Hanging With the Rooks
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SECAUCUS, N.J., July 31 2007-- When I was a kid, picture day on the first day of school meant I'd be wearing an uncomfortable, mold-green colored suit and leather shoes that hurt my feet when I ran around at recess for the day.

Philadelphia's Herbert Hill remembers rocking a "Bill Cosby" sweater for a few of those days.

Houston's Aaron Brooks is pretty sure he was dressed up in a cowboy hat and bolo tie by his parents one year.

Another rook admitted to wearing a "racecar suit" and a couple others blushed a bit thinking back to those embarrassing pictures they posed for.

Well, that's all in the past. It's pretty safe to say that last Friday's Rookie Photo Shoot at the Knicks' Practice Facility in Tarrytown, NY will be one of the proudest memories this group of future stars will ever have about saying, "Cheese."

And now, these are the 10 things I learned from eight hours with 44 rookies ...

1. Well, That Was Embarrassing

Broadcasting legend Tom Snyder passed away on Sunday and I read in this obituary that one of the most embarrassing moments of his career was him realizing 10 minutes into an interview with Meatloaf that he called him “Meatball” when he introduced him on air. I had a similar gaff on Friday when I sat down with D.J. Strawberry to talk to him about his bright future with the Suns.

I called him Darryl.

I could almost see his father’s name float out of my mouth in big, flashing, Dave-you’re-an-idiot letters the moment after I said it, but it was too late. “Darryl … (my face turns redder than the Rockets away jersey that Carl Landry and Brooks are wearing) … I mean D.J.! … (slowly gain my composure while wanting to hide under my chair) … How much are you looking forward to playing with Steve Nash?”

This isn’t really an excuse, but “Darryl” is burned into my head from seeing this Simpsons episode about 67 times too many in my lifetime.

That’s it, I’m blaming it on too much TV during my formative childhood in the early ‘90s. I mean, if Candace Cameron sat down for an interview with me, then you can be sure I’d say “D.J.”

2. "Mar" Williams

Remember when Jason Williams was drafted by the Bulls out of Duke and changed his name from “Jason” to “Jay” because Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and Jayson Williams were already in the NBA?

Well a San Antonio rookie is faced with a similar dilemma. Marcus Williams, a 6-7 forward out of Arizona, shares a name with the Nets’ Marcus Williams, a 6-3 point guard entering his second season.

I joked with Williams about him going by Marc, or Mars or dropping the second-syllable “cus” and just going by “Mar” in Jay Williams fashion, but he said he was all set with the full Marcus.

3. Not Part of the Uniform

Spencer Hawes, we know you’re an important lottery pick trying to bring the Kings back to playoff respectability, but your cell phone and Blackberry don’t count as sanctioned uniform accessories like wrist bands or tall socks. They just don’t. In between photo sessions Hawes was strutting around the gym with his communication devices clipped to the waistband of his shorts and they were jutting out like a fanny pack. Not a good look.

4. Greg Oden Wears Glasses

There are a few numbers associated with Greg Oden that you know about already:

1: As in Greg was the No. 1 pick
7: As in Oden is a legit 7-footer
20: As in GO’s uniform number at Ohio State
52: As in his uniform number in the pros

Now you can add four to that list.

As in you can call Mr. Oden "four eyes" because he wears glasses. He was loping around the photo shoot in a sharp pair of black wire rim specs looking like a long lost member of Boyz II Men. The bifocals came off whenever it was time to mug for the camera, but like Hawes’ cell phone, the glasses went back on as soon as he was done posing.

5. The Numberless

Earning your first NBA jersey is a special privilege. Even the normally irreverent NBA nomad Paul Shirley admits to appreciating the allure of a mesh tank top with the title of his recent book about his struggles making it in the league: Can I Keep My Jersey?

Half of the fun of getting your jersey is picking what number you want. Aaron Brooks told me he wears No. 0 because he started off wearing No. 30 at Oregon and after his first two games somebody called the athletic department and said that No. 30 was already retired and Brooks shouldn’t be wearing it. The diminuative point guard told his coaches that if he couldn’t have No. 30 then he didn’t want any number at all. So they gave him zero.

A lot of players will go for their high school or college jersey numbers in the pros, but if it’s not available will end up going with some obscure number that has some shred of meaning to them -- maybe they wore it in an all-star game or something.

The shame about the Rookie Photo Shoot was that about half the players didn’t have numbers on their uni’s yet. Morris Almond told me that Utah’s coach Jerry Sloan holds off on giving the rookies numbers until they earn it. Overhearing our conversation, wearing a big green No. 35 on his bright yellow jersey, Kevin Durant looked down at Almond’s numberless Jazz jersey and quipped, “That sucks,” before strolling away.

Almond's uni had as many numbers on it as Turtle's phone has in it after a night of trying to pick up ladies.

I understand Sloan using the pursuit of earning a jersey number as a motivational tool, but I couldn’t help but feeling bad for the guys that didn’t have numbers. It would be like getting a car for your sixteenth birthday, only the car is missing all its hubcaps. Sure, you’re excited for the car, but something just isn’t totally right about it.

6. USC Santas

One of the photo stations had the player put on fuzzy winter Santa Claus hats in their team colors to use for holiday promotions down the line. USC teammates Gabe Pruitt (now with Boston) and Nick Young (now with Washington) apparently even find the East Coast summers cold compared to California because they wore their Santa caps around for the remainder of the day. At that same station they had rookies wearing the jerseys of former greats from their team. No offense to Nick Fazekas, but he still has a lot to prove before him wearing a Dirk Nowitzki No. 41 jersey won't look extremely wrong.

7. Q&A with Topps

One of the main reasons the rookies were assembled in the first place was to pose for the pictures that would appear on the first rungs of their “I really made it to the NBA” ladders – their rookie cards.

Upper Deck and Topps had stations at the shoot and I caught up with Don Wang, Topps’ Basketball Brand Manager, to ask him about the trading card biz:

What do you think of this year’s rookie class and the popularity of their rookie cards?
Wang: We’re hoping that this year’s rookie class is equivalent to the LeBron, Carmelo and Wade year. We hope that Durant and Oden have that kind of impact and we expect them to.

We don’t think it’s just really those two guys, we think it goes far beyond those guys. There are a whole bunch of other guys like Brandan Wright, Mike Conley, Nick Young … a lot of other guys that I think within the next year or two could have as big of an impact on the hobby as Shaq, LeBron and Wade have.

It seems like rookie cards are the cards to get. Insert cards are popular too, but as far as a non-insert card, rookie cards are basically the best of the best ...
Wang: Definitely. That’s just the tradition of the hobby. The rookie card is the regular base card that’s the most valuable. Over the last recent years we’ve made autograph rookie cards part of the base set, so those are the ones to chase after.

Does a good rookie class help the bottom line for you guys?
Wang: Certainly. Just the interest in the hobby is a lot more heightened than say it was just last year. Last year was considered widely sort of a weaker rookie class, but this year as well as next year with guys like Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo going to college now, the next two years look really bright.

We’re hoping that it can kind of go back to how it was in the ‘90s where you had consecutive strong rookie classes, kind of how it was in the late ‘80s as well – ’86-87, ’87-88 – those seasons. We kind of had a draught the last couple years and we hope these guys revive the hobby.

8. Pump Up the Volume

In what's becoming a Rookie Photo Shoot tradition of sorts, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Chris "I'm just as big and just as baby" Richard battled on the turn tables owned by DJ Neil Armstrong of the Almighty 5th Platoon who was providing the beats to keep the energy level up over the long day of smiling for the young guys.

Last season, Davis' LSU teammate Tyrus Thomas was the one running the records.

Oh, and no, I didn't refer to the DJ as "Darryl" when I spoke to him.

9. Mike Conley "Unior"

What's the Grizzlies' No. 3 pick Mike Conley Jr. been working on this summer?

"Shooting, shooting and more shooting," Conley said with a smile.

Hey, it never hurts to hone in your shot a little bit more and you know that Conley wants to avoid the nickname me and my buddies used for Jason Kidd during his first few seasons in the league: "Ason" Kidd.

You know, because he had no "J."

10. Rik Smits, You've Got Company

One was a 7-4 center, the other a 6-2 point guard but Clippers rookie Jared Jordan and former Pacers big man Rik Smits will forever be linked in history as the first two NBA players to come out of tiny Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

"It’s me and him," Jordan said. "I take a lot of pride in that. It’s a lot of hard work coming from a mid-major. Not many people get that opportunity coming from a mid-major like us and to do what I’ve done and accomplish what I’ve accomplished has been great so far and I look forward to a lot more.

"I know [L.A.] needed help at the point guard position. Unfortunately Shaun Livingston is hurt, but Sam Cassell, I’m looking forward to learning from him. He’s been around for awhile and knows the game’s ins and outs and I was to be a sponge and learn as much as I can. I love basketball and this is a great opportunity for me."

Have a question or comment for The McTen or care to share what you learned this week? Send an e-mail.