Cup of Joe Presented by Café Bustelo: Exit Interviews Roundup
With the 2020-21 season now in the rearview mirror, multiple HEAT players spoke to the media about the campaign, their summer plans and what’s to come in the future.
Precious Achiuwa kicked things off by saying it would be a “great opportunity” to play for the Nigerian National Team this summer but mentioned he’s weighing his options in terms of making a decision between that and Summer League.
As for this past season, which was a unique challenge for all rookies, Achiuwa discussed the things he learned and the one area he wants to work on the most this summer.
“The time that I was on the court this year, for me, was just understanding the game on the defensive side of the ball, just understanding reads, tendencies and what teams or players are likely to do,” Achiuwa said. “And for me, it’s just having a better understanding of the game, better IQ for the game, better feel for the game, especially on the defensive side of the ball game. And this summer, I just look forward to improving the overall part of my game, just getting better in everything that I do, working on my entire game, especially my jump shot. That’s going to be a big focus for me this summer.”
A big who also worked on his jump shot in his career, Dewayne Dedmon, discussed his seamless transition to the team.
“Everything was pretty much set in stone when I got here,” Dedmon said. “I knew they played hard. I knew everybody worked hard, so when I came here, it was kind of easy just to adjust to that because that’s how I play, so just go hard and play hard, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Speaking of playing hard, Max Strus, who took full advantage of his two-way contract, talked about what he showed this past season.
“I think I just showed that I could play at this level, and I’m able to defend and defend multiple positions and help the team out offensively, obviously, with my shooting ability,” Strus said. “But I honestly didn’t even shoot it that well this year, and I got to be more consistent. I’d say that’s the thing I really have to work on this summer…and that comes along with playing more minutes and more consistent minutes as well, so I’m not too worried about that. But I think I’ve showed that I can put the ball in the basket, not just as a shooter as well. I’m capable of doing other things, and I played meaningful minutes this year. I’m looking to build off that and go into next year.”
Fellow two-way player, Gabe Vincent, mentioned that he would be joining Team Nigeria’s Training Camp as they prepare for the Summer Olympics. Vincent helped his country qualify back in 2019.
“It was huge [to qualify]. We know how much it means to us. We know how much it means to those who came before us and competed and played. We know how much it means to our people, to those back in Nigeria who were watching and looking forward to seeing their country move forward and find success and to have that sense of pride,” Vincent said. “…this summer could be a great opportunity for me to play against some high-level competition and continue to grow my game. It’s very different doing drills with cones and playing some open gyms than when you’re playing games that are intense and extremely meaningful.”
Like Vincent, Ömer Yurtseven and Nemanja Bjelica said that they plan to play for their respective countries (Turkey and Serbia) in the coming months.
Ever since signing with the HEAT on May 14, Yurtseven has been in the team’s player development program and is looking forward to continuing to get better once his work with the Turkish National Team is complete.
“It’s been a grind, and it’s just getting started too. But I look forward to it, and I think it’s going to be a challenge…the three-point shooting has been a focus, of course, because bigs who can stretch the floor are a commodity right now,” Yurtseven said. “…it’s not just going to be developing that shot. It’s going to be rebounding, defending, everything that comes with it.”
Yurtseven then added, “I heard the summers are really brutal here, and it just gets me even more excited.”
Yup, he has the right idea.
Bjelica, meanwhile, obviously played more than Yurtseven and was really impressed with how Miami did things.
“When I got traded…I didn’t have a lot of time to learn the system. I was trying to give my best, and I think that I showed…I can play here, [and] I can fit very good,” Bjelica said. “This is a great organization. Those guys just want to win, the way how they handle things, how they take care of people, how they treat people, all this matters…so I think that Miami is one of the best organizations in the league, and I think everybody wants to play for this team.”
Eighteen seasons in, Udonis Haslem would probably agree with Bjelica’s sentiment. Though the OG didn’t play a whole lot this season, his work behind the scenes spoke volumes.
“What people don’t understand is [Erik Spoelstra] doesn’t praise me and these guys don’t listen to me just because I show up every day. I roll up my sleeves. I’m in the trenches, and I get it done…just because people don’t see it…doesn’t mean that work isn’t being done behind the scenes here…there’s a standard that has to be set, and I have to be able to keep up, and I have to be able to compete with these guys at a high level,” Haslem said. “Trust me: the day I can’t compete, and the day I can’t push these guys and do my job, then there’s no conversation to have. These guys listen to me because the body of work is still being put in. They’re not listening to me for what I did. They’re listening to me for what I can still do…I don’t have an offseason. I’m 40-years-old. If I take an offseason, I might as well retire, so I don’t have an offseason. Straight from the season, I’m going back into the gym.”
KZ Okpala will also be hitting the gym over the summer, as he finally has a “regular” offseason with Summer League and a full player development regimen.
“It’s a blessing that I do have a full offseason with Summer League and all that, so I accept my blessing, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” the former Stanford Cardinal said.
You remember who made his mark in Summer League not too long ago?
Duncan Robinson, who has turned that into back-to-back campaigns of 40-plus percent shooting from downtown on high volume. Seriously, he hit at least 200 treys in each of those years to become the only HEAT player to tally multiple 200-triple seasons.
That said, there’s another individual milestone he achieved this past season that stands out the most to him.
“I think probably the one I’m most proud of is just the fact that I played every game, being reliable and being somebody that the staff, the organization, my teammates can count on night in and night out,” Robinson said. “And that’s not to mean that I’m always going to make shots or do this or that but at least that I’m going to be in position to be in position, I guess, if you will. So, the fact that I was always available is something I’m proud of particularly. And then the shooting accomplishments kind of are what they are. [I] try to keep those in perspective as well, beneficiary of a lot of different things: great teammates, kind of the ever-changing NBA and the way the game’s trending.”
Until next time.