UCLA’s Kevon Looney had been projected to be selected in the middle of 2015’s NBA Draft, but due to rumors that swirled around regarding an injury to his right hip, he fell to No. 30, where he was scooped up by the Golden State Warriors. He underwent surgery on the hip in August, and after a few months of rehab, he was cleared to play for the Warriors in late January, spending the remainder of the 2015-16 regular season splitting time between the very end of the Dubs’ bench and as a member of the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s D-League team.
Below, Looney explains what it’s been like to watch (and occasionally participate in) the team’s historic run, and how the experience has and will continue to affect his career.
“Draft night was a crazy night. It was all these dreams coming true. I didn’t think I was gonna [get drafted by Golden State], so when I went there, I knew it was gonna be a great fit for me, because I knew I might have to get surgery. So I knew when I came to a team like this, I was gonna have a chance to really develop, to get my body right before I even get on the court. It was really a perfect situation for me. I remember Klay [Thompson], he texted me [that night], told me, ‘Make sure you rest, it’s gonna be a long season. This is where it’s gonna start.’
“Going through the injury process was frustrating because the guys made me feel part of the team, but I really didn’t feel comfortable with the guys because they’re a little older than me and they’ve been playing together, and I couldn’t really play. I didn’t really feel confident talking about basketball with them because they’re champions—they know a lot about basketball. I didn’t really feel as comfortable because I wasn’t playing. But the guys made me feel good and accepted me, so it made it kinda easy. But it was frustrating, to go there and watch. It was really frustrating.
“The beginning of the season when we started 24-0, it was like, this is not normal. I didn’t know how it felt to lose in the beginning. In the preseason, guys were good, we lost a couple of games. But then when the season started, a whole other light just went off. I would say when I watched Steph go for 50 earlier in the year against New Orleans, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is crazy. You don’t see this every day.’
“Since I’m the only rookie, they all kinda take to me. I talk to Andre [Iguodala] a lot because when I’m on the bench, he’s on the bench with me sometimes. Shaun [Livingston] had an injury, so I talk to Shaun, he knows how I feel. Then Draymond [Green], he plays my position—he always takes me under his wing, makes sure I feel comfortable with the team. He’s the leader so he makes sure everyone’s talking and having fun. All the veterans have been great for me.
“My first game, when I first suited up [January 27 vs. the Mavs—Ed.], I didn’t expect to play until maybe the end of the game if we blew them out. Draymond got in foul trouble and they just threw me in in the second quarter. I hadn’t even played in six months. I felt a little lost. It was really unexpected and I hadn’t played—to that point, I hadn’t practiced with the team really. I had a couple games in the D-League. I never played with Steph Curry or Klay or them guys. When I got out there, I was kinda lost as to where to be. Klay told me, ‘When in doubt, just go set a screen and get out the way.’ I just followed that and it worked for me.
“Sometimes I don’t know if I’m gonna be active or not active, or if I’m gonna be playing in the D-League or with the real team. I gotta stay ready. I gotta do a lot more extra work to make sure I’m in game shape because I’m not playing really any minutes. So I gotta do a lot of conditioning. You gotta really take everything like you’re gonna play 40 minutes. Do your workout, stay focused. At any moment you have a chance to get in the game. If someone gets in foul trouble or somebody tweaks an ankle, you gotta be ready when they call your number.
“I get texts all the time, like, ‘What’s the secret? What is Steph doing?’ Sometimes I just text my brothers in our group chat, I’ll text them like, ‘Did y’all see the game? This guy’s amazing, man.’ I can’t believe what he’s doing. People ask me all the time. I get a lot of texts and calls and everyone wants to know the secret.
“Everywhere we go, the fans are waiting: waiting to watch warmups, to watch you do layup lines, do your pre-game routine. When we go to other cities, everyone’s got on Steph Curry jerseys. It’s just different. There’s nothing like this. I’ve never been on a team where at any moment, you never feel like you’re gonna lose a game. When guys come out flat, we could be down 20, but you always feel like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna win this game.’ And they always figure out a way to do it.
“This is the best thing for me. I needed a lot of work to develop my body and my game, and what better place than with the champions? The older guys are really teaching me about nutrition and taking care of your body. Andre has been in the League 13 years and he’s still playing great, so I listen to him about taking care of your body and getting better. It’s really the perfect experience for me. I have a chance to win a championship my first year—a lot of guys don’t get a chance for their whole careers. So I’m really taking this opportunity and getting better.”
Adam Figman is the Senior Editor of SLAM Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @afigman.
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