Rookies on the Road

March 15, 2014
carrick felix + matthew dellavedova + anthony bennett

Life on the road in the NBA can definitely take some getting used to. And despite direct flights and some pretty posh digs, it can wear even the world’s top athletes down after a while.

All three featured rooks have had wildly different experiences with the Cavaliers this season.

Anthony Bennett was the 2013 Draft’s top pick and, after a slow start, bounced back to find his form before a knee injury slowed him down. Carrick Felix was a second-rounder who was working his way through Canton towards the Cavaliers before a knee injury sidelined his campaign as well. And Matthew Dellavedova went from undrafted free agent to the thick of Mike Brown’s rotation.

(Young Sergey Karasev – who the Cavs tabbed with the No. 19 pick this past June – didn’t make the trip out West, but has been percolating in Canton, topping the 20-point plateau on a regular basis for the Charge.)

The Cavs Class of 2013 is a tight-knit group. Before road games, they do something even NBA veteran reporters have never seen before: They get together as a group in almost every visiting arena and eat dinner in the media dining room.

An NBA player’s first season can be a battle of attrition. They’re playing twice as many games as they had the year before against bigger, stronger, better competition. Aside from All-Star Weekend, there isn’t anything even resembling a break in the action. And inevitably, for rookies and veterans alike, you’re in so many cities in such a short time that you’re going to forget your room number at least once.

And then there’s the singing …

After practice on Thursday at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, the Cavaliers rookies – including Shane Edwards, who got the call-up from Canton two days earlier – had to sing (a terribly off-key rendition of) “Happy Birthday” to Tristan Thompson.

(Rookie Anthony Bennett’s birthday was the following day. Needless to say, the veterans didn’t form a semi-circle to serenade the 21-year-old Canadian.)

As the Wine and Gold’s final West Coast trip of the season wraps up in Tinseltown, sat down with Cleveland’s trio of NBA freshman to let them sing their own song about their first season on the road …

Is the “Rookie Wall” fact or fiction?

CARRICK FELIX: I obviously haven’t played enough to hit it, but I believe that it’s real. It’s gotta be real, because we come into the league used to playing around 35 games. And there’s so much traveling in the NBA, there’s so much practice, so many games a week. I think it’s more a mental wall more so than physical. But I think guys get over it kind of quick.

MATTHEW DELLAVEDOVA: I don’t think you hit a point, but I can see how it’s a possibility of happening to people. I think you just have to make sure you take really good care of your body – getting enough sleep, especially with the travel schedule that we’re on. It’s tough sometimes with different hours.

ANTHONY BENNETT: I’ve heard of it, but I was fine before I got hurt.

What’s been your favorite city to visit on the road?

DELLY: Well, I love San Francisco, naturally, because I played nearby at St. Mary’s. I really like Chicago – I’d never been there before. I went up in the Sears Tower there and had a bit of a look around. But I liked Washington as well. I hadn’t been there. That was cool as well.

FELIX: I like New York a lot. I love Chicago. I kind of like them all. I mean, I like to travel and get out there and see different things.

BENNETT: Toronto – not to be biased or anything. But I’d say probably a tie between Miami and L.A. Just because of the weather, and there’s a lot of things to do, places to eat. Stuff like that.

How did the tradition of eating as a group with the media before games get started?

BENNETT: I think it was Delly who started it. I don’t go every time, but I go every now and then. Delly’s always on top of his nutrition, so I’m pretty sure it was his idea at first.

DELLY: Well, at home games, we go to the family room, which is obviously a really good meal. So I guess it became part of the routine at home. But on the road, because we get there so early, we work out, do our stuff in the weight room, eat our meal, get taped and relax in the locker room if we still have time. And we just tried to find a spot on the road as well to do that and that happened to be the media room. And the food’s usually pretty good there. So that’s just how it came about.

FELIX: We get there so early. If we have a 7 p.m. game, we get to the gym by 3:30. We’ll get done by 4:00. We’ll kind of sit around and we’ll get hungry. So we decided: Let’s just go try everybody’s food – seeing where the best food is in which arena.

And which arena has the best food?

FELIX: Cleveland does, by far.

What was it like going back to your hometown for the first time?

BENNETT: I felt like it was great. If we would’ve won, that would’ve made everything much better. But it was great. I saw family and friends. I got to see everybody – it was a great feeling. The tickets were a hassle, I’ll tell you that. But playing, I didn’t feel any extra pressure or anything, even though it was the first time playing in front of family and friends in a while.

FELIX: It was good. It was a little bit nerve-wracking at first, being back in my city. But it was tough because I wasn’t able to suit up and play. That was the part that kind of got to me a little bit. But it’s always good to go back home and see some familiar faces and people that you love and that support you.

Have you ever forgotten your hotel room number on the road?

DELLY: Yes! Tyler (Zeller) was joking that it’ll happen when you go on a road trip. And it’s already happened a couple times. I’ve been to the wrong floor before. He said some guys write the room number on their hands, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I'm usually pretty good at remembering things. So if do miss the first time, I usually get it right on the next try.

BENNETT: Yeah, a lot of times. But Tyler told me there’s a little tag on your bag with the room number on it. So every time we go to practice, I bring my bag instead of just bringing the two pairs of shoes.

FELIX: Oh yeah, I’ve forgotten my room number. I’ve even forgotten what day it is. It happened to me this week! We got off the plane and I was telling somebody, ‘OK, I’ll be there on Wednesday.’ And they were like: ‘Yo, it’s about to be Thursday.’

Finally … The “Happy Birthday” song is sounding pretty rough. Who among you has the worst voice?

FELIX: I thought I was pretty good! Actually, being honest – I’d have to probably say myself. I’ve heard from a few people that I’m pretty bad at singing. But I do it anyway. The guys get mad at me all the time. They’re like: ‘Carrick – just stop!’ But I keep going.

DELLY: I don’t know about not having great voices! I’m sure the veterans appreciate the energy that we sing with. But I think A.B. is probably holding the group back with his performances.

BENNETT: The worst? I was about to say my man, (Luol Deng). But if we’re talking about just rookies, I’m not exactly sure. We all contribute. But it’s definitely not me – I do my thing. The guys all call me “Radio Raheem.” That’s my nickname out here. I just know a lot of music, I know all the words to songs – rap, singing, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I do.