Q&A With Former Suns Forward Tom Gugliotta
Posted: Aug. 11, 2009
Fans remember him for his smooth 16-foot jump shot, his rebounding prowess, and, unfortunately, the injuries that cut his NBA playing days short. While Tom Gugliotta’s NBA accomplishments are sometimes overlooked because of that lost playing time, nothing will diminish the former forward’s love of the game and his ability to win over a home crowd.
“Googs” initially walked on at North Carolina State University to play for Jim Valvano as a scrawny 6-6, 198-lb. small forward. After growing to 6-10, Gugliotta became a player with many skill sets, as the Washington Bullets drafted him with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft.
Coming off the 1997-98 season where he averaged 20 ppg, he was offered a six-year contract by the Suns in the summer of 1998. He averaged 17 points and 8.9 rebounds in his first year in Phoenix, but on March 10, 2000, Gugliotta ruptured his MCL, ACL, and PCL in a game against the Utah Jazz.
While the injuries were frustrating for No. 24, he could be counted upon to play through pain and was a fan-favorite during his five-plus years in Phoenix. “Googs” recently took time to talk with Suns.com about his Suns playing days and his life after hanging up his sneakers in 2005.
Suns.com: Basketball was such a big part of your life, so do you still go out and play pick-up games? Do you have any intention in pursuing a career in broadcasting or coaching?
Tom Gugliotta: I don’t go out and play anymore because of the injury I had with my knee. It has also affected other parts of my body. I just had a back procedure, not surgery… called an epidural injection to try to ease some pain that I have been having in my back. Playing basketball is out of the question, but I do some things with the Boys and Girls Club. I run some camps and try to get involved with the kids. I just try and teach them the fundamentals of basketball.
As soon as I got done with basketball, I started to pick up golf. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to play the game. It’s pretty tough.
Suns.com: Do you keep up with the Phoenix Suns at all?
Gugliotta: Oh, yes. I’ve been good friends with their training staff. Obviously towards the end of my career, I was in there a lot. I’ve made some good friendships with head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson and assistant athletic trainer Mike Elliott, so it’s always fun to see them when they come in to town.
Suns.com: Are there any former teammates on the Suns that you still keep in touch with?
Gugliotta: I briefly keep in touch. I still keep up with the players when they come into town like former Sun Shawn Marion and other guys I played with. We don’t speak regularly, but I try to get to some games especially when they come into town. It’s always fun to see the guys that I used to play with.
Suns.com: You had a long NBA career playing for seven different teams. Which city did you most enjoy playing in over the years?
Gugliotta: I would have to say one that really sticks out, and people think I was crazy for saying this, but I really enjoyed playing in Minnesota. For people that live there, it’s a beautiful place to be and we had a very good basketball team at the time. I had an opportunity to live in San Francisco, while I played for the Warriors. Living in Washington, D.C., the Maryland area was good, too. Of course, Phoenix was just a beautiful place. The weather was always great and that was certainly one of my favorites. It’s really hard to pick a favorite because I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to live in all of those different cities.
Suns.com: In your first 11 seasons in the league, you averaged double digits in points and never less than seven rebounds per game. Who had the biggest impact on your game over those years?
Gugliotta: I was fortunate enough to get a lot of playing time when I was really young. I didn’t play on very good teams, but I think for an individual to get out and play rather than sit and watch while you’re on a good team, it helped me develop more quickly. I would say the two best teammates I had were Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell. They came while I was in Minnesota and still a young player. It was nice to have guys that had been on winning teams to show you and tell you what it takes to win. I certainly needed that because it wasn’t just on the court, it was a mental thing, as well. They were the ones who really showed me how to go about winning and playing professionally every night.
Suns.com: Who was the best NBA player that you ever matched-up against?
Gugliotta: There were so many that it is hard to pick one, but when I look at Karl Malone and Charles Barkley as the toughest. When they came to town and you were expected to defend them, that was a big chore. You knew that you’d better be ready especially with Karl Malone. You’d turn your back on him and he is cutting to the basket and John Stockton is delivering him the ball for a lay-up. Those two guys were tough to guard. I look at Shawn Kemp, too, because he was as tough as anybody when he was in his prime.
Suns.com: Which current NBA basketball player most reminds you of yourself?
Gugliotta: Well, that’s a good question. There are more and more guys doing what I was good at, which was big guys being able to shoot the basketball and play a face-up to the basket style. It’s hard to say who best represents me. The person that I look at, but who has had much more success throughout his career, is Dirk Nowitzki. He’s a better shooter, too, but he is a big guy who can face the basket and pass the basketball around a little bit, but he does it at a higher level. I couldn’t name somebody who played exactly like I did, but we two are kind of similar.