Hornets.com 1-on-1: Radio analyst John DeShazier

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

After a decorated 20-year career as a sports columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, John DeShazier joined the New Orleans Hornets this summer as the club’s new radio analyst. He’ll be calling all 82 regular season games on the Hornets Radio Network with play-by-play broadcast partner Sean Kelley. DeShazier sat down with Hornets.com recently to discuss his move into radio and to help preview the 2012-13 campaign:

Hornets.com: Many fans in New Orleans are extremely familiar with your coverage of the city and area sports scene. You’re obviously still a media member, but your primary platform has changed. What excited you about becoming a Hornets and NBA broadcaster?

DeShazier: The thought of expressing myself in a new, foreign way excited me tremendously – after it scared me half to death, that is. My entire adult working life had been as a sports writer and a columnist, and as such I was able to correct errors and self-edit before my articles and columns were handed off to an editor, who then corrected the errors I overlooked. Now, everything is done in real time and there really isn’t a safety net. And while that challenge gave me pause, it also immensely intrigued me. I can’t overlook the fact that the Hornets – specifically, Owner Tom Benson, Executive Vice president Mickey Loomis and Senior Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting Greg Bensel – took a substantial gamble on me, considering radio wasn’t my specialty and the sum total of my radio experience was as a late-night deejay in college. But their confidence in me probably was as much of a deciding factor as anything in my willingness to step out of my comfort zone at The Times-Picayune and to attack a new challenge. In this case, change has been invigorating in ways that I hadn’t imagined it would be.

Hornets.com: In your new role as a broadcast voice of the Hornets, what has your first month on the job been like? Is there anything you didn’t expect or that has surprised you?

DeShazier: It might sound cliché, but I’ve been surprised at how welcoming and helpful the Hornets family has been. Remember, as a columnist at the newspaper, my critiques of the franchise weren’t always complimentary. So I thought that, maybe, people whose livelihoods were connected to the franchise might not be all that happy to see me hired. Plus, it’s not as if the franchise was hiring a proven, award-winning veteran for the position. But I only have been greeted with smiles, handshakes and well wishes. Play-by-play man Sean Kelley has been amazing in terms of tutoring me and getting me up to speed on the radio broadcast aspect of the NBA. The man has shared with me many of the approaches that have made him successful while also allowing me to try to find my own way and create my own niche. And Director of Broadcasting Lew Shuman – well, I’ve quickly learned the reason he’s called Uncle Lew. He’s been very supportive and a great caretaker. I told him, and Sean, that they could coach me hard and that my feelings won’t bruise because of criticism and all they’ve given me is positive critiquing. So that aspect of this adventure has been extremely helpful for me during the transition.

Hornets.com: For fans who’ll be listening to you on the airwaves all season, how would you describe your on-air style and what you’ll emphasize while calling games?

DeShazier: That’s a difficult one, because I don’t know what my style is. I’ve never had one before, so I’m not sure how to describe how it’ll be. I guess the best way to answer is that I’ll probably be a little opinionated (not sure if I can shut off that part of me) and, hopefully, a little witty and fun. During the course of all that, I certainly hope to keep listeners abreast of what’s actually happening on the court, describing why a particular play worked or why it didn’t, explaining the Hornets’ strategy based on observations and discussion with coaches and trying to give them a hint of what to expect based on the tendencies of the teams. I might interject a reference or two that can be a little eccentric so I’ll attempt to curtail that part of me. And hopefully, listeners will be able to detect that I’m having a great time and consider myself blessed to be doing what I’m doing.

Hornets.com: As one of a very select group of people who was able to watch the team’s past seven preseason games in person, what are some of your initial impressions of the Hornets’ trio of 2012 draft picks?

DeShazier: Anthony Davis can ball. The notion that he was THE player in the 2012 draft with franchise-type ability wasn’t unfounded. There’s a lot more to his game than he showed, or needed to show, at Kentucky. We knew he was an instinctive shot blocker and rebounder, but he has shown a few offensive skills – handling the ball, a face-up jumper, great hands – that weren’t on display during his one season of college basketball. No. 10 overall pick Austin Rivers also has shown an aspect of his game that probably was overlooked – the willingness to drive the lane aggressively. He appears to be a nice combo guard who has no problem working as long and as hard as it takes to be great. He didn’t shoot the ball well during the preseason but that’s a problem I assume he’ll iron out, because his reputation has been that of a sharpshooter. And I really considered No. 46 overall pick Darius Miller to be a steal on draft night, in that he was a second-round pick who already seemed to be NBA-ready in terms of maturity ( a four-year college player) and physically. Plus, he made big shots at Kentucky and defended like an NBA veteran. He should see playing time at small forward and shooting guard. Now, of course, they all have to play well consistently in order to meet expectations. But there doesn’t seem to be a reason right now to believe they won’t.

Hornets.com: As a newspaper columnist who covered the Hornets and now as the team’s radio analyst, what can you tell Hornets fans about Monty Williams that they might not already know?

DeShazier: Nothing at all (LOL). What you see with Monty is what you get. He’s not going to criticize his players publicly, he’s going to fall on the sword when the team doesn’t win, he’s going to take the blame if progress is slow or stagnant. But he’s going to coach his players, and if players aren’t willing to be coached or they aren’t willing to be thorough and to concentrate on the little things, then New Orleans probably isn’t the place for them. He’s about as hands-on as I’ve ever seen in a coach, in terms of his willingness to jump into the middle of drills in practice and to actively participate. I’ve seen scores of coaches talk and point, but you don’t see many willing to hop in and firmly place a forearm in the lower back of center Robin Lopez, or drop down in a defensive stance in front of his guards to show them how they’re being played defensively, and how they can counter the aggression. I think fans will appreciate, if they don’t already, that his humility isn’t an act and that he burns to win every bit as badly as it appears he does.

Hornets.com: Williams and his coaching staff have been complimented for their ability to get players on the roster to play extremely hard and improve over the course of a season. Which Hornets player do you think has a chance to make the most significant leap this year?

DeShazier: Keep an eye on Robin Lopez. It appears he was a tad underused in Phoenix, where he averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in four seasons. During the preseason, he was at 10 points and eight rebounds per game for the Hornets. He has been allowed to be aggressive offensively (lefty and righty jump hooks in one-on-one situations) but also, he has attacked the offensive glass and hurt opponents that way. Plus, the 7-footer (he’s 255 pounds) also has defended the paint and protected the rim extremely well. Staying out of foul trouble will be critical but he seemed to have a grasp on that during preseason. He’s a very intelligent player who won’t play outside his abilities, but he uses his size well and I just believe the freedom he has been given to be an offensive factor in New Orleans will lead to his best season, by far.

Hornets.com: In terms of the Hornets on the court, what are you most looking forward to watching this season?

DeShazier: I guess I’ll be Captain Obvious here and admit I’m looking forward to seeing Davis. His ceiling is so high, and he already is pretty good. Being a member of Team USA this summer – having the opportunity to play with and against elite American talent while winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics – accelerated his growth. So while he’s sure to have “rookie” moments and he’ll be taught lessons by veteran, savvy NBA players who know how to defend and know all the tricks of the trade, I look forward to watching his ability to process that information and turn it in his favor. Emotionally, he’s even-keeled and that’ll serve him well during a long season. It’ll be a test for his body, too, because at 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, he’s not the widest or strongest guy on the court. But he has a myriad of skills and he’s just scratching the surface in terms of showing his all-around game. As for the team, I look forward to seeing their growth together. It’s a young nucleus and as it matures and plays together, it’ll be interesting to watch as the players play off the tendencies of one another. I want to see how a young team reacts when its legs are tired and it’s a little beat up, because mental toughness is as crucial as physical ability. Monty Williams’ teams have become known for their intensity and fight, so I want to see if this team takes up the mantle and runs with it. Plus, this team might be a little more inclined to run than Williams’ previous two teams. So I’m hoping to see a more up-tempo attack this season.