Vets, Rooks Ready for Their Close-Up

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

With the regular season exactly two weeks away, the Cavaliers held their perennial Media Day on Monday morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence.

Media Day, as most readers know, is the day that Cavaliers, new and old, are photographed, filmed and interviewed by the collective media. At times, it’s a little like St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve – with the gym awash with media members that may not be seen for the remainder of the season.

Once a wide-eyed rookie at Media Day, himself – five-year veteran, Daniel Gibson described the annual event.

“I know when I first got here and we had Media Day, I was nervous,” recalled Boobie. “It was a big experience for me. But now it’s more of I’m watching the young guys be nervous and them with the bright eyes – looking around and seeing what’s going on. And I think now I can tell them what to do and help them be better pro ballplayers.”

The biggest storyline of Monday’s Media Day was the signing of veteran guard Anthony Parker – a man who, like Gibson, will be a strong influence on Cleveland’s youngsters. Antawn Jamison might be the most vocal veteran on the court, but when it comes to guiding the young guys off of it, Coach Byron Scott said Parker is “like E.F. Hutton.”

(For those of you who don’t remember the reference: When he talks, they listen.)

Parker likely received other offers, confirmed by Cavs GM Chris Grant.

“Because of who (Parker) is as a player and a person, we’re fairly certain that there were a number of teams after him,” said Grant. “But we feel great to get him back.”

Parker arrived two seasons ago as one of the final pieces to a 66-win team. But as the club is currently constituted, he’ll serve as the veteran backbone to a team in the midst of a youth movement. He might have been courted by some teams a little closer to title contention, but returned to the North Coast instead.

“Especially at this stage of my career, winning is important – that’s what we play for is to win,” said Parker. “And that weighed into it. But that’s just a snapshot, that’s not the whole picture of what went into this decision.”

In two years with the Wine and Gold, Parker has started 146 of 153 games, averaging 7.8 ppg and shooting .396 from beyond the arc.

The former Euroleague MVP will serve to guide the squad’s youngsters. But it’s already evident that the rookie tandem of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are wise beyond their years. (And not just because they call reporters “sir” or “ma’am” and Chris Grant “Mr. Grant.”)

“Both of these guys are very level-headed guys – very intelligent, very humble,” praised Byron Scott. “They come to work every day. They want to learn, they want to get better. It’s not so often that you get two rookies in the same class that you can tell these guys something different every day in practice and you don’t have to tell them again.

“They get it, and that’s very unusual. We’re very fortunate to have guys like that.”

The NBA’s top pick – a calm, cool and collected Kryie Irving spoke about the pending schedule.

“It’s a quick turnaround and something that I have to get used to,” said the veteran of exactly 11 college contests. “In college, you get a grace period. You have preseason conditioning and preseason games and you don’t play your next game for another week. Right now, you have a week of training camp then you play your preseason games and then you play your first game in about a week or so.

“It’s a quick turnaround, but I think this team’ll be ready for it.”

Tristan Thompson, another 20-year-old with just a bit more experience than Irving, talked about his NBA idol (Kevin Garnett), which rookie will pick up the Krispy Kreme donuts (“We haven’t discussed it yet, but we’ll probably go every other day. I’ll get Monday, he’ll get Tuesday, etc.”) and teaming back up with his former high school teammate, Samardo Samuels.

“Yeah, the guy’s never left me – he’s always following me now, it seems,” quipped Thompson. “Being able to come back and play with Samardo – it’s fun. He’s gotten a lot better since leaving Louisville and it shows all the hard work he put in. And it shows that the coaching staff here works with its players.”

Of course, Irving and Thompson aren’t the team’s only youngsters. The Cavaliers have ten players on its roster with three years of NBA experience or less.

A pair of neophytes that’ll look to parlay last year’s baptism-by-fire into sustained success are Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga.

One year ago, Manny was fighting for his NBA life – making the roster after a terrific camp. He went on to see action in 54 contests, starting 15 of them. The former Wolverine was on the move over the protracted offseason.

“I was in Philly, Vegas, went to L.A. for a week or two with Baron and Samardo,” said Harris.

His offseason education continued with another established pro. “I worked out with Ben Gordon for another two weeks,” Manny continued. “(We worked) a lot of mid-range game – he was trying to show me the ropes of that. And a lot of off-the-court stuff, too. How he trains, what he eats, how he stretches – everything like that. It just gave me a whole different look on what the NBA life is about.”

The affable Eyenga was even more productive during the offseason, using the summer and fall months to grow two inches. One media member joked that he might grow into a center by next year.

“No, not center!” Eyenga responded: “Center’s a tough job.”

On the serious side, Eyenga did work diligently on his game this offseason – in Spain, Vegas and Indiana.

“I watched a lot of film. (Worked on) my mid-range game, my ball-handling – those were the two things I most focused on. My three-point shot, too.”

Like Manny, one year ago Christian was miles away from where he is today – from the language barrier to his notoriously difficult time driving in the snow.

“I just feel like I’m a little bit more ready for the league,” said the former first rounder. “My English is better every day, my driving in the snow got better. Everything’s better.”

And for some of the newly-minted Cavaliers, Monday’s Media Day was a first. That includes camp invitee, Tyrell Biggs, who’s been playing very well in Stark County for the Cavs’ D-League affiliate, the Charge – averaging 21.3 points and 5.3 boards in four games with Canton.

Like Manny and Samardo last season, Biggs has a chance to play himself onto the roster.

“I’m just happy being at vet camp right now,” beamed Biggs. “It’s a blessing to be here and I’m going to take advantage of it. I’m going to bust my butt here and make sure they see me working; pick up every little thing that the coaches are telling me.

“I want to make this team. I think I can make this team. And I’m picking up every little thing to make my game better.”