Al Horford’s Rookie Diary

Periodically throughout his rookie season, Hawks rookie Al Horford will be checking in to give his thoughts on how his first season in the NBA is progressing. Horford, who is a native of the Dominican Republic, will be keeping the diary in both English and Spanish. Check back periodically for new entries!

4/20/2008

It's been a long season, but it's not over yet - your Atlanta Hawks will be taking on Boston Sunday in the first round of the NBA playoffs!

The regular season has been full of surprises and I've been fortunate enough to be part of this team. Now that we're officially in the playoffs, I remember talking to some of my Florida teammates back at the 2007 draft and I remember them saying, `Yo Al... are you cool that you're going to Atlanta?' And I was like, `why wouldn't I be?'

I told them with the addition of myself and Acie Law to the guys playing in Atlanta, I really felt like we had a solid shot at reaching the playoffs. Obviously bringing in a guy like Mike Bibby before the deadline helped us out a lot, but it feels good to say that as soon as I knew I was coming here and I saw what they had here, I felt good about our chances of making it to the postseason.

The Bibby trade worked out really well for us. I obviously miss those guys that went to Sacramento and I got to be good friends with them, but when you bring in a guy like Mike and the way that he affects the game, it's been a huge addition for us. He's been clutch in close situations - like the buzzer-beating three-pointer against Toronto - and since the playoff race went down to the wire, who knows where we'd be without him?

While I haven't played in my first NBA playoff game yet, I am getting excited just thinking about it. There's so much intensity and emotion and everyone steps up and gives it their all, and those are my favorite games to play in. We already played up in Boston twice and they played down here Saturday, and even though they beat us three times this season, the playoffs are like a whole new season. You go out there with a swagger, you're there for a reason and you try to make some things happen. And if Golden State could beat Dallas in the first round last year, anything is possible. If we play our game, you never know what could happen.

I've had a lot of friends and family members who have been coming to games all season, and haven't talked about who's specifically going to come to what game for the playoffs, but I'm anticipating some company in Boston and even more for the games in Atlanta.

Even as a pro, I still get a lot of advice from friends and family, like `maybe you should shoot the ball more often,' `you have to look for yourself more' and other things like that. They all just want to see me do well, so I have to appreciate that, and it has always been that way and will probably be like that for the rest of my career.

The best advice-giver in my family definitely has to be my mom. She won't even talk that much about basketball, but she's an expert on the little mental things, and she's helped me stay focused all season. Staying right mentally is one of the biggest parts of the game and she gets that. She leaves the X's and O's to me and just helps me keep my head on straight.

In retrospect, I think I've had a great season, good enough to be one of the candidates for Rookie of the Year and in my eyes, good enough to win it. It's obviously up to the voters now, so it will be interesting to see how everything turns out, but I just want to thank all of my teammates, coaches, friends, family and fans for all of your support this season.

Finally, I want to thank the Hawks fans for their amazing support all year. I've heard it's been a bit of a wait for some of you, but we're honored to represent the ATL in the 2008 NBA postseason.

3/24/2008

March Madness is upon us once again, Hawks fans, and as you might remember, I've got a bit of experience in late March and early April. So I'll be your resident bracketologist for this all-NCAA tournament installment of my Rookie Diary!

It definitely feels a little strange this year not playing in the tournament. I guess the most noticeable thing about watching as a spectator is how big of a deal it is. I didn't really follow the tournament when I was younger and when I was playing in it, I didn't really see how much of a circus it was with the bracketology, the media hype and all that stuff. When we were playing in the tournament, we stayed away from all of that and just tried to keep our heads in the game.

One of the first questions people ask me is which championship felt better to win. I've thought about this a lot, and the more and more I think about it, I think that the second was really meaningful and more enjoyable. I look back at our first championship run and that first week in New Jersey and remember being so on edge. Those games were nerve-wracking, but after we won that first championship and all of us decided to come back and play another year when we could have gone pro, that was really special and the second championship run felt even more meaningful.

I can't really say that I miss being in the tournament, though I really enjoyed the time that I played. I feel like I had my time playing in the tournament and I did everything I wanted to do. Now, I go out and watch the games and get hyped, but right now, my biggest concern is trying to help the Hawks make the playoffs, and I've got more of an NBA mentality now.

This is kind of a cool time of year to be in the NBA though, because almost everybody in the league has played in the tournament and everyone gets excited about it. In the Hawks locker room, a lot of guys have their team that they played for in college - Chil' played for Stanford, Marvin played for North Carolina, Acie played for Texas A&M - and they always represent them. Marvin even does what Jordan did and wears Carolina shorts under his game shorts. I try to represent Florida even though we didn't make the tournament this year, and I guess that's how most guys in the NBA are.

I'm competing in the Hawks bracket challenge this year and I am feeling pretty confident about my picks. I actually went out on a limb a little bit and picked some upsets, and judging on how the tournament has gone so far, I'm thinking there are going to be a lot of them this year.

I feel like I have a good feel for what it takes for teams to do well in the tournament just from playing in it, but there's just so much that's left up to chance. Even if you know a lot about the teams, you are never going to be 100 percent right, and the people that are usually know the least about it.

I think the team to beat this year is UCLA. You don't make it to the Final Four two years in a row by mistake. They've got a solid team again this year, so you can definitely bank on them making a run to the Final Four.

One of my sleeper teams is Wisconsin. I have them going to the Final Four from the Midwest region and nobody agrees with me so far. I like their style of play and the way they defend. They're a solid team and they won the Big 10 regular season and the Big 10 tournament for a reason.

But this year, I can't see anybody topping the Bruins. The final verdict? I've got UCLA over North Carolina in the Finals.

3/06/2008

Wow! Even though it's been a couple of weeks, my head is still spinning from the craziness that was All-Star Weekend in the Big Easy. It was pretty overwhelming. The NBA made sure we stayed busy talking to the media and doing work with NBA Cares and all that stuff, but I definitely got out and did my own thing as well.

Probably the coolest thing I did outside of basketball was this charity celebrity pool tournament with Alonzo Mourning and Magic Johnson. It was a pretty big deal down there. There were a lot of celebrities there, and a lot of players that I've watched over the years, NBA legends and stuff. One of the highlights of the evening was meeting Chris Tucker. I've seen him at a few Hawks games, but I've never gotten a chance to talk to him. One of my favorite movies is Friday, so when I got to meet him, that was really exciting for me.

Besides that, I definitely went out, hit up Bourbon Street a couple of times and checked out the whole scene. It was kind of crazy though, so I didn't stay out too long.

My family enjoyed everything too, just the whole weekend experience. My mom got to talk to different players like Steve Nash and a lot of other guys from the All-Star team - she was really excited about that. A lot of those guys knew my dad because he used to play in the NBA, and he spent the weekend catching up with old friends and teammates, so it was a neat experience for him too.

Unfortunately the rookies couldn't pull it out this year against the sophomores. Honestly, I thought that we matched up well against them. I really felt like everything was going well for us and then Daniel Gibson just caught on fire! It seemed like he couldn't miss any of his shots and even though we were making twos, he was making threes. Eventually, that made a big difference.

I would have to say that I was impressed with a lot of the guys on the rookie squad. Mike Conley Jr. was making me look pretty good out there with some of the passes he was dishing me. I was really impressed with his game. Kevin Durant was obviously amazing as well, and I thought we really played well together.

But the highlight of the weekend for me had to be the dunk contest. Oh man, talk about a show! I was so into it from the beginning and it lived up to all the hype. All those guys got really creative - Jamario Moon, Gerald Green and Rudy Gay -and it was more than I expected, but my man Dwight Howard stole the show.

I remember talking to Dwight the Friday before the contest, and he was like "I've got to go practice my dunks." He was so serious about it. I didn't think he was going to be able to pull it off just because it's hard for big guys to pull things off like that, but he had me from the first dunk. It was just ridiculous, the one where he threw it off the back of the backboard and windmilled it in. There was no way he could have seen the rim with his head behind the backboard, and he made it look effortless.

I got a chance to sit with LeBron, Daniel Gibson and all those guys during the Dunk Contest and when Dwight laid down that first dunk, everyone just looked around at each other and was like "no way." I had to look at the replay to see if he actually did what I thought he did. And he did. I think by far, that was the dunk that got to me the most.

The All-Star game this year was great as well. I always like watching LeBron play his game, but the guy who really impressed me this year was Chris Paul. He really just took over at some point during the game. He definitely has good vision out on the floor and just makes the game easy for everybody else, plus he can score. I was really impressed with him.

Now we're back trying to close out the final six weeks of the season. We made a key acquisition with Mike Bibby before the trade deadline, and he's been helping my game out a lot by just talking to me and giving me pointers. It seems like every day he comes up to me and says something different about what I should do or how I should do something in a game, and it's really helped.

It was definitely different adding Mike in the middle of the season. I'm a big team guy, and I'm used to playing with the same guys from the beginning of the season to the end like I did at Florida and being able to say "these are my guys." But when I met Mike and we started practicing together, I saw the type of guy that he is and I'm really excited to have him on our side.

Finally, I just got word that I was voted the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for February. It's definitely an honor, and I think that if I can help the Hawks take care of business these next few weeks and we are able to finish the season the right way and put ourselves in a playoff situation, it's really going to put me in a solid spot for Rookie of the Year. I feel like if I help the team win and keep doing what I'm doing, I'll be one of the top guys at the end of the year.

2/11/2008

Hey Hawks fans, it's almost time for me to pack my bags for New Orleans! That's right, I was selected to play in the "Rookie Challenge" game at this year's NBA All-Star Weekend.

I found out a week or so ago when we had just gotten into LA from Phoenix on our west coast trip. I came down in the morning and ran into Jon Steinberg, one of the Hawks PR guys, who was smiling. He told me "Congratulations, you made the game!" I didn't really know when they were going to announce it, but my mom and I had been talking about it and we kind of had a feeling that I was going to make the team. But when Jon told me, it was so exciting to know I had officially made it!

Other than my Hawks teammate Joe Johnson (who made the Eastern Conference All-Star squad for the second year in a row!), I'm going on the trip with a couple of guys I went to school with down in Florida - not any of the guys I played with, because they're all taking a well-deserved rest over the break - but just some other buddies I hung out with at school. I also have a lot of family members coming, and I'm excited about that as well.

It's going to be a fun experience and I just want to go out there, enjoy myself and have a good time with the other players. It's mostly for fun, and hopefully we'll get a win against the sophomores. Man, that would be big. The name of the game is the "Rookie Challenge," so we know we're the ones with something to prove. The sophomores have already been in the league a year-and-a-half, and if the rookies can come in and win this game, it would be huge.

This year's rookie squad is a little different though, because we've got guys like Luis Scola and Juan Carlos Navarro who are probably older than most of the sophomores and are going to be playing on our team. Those guys have been around some playing ball overseas, so I'm sure they'll be able to help us out and give us some pointers.

But really, I'm just excited about going to New Orleans in general. I'm just concerned with going out there and having a good time. And I'm also excited about the dunk contest. I feel like this year it's going to be a good one. There's been a lot of hype and anticipation for it and one of my fellow rookies Jamario Moon, he's been telling people to "get the popcorn ready," so I want to see what that's about.

Finally, I want to give a shout out from the entire Hawks nation to Joe Johnson for making the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second consecutive time. I think it speaks a lot of him. Obviously, people are starting to recognize that he's really one of the elite guys in the league and that he demands so much attention on a team's defense. We're all really proud of you, Joe, and we're all going to be cheering you on in the Big Easy.

1/17/2008

Man, these past few months have flown by. It definitely doesn't feel like it should be this far into the season. Beating Chicago on Sunday was a huge win for us. The Hawks haven't beaten them since 2004, and it's always great when you can beat a team that plays as tough as Chicago does. I have to take my hat off to Joe Johnson and Josh Childress, who were both big keys to that victory. They came out and they were really aggressive, and it was awesome to watch them just dominate.

I'll be going on my first west coast trip soon, and we've got some tough road games ahead at Denver and Phoenix. I think the biggest key for us on this trip is to come out each night ready to play. When you're on the road, you don't have any fan support, so you and your teammates always have to stick together. My plan for this trip is to stay focused, get my rest and come out every night ready to play.

I'm excited to play in some new cities on the west coast. So far in my NBA career, the most fun city to travel to has been Dallas for me. When we played there in last month, I got to check out the city, had a nice dinner and I just enjoyed the whole scene out there - It's a really nice place. I also like New Orleans a lot - when we played there during preseason, Acie, Mario and I all went out to dinner at a fancy steakhouse and kind of got to know each other.

Speaking of New Orleans, the All-Star game is only a month away! One of the preseason goals I set for myself was to make the All-Star rookie game. They haven't made the announcement for it yet, so I'm just playing and doing whatever it takes to help the Hawks win. I feel like that's the whole key for me, and if it's something that happens, it will be a great experience, but right now I'm definitely focused on the Hawks and trying to get wins.

As for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, all of you have GOT to vote for Joe Johnson! The dude is such a tough player and can go in and change a game like nobody else. If you need a big basket, he's your go-to guy, and he's always getting his teammates involved. I mean, he had 19 points in the first quarter against the Bulls! Please do the ATL a favor and vote Joe Johnson for All-Star.

Some people have already started asking me about the playoffs this year. Lets not get ahead of ourselves here, people, it's way too early and the season isn't even halfway over! That being said, I definitely think it's important for us to take care of business now so when the end of the season comes, we're in a good situation and we can start talking about actually being in the playoffs. I really feel like this next month is very key for us to get some wins and build our momentum.

1/4/2008

What's up Hawks fans? This is Al Horford coming at you with the first installment of my rookie diary.

My first NBA season has been crazy so far. It's really ironic that I ended up coming here to Atlanta. In college, we won two SEC tournaments here and our second national championship, and I remember how before I got drafted, my mom told me how much she liked the city, and how much she would like for me to play here.

Going through training camp and preseason was kind of surreal, but right before our first regular-season game, the home opener against Dallas, is when it hit me that I was really playing in the NBA. Seeing Dirk on the court and seeing a lot of the guys I've been watching play for the last three years was so exciting for me, and I think that's when it finally felt like I was in the NBA.

The biggest difference between the college and the pro game I've seen so far is the level of competition. Everybody that you go against is good, and anybody on any given team can have a great game, so you have to be able to come up and keep your intensity the whole game.

Adjusting to an 82-game season has been different as well. In college, our season would almost be over with the number of games we've played so far, but the Hawks season isn't even halfway over. I really feel like in the rookie transition that the NBA had, one of the points they really emphasized was making sure that we take care of ourselves and rest our bodies and that's what I've been trying to do, eating right and resting. I think being in top shape is the most important way to be successful because we have so many games and practices.

My proudest accomplishment so far would definitely be winning the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in November. It was definitely a great honor and it means a lot to me to get started the right way and have a strong start to my NBA career.

I've been keeping up pretty well with my Florida teammates. We constantly stay in touch, whether it's through text messaging or talking on the phone once or twice a week. We share different experiences that we're going through, and we're still pretty tight.

I'm also getting along really well with my new Hawks teammates. We have a great group of guys, and you can tell that they want to win. Acie Law, Mario West and I are especially close, being rookies together, and we spend a lot of time together. We're all kind of going through the rookie experience together right now.