Growing Up ... Varejao

They’ve always had talent, but what were the Cavaliers like before they became rich and gigantic and famous?

Today, we look back at the beginnings of a Cavalier who was a fan favorite almost immediately and remains that way today. He's the Wild Thing -- Anderson Varejao -- and he has established himself as the Wine and Gold's first Big off the bench.

In today's Growing Up, Andy talks about how he rose through the ranks of the Brazilian National Team and landed in the frontcourt of the Wine and Gold ...

I was born in … Cariacica, Brazil. It’s a city in Espirito Santo. And I lived in Santa Theresa Sao Joao de Petropolis -- that’s where I lived until 10 or 11 years old. Then I moved to Vitória, where my parents live now. I started playing in Vitória when I was 12 or 13 years old.

My dad played … a lot of sports when he was young, but nothing professionally. He played basketball; he was a runner. My mom, just for fun, would play volleyball with friends.

As a kid, my idols were … my brother, Sandro, and Michael Jordan. When you’re younger, you follow your big brother. And, of course, Michael Jordan, because he was the best.

Sandro is … 11 years older than me. (I have two brothers and two sisters -- all older except for a younger sister.) When I started playing basketball, Sandro was already playing in Idaho -- in junior college. And he went to West Virginia to play college.

About once or twice a month … Sandro would call home. (Because overseas calls were very expensive.) I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning, just to talk to him -- to ask him questions about basketball and ask him to bring me a jersey or hat or anything from the NBA. And it’s funny – in my locker in Brazil, I had a picture of Donyell Marshall.

I was too young … to play against Sandro. I would just rebound for him; sometimes just play around one-on-one. I was very little. We played together on the National Team for two or three years. He was a strong player, very tough and a very good shooter. He could really shoot the ball. He played with a lot of heart. He was a winner. He won a lot of championships around Brazil. With the National Team, he won a lot.

I first started playing with the National Team … when I was 17 or 18 years old. Everything happened too fast for me. I played for Vittoria, my hometown team, from when I was about 12 or 13 years old until I was around 16, 17. And from 16 to 19, there was a big change in my career. That’s when I went and played in Barcelona.

I had my big growth spurt from … 16 to 19. That was ridiculous. I couldn’t do any coordination stuff. Everybody used to make fun of me. I couldn’t do it! I kept trying, trying. When I stopped growing, then I could do everything. It was funny -- my friends used to make fun of me. Every other day, they’d say, ‘Did you grow again?’

Everywhere I’ve played … I always tried to find a way to be important. When I started, I was center and the next year I was point guard. (It was crazy.) I used to shoot a lot of three-pointers; I used to score a lot. But I was always a team player. If I shot more than five times straight, I felt like I was being selfish. I don’t know, it’s just me.

Playing on the National Team … is different; I know I have to score. But here (in Cleveland) I know what the situation is. I know what it is and I know how I have to play. I always try to find a way to be important.

The first time I dunked … I was 16 -- about 198 cm -- that’s about 6-6. But I was very skinny, like T.K. (Tarence Kinsey) And all the guys on my team, they were stronger. They would dunk all the time. And I couldn’t dunk. I was trying, trying, trying. Couldn’t dunk, couldn’t dunk. So they all made fun of me. And the (National Team) comes into the gym and I kept trying. Then they all started making fun of me, and I’m like, ‘Man, I have to dunk!’

I remember sitting on my sofa … thinking about it all night. So I woke up the next morning early and went there thinking, ‘Today, I have to dunk.’ So I went to the gym and kept missing, and FINALLY I dunked. But nobody was there. And I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna have to do this again!’ So when the team got there, I said, ‘You know what? (Expletive deleted) you all! I can dunk now!’ They were like, ‘OK, let’s bet!’ So we bet lunch or whatever and I went in and dunked, and they all went NUTS!

That was my first time.