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More than meets the eye to Bulls’ Noah

More than meets the eye to Bulls’ Noah
Chicago adds another proven winner, selecting Florida’s Joakim Noah 9th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft

Joakim Noah “I just want to win basketball games, " said Noah. "That’s all it comes down for me. I know that sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s actually pretty complicated and it definitely isn’t easy. But that’s what we’re here to do.”
(Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images)
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    Posted July 24, 2007 | By Adam Fluck

    Memories of his seersucker suit, oversized bow tie, and the wildest hairdo NBA Commissioner David Stern has ever seen on draft night will forever be etched into our minds.

    Some fans were elated with the pick, while others immediately had their doubts about taking the charismatic forward out of Florida. Chances are though, as he has in the past, Joakim Noah will win them over as they become to realize that there is more than meets the eye to this two-time collegiate national champion.

    Once you look past his flamboyant appearance and brash personality, you’ll see that Noah is actually a thoughtful, reflective and down-to-earth individual. More importantly, he’s a proven winner with a track record of hard work and team play.

    "He's that type of kid who understands the dynamic of a team,” his college coach, Billy Donovan, told the Chicago Tribune. “He will understand when Scott [Skiles] says, 'We need your energy and rebounding and nothing else.' He's fearless and highly competitive, but he doesn't have the attitude that he's better than the next guy.”

    Noah didn’t get a chance to take the court during Chicago’s summer league action due to a minor shoulder injury, but he isn’t about to take a break from his workouts. The 6-11, 232-pound forward/center has been a fixture at the Berto Center since his return from Orlando’s Pepsi Pro Summer League, working diligently with the Bulls staff on his rehab and prepping for his first NBA season.

    Following a recent photo shoot, Noah talked with Bulls.com about why the situation in Chicago is so appealing, his run to a second straight national title at the University of Florida, and rehabbing his rotator cuff.

    Bulls.com: After all of the traveling, pre-draft workouts and interviews, how does it feel to begin settling in as a member of the Bulls?
    Joakim Noah: “It’s the best feeling in the world. I wake up every morning feeling blessed and really fortunate. I’m really lucky to be in this situation. Being in an environment like this is a dream come true. You work so hard to get to this point, and now that I’m here, I’m ready to play for a team I’ve dreamed about playing for. It’s crazy.”

    Bulls.com: Rumor had it that you very much wanted to come to Chicago. Did you breathe a big sigh of relief when you heard your name called at No. 9?
    Noah: “I was actually praying that I wouldn’t be picked before then. I honestly feel that of everyone who was sitting in that green room, I was the luckiest one. To play with the people that are already on this team is going to be amazing. They are a great group of guys and they are players who I’ve looked up to for a few years now. It’s exciting to be in a situation where I can look up to people and learn from them as well.”

    Joakim Noah at the White Sox game Noah, Aaron Gray and JamesOn Curry pose with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen during their trip to U.S. Cellular Field.
    (Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
    Bulls.com: What is it about this situation that makes it so appealing?
    Noah: “They’re a playoff team. You look at some of the individual talent on this roster and you’ve got a guy like Luol Deng. When you look at where he’s come from and his whole story, it’s inspiring to know he’s my teammate now. The Bulls played so well last year and they’ve got momentum on their side. Luol went to high school in New Jersey, so I’ve been watching him practically my whole life. We actually played in high school one time… they killed us. Ben Wallace has won championships, Ty Thomas is a cool dude—we played against each other in college—and of course you’ve got Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich too. I’m just so happy to be in a city that expects nothing but the best from their teams. I think that the Bulls are going to be contenders and will have a shot at something big this year, and that to me is amazing.”

    Bulls.com: This is a roster with several players known to come into the gym late at night and get some shots up. Is it true you also have a history of some after-hours workouts?
    Noah: “I’ve always worked hard. My motivation is winning, plain and simple. To win and have an opportunity to play at this level is all I need to get me going. It’s all about improving now. I hope to have a long career, which means I have a long way to go. You’ve got to go hard every day, whether it’s in a game, at practice or in the offseason.”

    Bulls.com: You have mentioned a few times how excited you are to play with Ben Wallace. What kinds of things do you hope to learn from a guy like him?
    Noah: “I just think it’s cool to say, ‘I’ve got Ben Wallace on my team.’ He’s someone who has won at this level and he’s a guy who works very hard. I hope to learn a lot from him. He’s definitely someone who has made it, and everywhere he goes he seems to have winning ways. I like his swagger, his personality and how he handles himself on the court. He’s a vet who has been in this league a long time and he’s gained a lot of experience. There’s a lot that can be gained by having veterans like him as teammates—their time in the league speaks for itself.”

    Bulls.com: You’ve made it clear in the past that the team comes first. How did you develop that mentality over the years?
    Noah: “I’ve always felt like you can’t win with one player. No matter how good you are, you will not win with one great piece. I think that’s why we were so good in college, because we understood that it was all about the team. Sometimes the media can screw things up, but I was determined not to let anything get in the way of the special thing that we had built. We created a special opportunity for each other, played well as a team, and that’s why we got all the attention. Maybe if we didn’t win back-to-back championships, there wouldn’t have been three Gators picked in the top ten [in the NBA Draft]. We all felt that if we won, everybody would be alright.”

    Joakim Noah Noah earned consensus Second Team All-America honors as a junior and the Gators won back-to-back national titles.
    (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Bulls.com: A lot of people doubted you and your teammates last year. Now, you’re faced with criticisms that you are too offensively challenged to succeed at the NBA level. Do those types of things drive you? Do they make you stronger?
    Noah: “I think that it was just part of my experience. I learned a lot in college from being under a microscope. I think now that I’m in a city like Chicago, that it will only help me because everybody is going to have an opinion about me. I had an opportunity in college to experience that and some guys may not have dealt with it yet. I feel like I experienced more than just about any player in college basketball history. I went from not playing at all my freshman year to getting all the attention in the world my sophomore season. Then I was under that intense microscope my junior year. People came at me from all directions and I had to say no sometimes. It was draining, but I learned to stay focused on what my priorities were and what was important to me.”

    Bulls.com: You suffered a partially torn rotator cuff in your right shoulder late in your junior season that needs to heal. Is it a good thing that you can finally take a breather and get it where it needs to be?
    Noah: “Definitely. It was something that had been bothering me for awhile. It happened a couple months before tournament play, and I took a lot of anti-inflammatory shots for it during the season. After the season was done and I stopped taking the shots, I was in a lot of pain and I realized that I had a small tear. All the teams knew about it going into the draft and I didn’t try to hide it from anybody. I’m going work on my rehab this summer to get it back to 100 percent so I’m ready for the season. It needs to get stronger and there is a lot of work I have to do. I babied it for so long, and some of the muscle groups got kind of weak. I’m going to work hard every day and do as much as I can.”

    Bulls.com: You’ve affection for the Knicks while growing up in New York is no secret. Are you prepared to officially renounce your support for them?
    Noah: “I actually haven’t liked the Knicks for awhile. The last Knicks teams that I really followed were before Patrick Ewing left. Since then, I’ve kind of divorced my affiliation with the Knicks. But growing up, I was definitely a fan… and the Bulls always beat them.”

    Bulls.com: What are your top priorities between now and when the season gets underway in October?
    Noah: “I want to keep getting better in every aspect of the game. I work hard in everything that I do, especially when it’s on the basketball court. I know I need to improve on my jump shot and I need to work on my strength too. I’m here to do whatever the coaches want me to do. If that means changing something up a little but, I’m fine with that.”

    Bulls.com: Do you have any expectations for what your rookie season might hold? Have you thought about any personal goals yet?
    Noah: “I just want to win basketball games. That’s all it comes down for me. I know that sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s actually pretty complicated and it definitely isn’t easy. But that’s what we’re here to do.”