PLAYA VISTA – It didn’t take long for Isaiah Thomas to come up with the answer.
As the Phoenix Suns’ guard sat at his podium prior to the All-Star weekend festivities, the first name that came to mind for Thomas when thinking of a guard he plays against that he still looks up to was Chris Paul.
“I attended his camps back in college,” said Thomas, who still finds it exhilarating to be able to play against one of his former mentors. “We talk all the time. He’s a great guy, so that’s a guy I looked up to.”
Thomas would string off the names of a couple more guards, but it was Paul’s that came first and on its own. That’s not an anomaly when asking some of the younger point guards in the league, many of whom went to Paul’s camps growing up.
Paul could recall a handful when reminiscing on some of the better players who had attended his camps before making it big in the league, including Thomas and Stephen Curry, who were both at All-Star weekend, and former Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe.
For Paul, it can make him feel old to see guys who at one point participated in his camp turn into adversaries in the league. But at the same time, it’s crazy in a positive way to him to think about the amount of players currently excelling in the NBA who went to his camps.
“Some of those guys I’ve built longer relationships with, friendships, stuff like that,” Paul said. “They know what it is when you step on the court, but I’m always happy to see them doing well.”
Thomas said his relationship with Paul has been strong ever since he attended Paul’s camp after his freshman year of college. The two exchanged numbers and continued to talk – not just about basketball.
“We talk about our kids, everything,” Thomas said. “I just attended his camp last summer, too, and we were working out together. He’s a great friend of mine, someone I look up to and someone who’s not just a good basketball player, but an even better guy.”
Look around at the point guards at All-Star weekend, and it’s hard to find one without some sort of positive relationship or history with Paul.
Jeff Teague’s known Paul a while, which is somewhat inevitable when starting at guard for Wake Forest, Paul’s alma mater. Teague said it was a big moment for him personally when he was asked early in his career to join other NBA players at a camp with Paul.
“He used to come back every summer and play with us and take me under his wing, teach me some things,” Teague said. “Overall, he’s just a great person. He calls you, texts you when you have a good game. He congratulated me when I made the All-Star team.”
But camps don’t have to exist for point guards around the league to look up to Paul and cherish his advice.
West All-Star Damian Lillard remembered meeting Paul right before entering the league.
“We spoke a little bit,” Lillard said. “He told me that he liked my game. It was simple, but our relationship has kind of grown since then. Every time we see each other, we chop it up.”
There’s a third member of the State Farm trio of current star point guards, Curry, who also knows Paul as well as anyone, working out and building a relationship with Paul early in his career.
“He was a big influence,” Curry said. “He kind of taught me the ropes a little bit.”
Paul’s playing every night against arguably the best crop of point guards the game’s ever seen. While he may feel like one of the elder statesmen of that talented group, he also happens to be the main point guard most players look up to – even the All-Stars.
“He’s a guy that all point guards kind of want to look at his game and try to learn from,” said Kyle Lowry. “For me, I’ve played against Chris a lot because we were in the same division. So I got to see him a whole lot. I just respected the things he did for his team and how he played and how he helped his team win.”