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Q&A With Robert Covington

Rockets forward discusses life as an undrafted rookie and what it means to earn praise from an All-Star

HOUSTON - It’s a tradition. Every August and September we try to catch up with the team’s players to find out what they’ve been up to as they unwind from the season before while simultaneously ramping up for the campaign to come. Last month Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman went one-on-one with Jeremy Lin, provided an exclusive look at Dwight Howard’s workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon, and caught up with sharpshooting rookie Isaiah Canaan and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

Taking his turn in the hot seat today: rookie Robert Covington.

JCF: Most every NBA rookie has a certain amount of mystery attached to his name, but undrafted rookies are particularly enshrouded in uncertainty. So provide us with an introduction to Robert Covington the person and the player.

RC: I’m a very humble young man. I’ve always had to work for everything that I had. A lot of people throughout my life didn’t believe in me, but I have a great support system – my mom, my dad, my AAU coach, Kevin Dockery – I just have a great support system of people who really pushed me and brought the best out of me.

They helped me tremendously when I made the transition from high school to college because I wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. I only had two scholarship offers with Tennessee State being one of them. That put a lot on my shoulders – not having the same opportunities as some other guys I knew – and it didn’t feel like many people had much faith in me as a basketball player. And this transition to the NBA has kind of been the same thing. There were a lot of things going through the draft process that people had doubts about. But I’ve just tried to use that as my motivation to prove people wrong. It’s been a great thing for me because I’ve done that throughout my life.

So it’s humbling to realize that everything I’ve done, everything I had to go through, it was all to help prepare me for being in the position I am today. It's a great thing. I’m blessed completely because I know a lot of people want to be in this position. It makes me very humble and I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay.

JCF: So going through the draft process, I’m sure some held it against you that you didn’t play at a big name school. What were some of the other doubts people expressed about your ability to make it at the NBA level?

RC: A lot of people didn’t know my natural position. And as for me coming from a smaller school, that doesn’t mean I don’t have talent and can’t compete with the best of them. I look forward to proving that to people.

JCF: What do you see as your natural position?

RC: Small forward, definitely. In college I played power forward because I was one of the biggest guys on the team and my versatility allowed me to do that. I played at the three some also so that gave some people the idea that I was a tweener. But I’m a natural small forward who played power forward in college because that’s what my team needed most from me to help us win.

JCF: This is a team with championship aspirations and a roster loaded with veteran guys hoping to get a chance to help the club reach its lofty goals. How do you approach the fact that you’ll be battling for a roster spot with guys who possess a significant amount of NBA experience?

RC: For the Rockets to give me this opportunity, it just shows that they believe in me and see great potential in me just because of the little things that I’ve done. They can mold me into the player they want me to be. Even just over the course of summer league, I’d already grown so much and realized so much about the transition from college to the NBA game.

The Rockets have given me that chance to really showcase what I can do. They see the upside in me. I brought some of that out during summer league and they told me, ‘That’s what we were looking for.’ I picked up things very well and this coaching staff has shown belief in me from day one. To have that faith, it motivates me to work even harder.

JCF: What are some of the things you picked up quickly that caught the eyes of the coaching staff?

RC: My defense. The way I guard my position and fight through screens. People have said that I wouldn’t be strong or tough enough, but these coaches have helped me overcome all of that. They’re so passionate about what they do, they see the upside in me, and they’re doing everything they can to bring that out of me.

JCF: I remember watching you play pick-up ball a few weeks ago. You found yourself on James Harden’s team early on and you caught fire from the outside, just draining one three after another with that effortless stroke and perfect rotation you have on your shot. At one point, James came over and was just like, ‘Man, that kid’s a sniper!’ How much does that mean to you to be on the receiving end of that sort of praise from a guy of his caliber?

RC: I mean, that to me is just great motivation. He’s seen what the coaches saw in me. That was the first time I’d set foot on the floor with those guys and it meant so much for him to say that to me that day and tell me, ‘You have great upside. You’re lights out when you get going, and that’s the style of play we need because we want shooters.’ Everything that James does on the floor, it drives so much attention his way so it allows me to knock down more shots; he draws defenders toward him and they leave me and other guys wide-open.

So for me to have that praise from him, it’s a blessing because not everybody has that opportunity. For me to be in the position that I am, playing with a great All-Star like James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons and those type of guys, it’s going to have a great effect and allow me to grow more as a young man so I can learn from them.

JCF: Did it feel like he took you under his wing after that?

RC: Yeah, because he believed in me. Even afterward in the locker room he was basically giving me praise and saying, ‘Stay in the gym, keep doing what you’re doing because there’s a reason why you’re here. Just perfect your craft, push through whatever obstacles come your way and you’ll be fine. Once we get going, everything is going to go good for you.’

JCF: Receiving praise like that from an All-Star would be huge for any rookie. But I have to imagine it’s even more meaningful when you’re an undrafted guy who’s doing everything he can to prove he belongs. Did that change your perspective a little bit?

RC: It definitely did. Even though I didn’t allow the fact I wasn’t drafted to affect me, hearing that from a player like James shows me that I’m on the right track and that I do belong. Not everybody has the same path to the NBA. Not everybody has the same kind of support system that I do. So for me to be in the position that I am, to be with these guys and this staff, I can’t do nothing but be blessed and continue to work hard because once you stop doing that that’s when you lose focus and all your blessings start being taken away.

Being around these guys, seeing what they do and how much hard work they put in, it just shows me the approach I have to take as a professional. Like I said, not everybody is going to get drafted. Everybody takes a different route. But as long as you put the hard work in and make all the sacrifices, you’re going to get a chance to be successful. The proof of that is all around me. The Rockets gave all these guys an opportunity and they’re making the most of it. Now that opportunity has been given to me and I’m going to do everything I can to make the most of it, too.