Ivey Sets Example Through Work Ethic

Listen to the way Royal Ivey talks about himself, the way he speaks with unabashed confidence and assuredness about who he is and what he can do as a basketball player, and his idioms will resonate with you, his personality will shine through.

Now, it’s not to be mistaken with arrogance. That’s not what he’s about. But when you’ve been judged the way Ivey's been judged throughout his seven-year NBA career, when people doubted if he’d be drafted out of Texas and that when he was he’d actually stick on an NBA roster, you can’t fault the man for having a certain bravado, for exuding some swagger.

Just listen to him describe himself as a defender.

“I’m that fly on that picnic table,” Ivey said. “He keeps on coming back and touching the food every time. And if you swipe him away he’s coming back. You might kill him and you might not. But he’s going to come back and he’s going to keep getting his little piece. That’s me. People do hate you. But you live to fight another day.”

Kevin Durant would gladly backup that sentiment.

Every summer since he entered the NBA four seasons ago, Durant has returned to the University of Texas to hone his craft. He works out with both former and current Longhorns, with Ivey a mainstay among them. Durant compares Ivey to a big brother and a mentor. When he found out the Thunder signed Ivey as a free agent this past summer, Durant was genuinely elated. He knew that Ivey was going to help and push everyone on the Thunder roster because he had firsthand experience of how Ivey made him a better player.

“We push each other,” Durant said of those summer workout sessions. “He’s one of the reasons why I became a better ball handler, more focused and confident because just talking to him and seeing what he’s been through. Nobody thought he’d be in this league. But he got here, and to last for this long when people didn’t think he would be here, he’s an inspiration to everybody. He’s been a great friend and a great teammate thus far.”

A hard worker, a friend, a teammate, a man with his priorities straight – those are the traits and characteristics that have helped keep Ivey employed. He’s the guy who teams don’t hesitate to bring back for a second stint. Milwaukee and Philadelphia did. And Oklahoma City is glad he's here.

He considered it an honor when Milwaukee had him back last season and Ivey was able to be a part of the Bucks’ playoff run. Ivey said that continuing to have opportunities in the NBA stems from his professionalism and selflessness.

“Just trying to be here and work every day and come in here with a positive attitude and whenever your number is called just being ready, staying conditioned, staying focused and helping the younger guys out,” he said. “Wherever I’ve been I’ve been that guy to motivate other guys, whether a guy’s not playing just by sitting down talking to him or whether a guy’s down and he’s not playing well, just sitting down talking to him. I’m just helping out guys that way and just being a positive guy.”

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has seen it every day.

“He’s a professional,” Brooks said. “That word is used a lot but he is a professional. He comes every day with a good energy and smile on his face. He pleases his teammates by working hard every day and I like that and he’s tough; he’s as tough as anybody on this team. He pressures the ball, he tries to make the right play every time, he’s unselfish. He’s just as good of a teammate as I’ve ever seen.”

With experience at both guard positions, Ivey can impart his wisdom to his younger backcourt mates in Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Eric Maynor. Ivey wants to show through his work ethic that there are no days off in the NBA. In the locker room, Ivey said he feels older than he really is. At 30, he’s one of the team’s senior members, and his teammates like to have fun with that.

“But it’s fun being around here because it’s more family oriented and everyone’s close," Ivey said. "It reminds me of college.”

On the court, Ivey said his goal is to defend 96 feet – the length of the court – which we saw him do Tuesday against Memphis; time and again, the ball got inbounded and Ivey was right there, shadowing the opposing point guard every step of the way into the backcourt. Ivey has recorded five steals, six assists and jus three turnovers in 39 preseason minutes. He also was dependable from the perimeter against Memphis, scoring nine points on 3-for-7 shooting.

“I think the way he shoots the basketball he’s going to stretch the floor for us as well,” Durant said. “But his defense, 96-feet, guarding the ball as an on-ball defender he’s one of the best I’ve seen in this league. We’re going to really need him to do a good job of helping Russell and Thabo out on the perimeter guarding the best players. He’s a key to our team.”

This has been a smooth transition for Ivey due in large part to the fact that he shares the same values and goals as the Thunder. With Milwaukee being the exception, he hasn’t been on a team that’s stressed defense as much as the Thunder.

And while Ivey might compare his defensive prowess to that of a fly on a picnic table, he doesn’t feel alone in that regard.

“You’ve got to be a pest,” he said. “We should be one of those teams that people hate to play. We’ve got to have an identity where you play OKC, you’re going to be in for a ball game. They’re going to fight you to the end and they’re going to be in your face for 48 minutes. We get that identity and we’ll be fine. We’ve got to bring it on the practice court, so just being that fly at the picnic table, swatting us away and keep coming back every time – that’s the identity we’ve got to have.”

Contact Chris Silva