Posted May 12 2012 2:17PM
Among the post players angling for position in next month's NBA Draft, there are plenty more talented than Gonzaga's Robert Sacre. But whether there are any who are more personable, interesting, entertaining ... that is highly doubtful.
What does personable, interesting and entertaining have to do with playing center in the NBA, you might ask? Perhaps nothing. But then again, perhaps everything, because Sacre, through the sheer force of his personality, is going to get a chance to prove he can play at the highest level.
Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few, a man not given to overstatement, got some attention as his team was gearing up for postseason play in March when he offered this comment about Sacre:
"Rob's one of the all-time historical figures in this program," Few said. "I'll never coach another guy like him, which is a unique personality."
Someone intent on parsing that quote for subtext might surmise that it was some sort of backhanded compliment. Only it wasn't. Anyone who's around Sacre for any length of time comes away with the same impression.
But how does "unique personality" correlate to basketball?
"There's never a bad practice with Robert," said Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti. "There's never a bad day. I was around him for five years and I just don't remember it.
"I tell every NBA guy, you could pick his game apart, but I can't imagine that for a backup center, he doesn't help your team be successful. He never takes a day off in practice. He was our best talker and communicator. He was our highest energy guy. That's extremely rare for a five man to be that way.
"Rob Sacre was one of my most favorite guys I've had in 27 years of coaching."
Regarding the perceived deficiencies in Sacre's game, it's well-known that NBA scouts and draft analysts think that a man so physically imposing (7 feet, 247 pounds, six percent body fat) should be able to grab double-figure rebounds in his sleep. He averaged 5.3 in four collegiate seasons. Sacre's not the most sure-handed or the most explosive post player in the world.
The neat thing about Sacre is that he's well aware of his weaknesses, and he's willing to put in the time to improve. And he's got some unusual ways of going about the process.
"There's a motto I'm living by down here," said Sacre, who has been training at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla. "Water The Bamboo."
Pressed to explain, Sacre tells his interviewer that he's wearing a band around his wrist to remind him of the philosophy of motivational speaker Greg Bell.
"It's a metaphor," Sacre said. "The Japanese plant a bamboo stick in the ground, and for three years it doesn't grow. But they water it and water it and water it. The fourth year, all of a sudden it grows six feet in four months."
Sacre sees this as an apt comparison.
"I'm down here working hard," he said. "I might not see a progression today, or tomorrow. But by the end of it, when it's time to start working out with NBA teams, I'm going to be ready. Water The Bamboo is the metaphor of my life, basically. I wasn't very good my freshman year, but I've had to work at it and work at it."
By Sacre's senior year, he was the West Coast Conference's defensive player of the year and a first-team all-conference pick.
Water The Bamboo isn't original, but when was the last time you heard an NBA prospect use such an expression to describe the slow but steady growth of his game?
Not to suggest Sacre needs to crib anyone else's ideas for personal growth. As Few and Giacoletti said, the big man is one of a kind. Sacre is nothing if not original.
A lot of that has to do with his family. His parents are Greg LaFleur, former LSU football player and long-time NFL tight end, and former LSU basketball player Leslie Sacre. Sacre spent some of his childhood in Louisiana, where he learned the hard-working, low-country ways of his paternal grandparents. He later moved with his mother to Canada, where he absorbed the personalities of another set of grandparents.
"My grandfather on my mother's side was really British and proper," Sacre said. My grandmother was from Boston, Irish, very straightforward. I had it from all sides growing up. I'm just one big melting pot."
Leslie Sacre's profession also had a huge influence on the impressionable young man.
"She worked with the mentally challenged and disabled," Sacre said. "We lived in a basement suite underneath one of her group homes. I always hung out with the kids. I've seen everything you can possibly think of. That's why I've always said, life is too short. You have to embrace it and enjoy what you have."
Sacre spreads that philosophy -- along with endless good cheer -- wherever he goes. Giacoletti still gets emotional when he tells the story of a young boy dying of cancer whose wish was to meet the Gonzaga basketball team.
"You can tell a lot about guys in that kind of situation," Giacoletti said. "You can be a great person and have no idea how to help that little guy. But Robert walked right up to him and made him laugh immediately."
The common bond between the two? Star Wars. It turns out Sacre loves movies almost as much as he does basketball.
Ask Sacre his favorite movie, and he'll shoot back the question, "What genre?" Tell him any genre and he'll say the John Singleton film Baby Boy. But Sacre also loved Memoirs of a Geisha, and he's got a poster of John Wayne in his room. "He was the greatest actor of all time," Sacre said. "Why? Because he didn't like horses."
Sacre's tastes are equally eclectic when it comes to music.
"I love every genre," he said. "When I'm horseback riding, I listen to country or zydeco. When I'm getting ready to play basketball, it's gonna be rap. When I want to relax, I'll put on some R&B, some slow music. It depends on my mood, or the situation."
These days, the Gonzaga Renaissance man has been listening a lot to the S.O.S Band. Perhaps there's a method to his madness, there, too. S.O.S stands for Sounds of Success. The band's greatest hit could be the soundtrack of Sacre's life: "Take Your Time (Do It Right)."
Sacre has definitely taken his time to get to this point. A limited offensive player when he signed with Gonzaga, he eventually learned how to seal his defender and score with a jump hook with either hand. Sacre made himself in a free-throw shooter so good his coaches used him in late-game situations to lock down wins.
"He's done everything the right way," said Giacoletti, who predicts a decade-long NBA career for Sacre. "Sometimes you don't get rewarded. Sometimes, people see too much and they are harder on your warts. They see your warts more than what you do well."
Sacre is intent on removing those warts on his game. He'd love to get drafted by New Orleans, so he could return to his beloved home state. What an ambassador he'd be for that city. And, perhaps, what a player for the Hornets.
Sacre has lofty, yet attainable goals for a potential NBA career.
"I'd love to play like Kendrick Perkins and Carlos Boozer," Sacre said. "Perkins is a guy who helps you win championships. And I think I can model my game after Boozer. To play like those two guys, that's my ideal. I think I can get there."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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