Posted May 23 2011 9:26AM
It's not as bad as you've heard.
Every year, some anonymous NBA general manager says that that year's Draft is, without a doubt, the worst one ever. There are not only no impact players coming in, the GM says, there aren't even any rotation guys. And every year, there are at least two players who come out of nowhere in supposedly horrible Drafts (Mark Price and Dennis Rodman in 1986; Vlade Divac and Tim Hardaway in 1989; Tony Parker and Gilbert Arenas in 2001) and become unlikely All-Stars.
There isn't a sure number one pick this year, no obvious superstar. But the players that showed up at the pre-Draft camp last week in Chicago weren't a collection of stiffs and no-hopers. Duke's Kyrie Irving is the closest thing to a consensus top pick and most expect him to become a star along the recent lines of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings and John Wall. There is depth behind Irving, however.
"I think a lot of the previous Drafts, they want that franchise player, like they did last year with John Wall," said Arizona forward Derrick Williams, considered one of the top two or three prospects this year. "I think that this Draft class really is adding pieces to some of those teams that already have great players. If you have a couple of pieces that you're missing, and you need that extra player to help you win more games than you did, that's what I'm here for."
Williams may not be the only one. Based on what personnel types told me over the weekend, here are the guys that helped themselves out the most during the combine. (Each player's official height, weight and wingspan is now on the Big Board.):
1) Enes Kanter, F/C, Fenerbahce (Turkey): By far, more teams were impressed with this young big than anyone else who attended the combine. They love the fact that he was willing to take part in drills (though he probably didn't have a choice, since no one has seen him play in more than a year, having been declared ineligible to play for Kentucky). They love how hard he played. One gym rat at Tim Grover's Attack Athletics who's seen Kanter work out all season said that the more there is contact, the more Kanter likes it. And that seemed to be the case in Chicago. Still don't see him going with the first pick overall, but anything after that would not surprise. (His camp must obviously think he's not getting past Cleveland, which has the fourth pick as well as the top selection -- or, at least that's the impression they're trying to create by having him skip an interview with Toronto, picking fifth.)
Kanter said that he wasn't planning to turn pro when he came to Kentucky, but once he was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA, there was nothing left for him to do.
"I don't have anything to hide," Kanter said last week. "I love to show people what can I do."
Kanter stood a striking 6-foot-11 1/4 in shoes and weighed 259 pounds with less than six percent body fat, more than big enough to handle himself in the paint against most bigs. He is quick off his feet, has good hands and makes good decisions. He can score in the paint. Will he defend? Like most rookies, he'll likely struggle early, but if his quick pickup of English is any indication, he's a quick study. When he came to the states, all he knew was "Hello" and "My Name is Enes Kanter." But he's now got a full vocabulary.
"I came here with my friend," Kanter said. "Me and him worked really hard and I just tried to speak English six months maybe, seven months. It wasn't hard, because I said that's my home right now. I have to learn. It wasn't that hard. I watch TV. I didn't listen to music because they were too fast. My teammates wanted to show me some music, but I didn't understand anything. Too fast."
Kanter said that even though Cleveland, picking fourth, has fellow Turk Semih Erden, a former teammate of his back home, his preference would be to play for Washington. But there's no way he'll last until the sixth pick, which the Wizards have. They'll have to move up to get him, and the most likely spot would be two, where Minnesota has the second pick. But the Wolves could hold onto the pick themselves as Kanter continues to impress. Even though he's been on the shelf for a long time, the potential is powerful, and he can't wait to get on the court.
"When I was watching the game, I was crying, because I couldn't help my team," he said. "I couldn't help Coach Cal, or Kentucky. It was really hard."
2) Brandon Knight, FR, G, Kentucky: Knight solidified his top-10 status in the workouts and wowed several teams in the interview sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.
3) Tristan Thompson, F, Texas: Measured 6-foot-8 3/4, and is rising quickly up Draft charts, despite his relative inexperience.
4) Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU: Just as advertised, the NCAA's leading scorer was confident without being cocky, a better athlete than people think and possesses ridiculous range.
5) Chris Singleton, F, Florida State: Has one of the best physiques of all the Draft prospects, and displayed the defensive chops that have NBA types imagining just how many positions he'll be able to guard.
6) Marshon Brooks, G, Providence: Interviewed extremely well, answering some of the questions about why he shot so much: Because there wasn't anybody else on his team that could.
7) Kemba Walker, G, Connecticut: has the game and the personality to match. The only question is whether teams believe he can make the full transition to point guard in the pros.
8) Tobias Harris, F, Tennessee: A genuinely pleasant young man who showed surprising maturity -- "amazing poise," one general manager said -- for an 18-year-old freshman. He may not get out of the Lottery if you believe what you hear.
9) Charles Jenkins, G, Hofstra: Made shots, which is what he did in the Colonial Athletic Association.
10) Kenneth Faried, F/C, Morehead State: The nation's leading rebounder made an impression, detailing how Dennis Rodman called him and told him he reminded Rodman of himself ("but don't be like me off the court," Faried said Rodman told him). Faried says he's a more athletic version of Paul Millsap, the Utah big man who led college basketball in rebounding three straight years before being taken in the second round by the Jazz in 2008.
"Growing up, it was just one of the things that I learned to master," he said. "My mother and father always told me how to do it, what to do. My father showed me moves on the court, how to move bigger opponents and be elusive around them. It was one of those things I just learned to master over time. Everybody else wants to shoot. You've got to have people who's willing to put their bodies on the line to go get it for the team, want to box somebody out, make the effort plays. And I'm just one of those guys that would rather make the effort play and get their work done that way."
Other impressive players included the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, out of Kansas; San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard; Georgia power forward Trey Thompkins; Maryland center Jordan Williams; UCLA swingman Tyler Honeycutt; centers Jeremy Tyler and USC's Nikola Vucevic; Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson; Texas guard Cory Joseph; Butler guard Shelvin Mack; Kansas guard Josh Selby; Cleveland State guard Norris Cole; Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer and Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert.
(April 25 rankings in brackets)
1) Dallas  (2-1): Mavs have won four straight playoff games on the road since the meltdown in Portland in Game 4 of the first round, and been quite impressive doing so.
2) Miami  (2-1): Heat undefeated (7-0) at home in the postseason.
3) Chicago  (1-2): Bulls have not lost three games in a row this season, and to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole to Miami, Chicago will have to win Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
4) Oklahoma City  (1-2): For real for real: Kendrick Perkins is getting outplayed by Tyson Chandler.
5) Memphis : Season complete. Question: how much will Marc Gasol get in restricted free agency?
6) Boston : Season complete. Question: can Danny Ainge continue to overhaul the roster without compromising its championship aspirations?
7) Atlanta : Season complete. Question: is it possible that Josh Smith has a point, and that he gets killed unfairly compared with others? Example: Smith shot 33 percent on three-pointers this season, and every time he pulled up behind the arc, the home crowd at Philips Arena audibly moaned. Joe Johnson shot 29 percent on threes this season.
8) L.A. Lakers : Season complete. Question: If Rick Adelman gets the job, how will Kobe feel about becoming an entry post passer?
9) San Antonio : Season complete. Question: Is Tony Parker trying to say something more than what he's saying, if you know what I'm saying?
10) New Orleans : Season complete.
11) Portland : Season complete. Question: Is Rudy Fernandez staying or going?
12) Orlando : Season complete. Question: who is this team's non-Howard core going forward?
13) Philadelphia : Season complete. Question: what do the Sixers really think about Andre Iguodala?
14) Denver : Season complete.
15) New York : Season complete.
Miami (2-1): That Heat team you saw Sunday night against Chicago? That one? That's the one that scares everybody in the league to death. When the Heat can win going away against an elite team, while Dwyane Wade scores a pedestrian 17 points, and locks up Derrick Rose, you have a fully operational Death Star.
Oklahoma City (1-2): Youth is showing at inopportune moments, though you don't become an experienced team that can win tough playoff series until you go through these kinds of growing pains. Having said that, the piling on on Russell Westbrook has been ridiculous and unfair. Yes, he's made some bad decisions with the ball, and he does shoot a little too much sometimes. But the Thunder isn't in the Western Conference finals without him. He's an All-Star and an All-NBA Second Teamer this season. He's a great scorer and he's learning how to be a point guard in the bright lights of a deep postseason run.
Why aren't players like Udonis Haslem paid according to their supposed worth?
Every season we see the Indispensable Men, those role players without whom their teams could not (and would not) win championships. They are the ones who take charges and tip balls out for offensive rebounds; who fill the lanes and cause opponents to find them, opening up space for a teammate. They block out the opponent's big men and set the picks that free up the hot-shooting guards, and every year, you hear that their teams wouldn't have the hardware without them.
It was Ron Artest saving the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals last year, and Derek Fisher hitting a soul-crushing three in Orlando the year before, and Tony Allen and Leon Powe the year before that, and Bruce Bowen before them. And now it's Haslem, who returned to the Heat lineup for a few ineffective minutes against Boston in the second round, but came back for real last week against Chicago in Game 2 of the Eastern finals, giving the Heat all of those plays that winning teams need, from hard-nosed D to setting screens, grabbing boards and hitting open jumpers. Until the moment Haslem checked in at the scorer's table, Chicago's bigs had thoroughly outplayed Miami's. But that changed after his 13 points and five rebounds. The series may have as well.
For this, Haslem is paid $3.5 million this season -- a wonderful living wage for 99 percent of those reading this. But in the screwy world of NBA finances, Haslem is a relative pauper. He makes $11 million less than LeBron James and Chris Bosh each are making this season, and $10.7 million less than Dwyane Wade. Of course, you say; they're better players. And, indeed, they are. If you're playing H-O-R-S-E. But when there are five guys on the court, each makes a contribution. And Haslem has done it all season. The fact that he didn't play for five months after tearing a ligament in his right foot last November is a fact, but not the end of the story.
"He's respected," Wade said last week. "He's respected from what he has done, and when he comes back, what he'll do. His toughness, his leadership. He does step up and talk. His voice has been heard in the huddles, and everyone shuts up and listens. Because you understand some guys, they don't say things just to be saying it. When certain guys like UD say something, it's coming from the heart."
Haslem's heart has been broken this year. His mother, Debra, died last July at 53 from cancer. But Debra Haslem was the inspiration for his decision to stay in Miami instead of signing elsewhere.
"That's not what it's all about," Haslem said last week. "At the end of the day, my mom wanted me to be here before she passed. That's what mattered to me. Nothing else. It was definitely emotional for me, because I know she was looking down and smiling that I was able to come back."
Despite the injury, Haslem remained the Heat's captain all season. That's unusual in sports, where injured players become ghosts, around the practice facilities rehabbing their injuries, but often losing their influence as the team goes on without them. Coaches often don't want to see them, lest they become that dreaded sports phrase, "a distraction." Their teammates are often squeamish around them, not wanting to be reminded that they, too, are just one injury from the shelf. But that didn't happen in Miami.
"My teammates encouraged me to be vocal," Haslem said. "The coaches told me to be vocal, and they said they needed my voice. It wasn't about me. It was about contributing how I could contribute to us getting victories. It had to be vocal instead of playing."
It helped that the SuperFriends were all aware that Haslem had signed for just $20 million, turning down Denver's full mid-level exception last summer. He was just about out the door when the Heat landed James and Bosh, and re-signed Wade, and they put the press on, convincing him to stay. Those three had famously taken millions less than they could have gotten to play together, but so did Haslem -- about $14 million less. (It wasn't the first time; he'd left around $10 million on the table before signing a five-year, $33 million deal with Miami in 2005.)
"He passed up a lot of money somewhere else," James said. "He made a sacrifice, too, to re-sign with this team. And then to get hurt the first week of the season, it was a bad thing for him, mentally. Because he knew how important this season was. He just stayed the course. And we just tried to continue to give him, keep his spirits high. Like, 'you'll be back this season.'
"A lot of people told him he won't be able to come back this season, that he won't be able to make an impact if he comes back this season, that he should just wait it out. But his mentality is a lot different than a lot of people. His voice was always there in the locker room, even with him not playing. His voice was there in huddles. He's the captain of our team."
Like James, like Bosh, like Wade, Haslem was a rookie in 2003. But he wasn't part of that celebrated Draft class, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Heat. He has spent his whole career there, earning a reputation as one of the league's tough guys, who helped Miami win a title in 2006. The ham-and-eggers of the league use their bodies, but not to soar or handle the rock. They are the grunts, who wrestle with one another night after night, doing all the dirty work that's needed to win 60 games, rarely getting a moment in the sun. Those guys don't usually get a big payday. At 31, this may have been Haslem's last chance at one.
Said Haslem: "They always think, 'well, those guys gave up money to get you here.' But I kind of gave up more money to stay here."
After he tore a ligament in his left foot Nov. 20 at Memphis, Haslem's absence left a big hole in the middle that the Heat never really filled. When Miami stumbled to that now-forgotten 9-8 start, very few people mentioned Haslem's absence as a compelling factor. The Heat never said that Haslem would miss the rest of the season, but they never said when they expected him back, either. Haslem, by his own admission, pushed it, because he wanted to be ready for the playoffs. The goalposts, though, kept moving. March became April, and April became May.
"I saw we were going to have the number two seed," Haslem said. "I saw we were going in against Philly, and then Boston, we looked like we were going to have an opportunity to take care of that series. It just gave me an opportunity to exhale, and continue to get myself ready. I was trying to fast-track it, and I just wasn't ready earlier."
But he was still speaking up when he saw signs of slippage. While Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Mike Miller, for example, that he could be a leader by example, he had no problem letting Haslem speak. Haslem was in center Joel Anthony's ear all season, giving him advice and encouragement.
"He definitely carries a lot of respect," Anthony said. "Even though he's not playing, UD definitely carries a lot of weight in the locker room. He definitely has everyone's respect. He definitely deserves that."
Said Spoelstra: "This group is a veteran group, very serious. You have to be real, you have to be raw. There has to be a truth. And that has to be the job of the head coach. (But) our guys always want to take ownership and be held accountable, to be coached, to be asked to be coached. And I think that's been one of the understated strong points of this group all season long, is that we've been able to respond to adversity, because of their willingness to be held accountable. If we simply assumed, 'ah, you guys are veteran guys, and because of the success, we'll figure it out,' I don't think we'd have been able to respond to adversity."
With the injury, and his mother's death, Haslem has had all the adversity anyone could want in a year. But he persevered.
"It would have been easy to go into a shell and just be about me, because I'm not playing," Haslem said. "But that's not the type of guy I am. I've always been a team player. I had to contribute in another way, and that was contributing (by) talking to Joel and the other guys that was logging minutes while I was out. It kind of kept me in the game, those guys listening. I'm just happy that my teammates stuck by me."
Jimmermania overwhelms my server. From Eduardo Santos:
David, come on now, you're gonna sit in front of your computer screen and make this mock draft in which you have Jimmer Fredette No. 30? How is someone who almost won National Player of the Year a No. 30 selection? Come on now, we all know that this kid has handles, shoots the three, takes it to the hole and can distribute. This kid is definitely a top 10 pick. Just saying.
Eduardo, we all know that Jimmer can fill it up, but the NBA isn't college, and there are major questions among the myriad scouts with whom I've spoken over the past few weeks about his defense. I know he's working very hard to address those concerns, and he may well go way before the end of the first round. I've never said my mock is gospel; in fact, if you read the disclaimer at the beginning of it, you'd know that I know how ridiculous it is to try and accurately pick even one round of a Draft. But they asked me, and I just don't see that many teams who either need a point guard or can afford to take any player with the defensive questions Jimmer raises that high in the first (see below).
Phoenix weighs in. Actually, Australia, which is nowhere near Phoenix. From the Victoria Point Acupuncture Clinic in Australia (and, no, I am not making that up):
Interestingly, I see that you have my Suns drafting a 3, rather than a SG which seems to be the glaring hole in their roster, considering [Vince] Carter's expiring contract and his play not being enough to warrant a re-sign, even on the cheap. Phoenix has the ageless Grant Hill at SF and when he retires you still have [Jared] Dudley and [Mickael] Pietrus off the bench. Of course, another idea is the Suns trade Aaron Brooks (who also didn't seem to impress) for a solid SG and maybe draft Kemba Walker in another attempt to find a successor to [Steve] Nash. (I just hope they give Robin Lopez another chance to bring it this year without the lower back issues and don't trade him with Brooks.)
Further, to your pick of Walker to the Trail Blazers: I am concerned that maybe Patty Mills is not considered a solid backup for Andre Miller. Being from Australia, I love Mills, but we don't get many Portland games over here and so I don't get to follow what is happening. Is Mills not doing enough for Portland to keep him as the PG backup?
First, Ack, Grant isn't ageless; he'll be 39 on opening night next season. I'm sure Dudley and Pietrus will be in the mix, but Jordan Hamilton is a big-time talent who will also play some two in the pros. Second, Walker will play both guard spots in the pros (his agent, Jeff Schwartz, corralled me in the hallway of United Center Wednesday night, saying I was crazy to think his guy would last until 21. I know it's crazy, Jeff! That's why I hate doing these doggone things!) I don't think taking a point guard, whether it's Walker or someone else, would mean that Patty is finished in the PDX. I know that Nate McMillan thinks very highly of him and likes how his perimeter game opens things up for others. Third, there's a knot under my shoulder blade that's been there for weeks; what should I do about that?
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and "Pass it Russell! Pass it!" t-shirt designs to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is especially witty, informative, thought-provoking or coffee through the nose snarky, we just may publish it!
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) Dirk Nowitzki (28.3 ppg, 5 rpg. 3.3 apg, .547 FG, .973 FT): Watching the Diggler battle with Nick Collison the first three games of the Mavs-Thunder series has been a pleasure. But Collison can't keep Nowitzki from getting where he wants to go on the floor.
2) LeBron James (25.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 7.5 apg, .529 FG, .750 FT): You've got six games left, rest of the NBA, before he wins one, and then you're going to have a heck of a time stopping him from winning a few more.
3) Derrick Rose (20.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, .357 FG, .767 FT): Made some poor decisions with the ball in the second half Sunday night.
4) Dwyane Wade (20.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.5 apg, .424 FG, .813 FT): Hasn't really had a breakout game yet against the Bulls, and Miami has a 2-1 lead. Scary.
5) Kevin Durant (29.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, .444 FG, .909 FT): Durantula shot 35 percent on threes during the regular season. He's shooting 11 percent in the first three games against Dallas.
4 -- Times that the Cavaliers' franchise has gotten the first overall pick in the Draft, after Cleveland won last week's Lottery. (The Cavs also got the fourth pick in the first round.) The previous three times Cleveland picked first, it selected guard Austin Carr (1971), Brad Daugherty (1986) and LeBron James (2003).
5 -- Players who've recorded a triple-double in Game 7 of a playoff series, after Russell Westbrook's 14 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in Oklahoma City's series-clinching win over Memphis. In doing so, Westbrook joined pretty select company: Jerry West (1969), Larry Bird (1984), James Worthy (1988) and Scottie Pippen (1992).
7 -- Teams without a first-round pick (L.A. Clippers, Atlanta, L.A. Lakers, New Orleans, Memphis, Orlando, Miami) in the first round of this year's Draft.
1) At one point just a few years ago, Rick Welts was on the short, short list as a potential successor to the Commish. He was the number three guy at the NBA, a rising star who'd help make NBA Properties into a money maker and who'd become Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer in 17 short years. If Welts had stayed at Olympic Tower instead of moving on to Fox Sports, and then, to the Suns in 2002 -- where he's now the team's president and CEO -- he might well be in the position that NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver is now: David Stern's likely replacement when Stern hangs 'em up. And that makes Welts' disclosure last week to the New York Times that he is gay all the more intriguing. The ramifications of a commissioner of a major professional sport being gay would be substantial. But Welts went another way, and his announcement last week has, as far as I can tell, been met with next to no major criticism or controversy. That's a good thing.
2) At about 8:21 p.m. last Wednesday, for the first time, I felt a twinge of optimism when it comes to the labor talks between the league and the union. I want to investigate further to see if it was just something I ate. Updates next week.
3) You showed some big guts Friday night, Scott Brooks. I know you didn't bench Russell Westbrook because of it, but you furthered the respect every player in that locker room has for you. Including Westbrook.
4) I think Chris Singleton is going to be a really, really good pro.
5) I'm not going to mention the beer company, but the new ad with Ice Cube is funny.
6) If you're reading this, the world didn't end on Saturday, but you also didn't go to Heaven with the true believers. I think they call that a Pyrrhic victory.
1) I think you can criticize David Kahn for what he said after the Lottery, even though he was obviously joking. But I think you can also acknowledge that the NBA put Kahn and Utah's Kevin O'Connor in an absurd position by having them stand next to a 14-year-old boy who is in no danger of losing his job if the Cavaliers do poorly next year. That's not an exaggeration: people lose their jobs if their teams don't win, and their teams don't win if they don't get elite players. Those were incredibly important moments for the Jazz and Timberwolves, not a game show. If the league wants reaction shots, it should have ESPN do what CBS does in its NCAA Selection Show: take five or six teams in the Lottery, have them sit in their arena or locker room, and watch their reaction as the ping-pong balls come up. But don't ask team executives to go through that.
2) Jeff Van Gundy, the media's job is not to "stir something up and get a great quote, a divisive quote." The media's job -- okay, I'll speak for myself. My job is to cover whatever game I'm assigned, or whatever person I'm profiling. And if I was covering Game 2 of the West finals, and Russell Westbrook -- an All-Star and second team All-NBA guard -- doesn't play the last quarter of a must-win playoff game, you're doggone right I'm going to ask him what he thinks about that, and I'm going to ask Scott Brooks why he did it. I should be fired if I don't ask them. It's not "stirring something up", it's wondering the same thing that the guys watching the game with me in the bar at the Chicago Westin were asking -- man, Russell's gotta be hot!
I don't expect former coaches who work in television not to take the money, but it would be nice if they better understood the medium they were in between their coaching jobs.
3a) So sad to hear about Robert "Tractor" Traylor. A good dude.
4) Before you get all worried about Kyrie Irving's 10.2 percent body fat measurement in Chicago, keep in mind--as an executive of a team with a top three pick pointed out to me Friday--that Irving barely played in three months and couldn't do much running with a turf toe injury. By way of comparison, the executive said, Texas guard Cory Joseph, who played all season, had a body fat reading of 9.7 percent.
5) Really, Terminator? Really?
Just incase anything fishy happens tomorrow I bought a few more guns.
-- Avid hunter and Clippers center Chris Kaman (@ChrisKaman), Friday, 5:03 p.m., lampooning Saturday's supposed end of the world prediction.
Got a few minutes on Friday with BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leading scorer this past season, who became the talk of college basketball with his incredible shooting range and scoring ability in taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16.
While his offensive abilities are obvious and will likely get him into a team's rotation, Fredette has a lot of questions to answer before next month's Draft about his defense, which seemed to be non-existent in college. It will be hard for the Jazz, with the 12th pick in the first round, to pass on the local product with the legion of fans (although he did not have to stop going to classes at BYU, as was reported, because his presence caused disruptions. He'd missed six weeks of school to play in the NCAA Tournament and participate in the postseason award banquet, and by the time all that was over, there was only a week of class remaining.)
Me: What have you been working on since the end of the season?
Jimmer Fredette: A lot of pick-and-roll stuff. It's a pick-and-roll game, defensively and offensively. Just continue to work on lateral quickness, speed, ball handling, get that ball on a string. That's what you want, to be able to move anywhere on the floor and be able to pass off of the dribble, and all of those different things.
Me: During the interview process, has any team asked you a question that made you go 'huh?'
JF: Yeah, it's a little different. The Utah Jazz asked a question. They said, 'what's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear 'three and three?' And they said 'what's the first thing?' I was like, I don't know--
Me: Uh, six?
JF: Exactly. They said a lot of people give that answer. I actually said three championships right in a row, you know what I mean, like three and three. Like three in three years. They said that was a little weird, a little outside of the box. I was like 'I don't know' that's the first thing that popped into my head.' I think they liked it.
Me: This last year has had to be crazy for you. When it got to be too much, how were you able to get away?
JF: It's kind of crazy. You go out to places. It changed my life. You go out to places and people want an autograph. They want pictures and everything, especially around the Utah area. So it's a little different. But I have great family, and they're the ones that keep my head on my shoulders and not let me think that I'm better than anybody else, 'cause I'm not. I'm just a regular person. It's more important to me to be a good guy and a good person in the community. If you think about it that way, basketball shrinks a little bit. And you can handle the moments that come and everything that's involved. You don't put so much pressure on yourself if you think of it that way. So that's what I've tried to do. I have a great family, a good girlfriend that helps me, and I like to hang out with her a lot to get away, just kind of chill, and do that type of stuff.
Me: Would you be comfortable playing in two-guard fronts if need be?
JF: Yeah, I've played it before. All through AAU, I played with a great guard, Talor Battle, who plays at Penn State. So he's a very good guard. And also Mark Lyons, who plays at Xavier. So I played with those three guards in AAU. So I've done it before. I've played off ball and on ball. I feel more comfortable with the ball in my hands, making plays for people. But I know that a lot of teams in the NBA do that now, go with the two smaller guards, and whoever has it just fills the lane. So I can play that way as long as everything goes well.
Me: Have you gotten calls from people that surprised you?
JF: It's kind of cool. I've gotten some calls from different people. Actually, Steve Nash called me once. That was kind of cool. But I've talked to many different people. I talked to Tim Tebow, which was cool. He invited me to his charity golf tournament. You start to get calls from people that you never expect. It's been a cool experience for me to be in this position, to be able to meet all these great athletes that have done extremely well in their sports.
Me: Did Tebow talk to you about living in the fishbowl?
JF: Not too much. He just said 'I thought you had a great year. It was fun to watch.' He said 'you guys beat us the year before [in the NCAA tournament] and we got you this year,' ... [we] kind of joked around about that. He said to just keep working hard. We're kind of in the same boat, where people didn't think he was going to be the top pick, wouldn't do well in the NFL. Hopefully he'll be a starter now, and hopefully he'll play well.
Me: An indelicate question. You're going into a league where most of the players are African-American. Does that put extra pressure on you, because you may have people who like you just because you're white?
JF: Maybe it goes both ways. I'm not sure. Hopefully not. Hopefully they just see the game, see that I can play basketball. Obviously, being a small white kid, sometimes you kind of get stereotyped a little bit. But it doesn't matter to me. I'm just going to go out there and play basketball. I don't see anything different. If I can play, or another kid can play, they should be a higher pick. It just depends on what they see on the basketball floor, and the actual performance. So it doesn't bother me at all.
Me: People used to say 'Mark Price isn't a great athlete, or Steve Nash isn't a great athlete.' And I'd be like, are you nuts?
JF: First of all, they're playing in the NBA. You have to be at least a decent athlete, unless you're huge, to play in the NBA. And Steve Nash was an unbelievable soccer player, just in great shape. There's more to being a great athlete than just being able to jump high and do all these different things. You have to be able to move your body efficiently. That's the biggest thing. I've really mastered that. Plant really quickly, get some guy, get yourself in a position where you can get by the guy. And I've tried to work on that really hard.
Me: Nash talks about that all the time -- he's not fast, but he's quick. Big difference.
JF: There's a very big difference. If you can get someone that's really quick to go that way, fast, they're going to go that way really fast, and then you're going back the other way.
Me: Do you have a dream scenario for the Draft?
JF: Obviously, it would be cool to play in Utah, because I'm comfortable there and I think I could fit in with their team and play well. That would be great. But also, I think the Suns would be a good situation,and I think the Knicks would be a good situation. I think all three of those teams, I would be very happy. But like I said, as long as a team wants me enough and will let me play the way I want to play, can see the potential in me, I think I'll be okay anywhere.
Me: It's such a guard-oriented league now. Is this the perfect time for you to be coming into the pro game?
JF: Yeah, I think so. I think it's because of the rules, where you can't touch the person, and it's really hard to guard the guy with the screen in front of him, and you can't be physical with him. You get the big guy, you've got to be able to play that type of game now. I've played it a lot at BYU, but it's a different type of pick and roll game in the NBA. I've been working on it, but until I actually get into it and start doing it, you don't really know. But I think I'm smart enough to be able to make quick decisions. I think I pass the ball well. I think that's something that's a little underrated in the game that I think I do very well. So I think I'll be okay.
"We love Oprah. I had to say that, or my mom would kill me."
-- Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, on the extra day off Chicago got between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals because United Center was unavailable on Tuesday for the taping of Oprah Winfrey's final shows.
"A lot of players, and a lot of people around the world, and you guys probably said, 'I'm just surprised he turned 45.' And I'm 50 years old and still going strong."
-- Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was invited to toss up the opening ball by the Bulls last week before Game 2 of the Eastern finals with Miami.
"You want me to say I'm not the best player? I don't know how that's going to come out."
-- Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams, who said he thought he was the best player coming into the Draft, when asked if he thought his comments would hurt him with prospective teams.
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