went to Delaware, Houston, and played against Carmelo, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler and Hassan Adams, a lot of guys.
SLAM: Are you familiar with SLAM diarist Xavier Henry out of OKC?
MK: I knew his brother [CJ] well. We played a little AAU together. Now Xavier is supposed to be the man. I tried to catch some of his games when I was home over the holidays.
SLAM: How about the Thunder? Catch any of their games?
MK: I haven’t. I think it’s real cool Oklahoma City has the Thunder though. The Hornets got a lot of support there and I thought they’d stay, but now it’s the Thunder and they get support, too. It’s a good NBA city.
SLAM: Who’s your team?
MK: I’m a Laker fan. I’ve been a Laker fan since the Shaq days. I didn’t just pick them up as my team, they were my team, and that’s cause when you grow up in a city with no team, you can pick whoever you want.
SLAM: Do you get to their games?
MK: Yeah, I go to a bunch. One of my best friends is Trevor Ariza, so I follow them closely.
SLAM: Do you play ball anymore?
MK: I’m scared, because you hear so many stories of guys getting hurt playing. The thing is, I’m so competitive, that if I had a ball in my hand and someone was talking trash, I’d just want to do them. So it’s better not to play at all. When we’re in Denver we stay near this court Carmelo has and we’ll play some H-O-R-S-E.
SLAM: Editing SLAM is my job, but my hobby is rooting hard for the Dodgers. Will this be a title year?
MK: I think the sky’s the limit for us.