Kings Tip-Off 2014-15 Training Camp
Four years ago, Darren Collison was coming off a tremendous rookie season in New Orleans. The 21st-overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting after averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 assists per game.
That offseason in the Bayou, the young point guard met with members of the coaching staff, one of whom was Michael Malone, who came to the Hornets after five very successful years in Cleveland. Those initial conversations – which helped form a close bond between the two – weren’t about basketball though.
“He really wanted to know me as a person first,” admitted Collsion. “He did a good job… getting to know my family and people who I was close with. That’s one thing I respect about him – it wasn’t always basketball with him.”
Although the former UCLA Bruin was traded to Indiana before he had a chance to work with Malone in-season, their paths would cross again.
Fast forward to 2014 and the 6-foot, 160-pound speedster is dressed in a Sacramento penny as his second-year Head Coach [Malone] whistles for another sprint during the team’s first Training Camp practice.
The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native obliges. Dripping with sweat, No. 7 runs from one end of the practice facility to the other – always finishing first.
“I’m just trying to work like the next guy,” he stated afterwards. “It’s not about being first or being the first guy coming down, it’s just trying to work. You want to work your hardest and make sure it becomes contagious.”
Those leadership qualities are exactly what Malone and the Kings front office officials were looking for when they hit the free agent market.
“He knows what winning is about – that’s what I like about him,” said Sacramento’s leader.
Following the addition of veterans Carl Landry, Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans last season, Malone looked to add another key piece this summer. The fact that his team had the fewest combined playoff appearances in the League last year didn’t go unnoticed.
“To get a guy like Darren Collison, who’s been to the playoffs with quite a few teams, is only going to help us,” he said. “He knows what it takes. He knows how to build the proper work habits every day and I’m looking forward to him being one of the leaders of this team.”
Landry Looking to Return to Form:
Landry, the seventh-year pro had his first full practice with the team since sustaining a season-ending injury in February.
Malone applauded his effort after practice stating, “I think in the back of his mind he wasn’t sure – ‘Can I get through a whole practice?’ I’m not ready to say he’s 100-percent, but he’s getting really close. For him to go through a 2.5 hour contact practice and not have to sit out is a good sign."
Kings Staying Home:
With a full slate of traveling ahead of them, with stops in Canada, China, Las Vegas and San Antonio, the Kings decided to stay put in Sacramento for Training Camp this year. After last season’s trip to sunny Santa Barbara, the team spent Saturday prepping for a pair of sessions – one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
“I thought last year in Santa Barbara we had a great training camp,” admitted Malone. “Then we go 5-2 in preseason, things were going well and then we struggled in November and made a lot of changes.”
Although it’s year-two under Sacramento’s leader, 13 new players – who weren’t with the team last year – will have to adjust to the playbook and the calls.
“It’s going to take some time to create that chemistry and trust on the court,” stated Malone. “Getting guys used to playing with each other – that doesn’t happen overnight. Anything we can do in practice to accelerate that, we’re going to try to do.”
Fresh Off a Gold Medal:
DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay will be monitored throughout Training Camp as the team preps for their first preseason game, which will be in Toronto against the Raptors on Sunday, October 5th.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Malone. “If I need to hold back Rudy and DeMarcus because of their USA experience, then I will, but the great thing for us is that DeMarcus averaged 13 minutes a game and Rudy averaged 12. They don’t have a lot of wear and tear – a lot of traveling – but I don’t think their bodies were overused.”
The duo’s recent stint with Team USA – which allowed each to collect a gold medal – gives them world-class training heading into 2014-15.
“I can take what I learned this summer and take it back to my young guys, spread some wisdom,”
said Cousins at media day on Friday. “This is a great chance for us to build chemistry.”
Malone on McLemore:
The Kings second-year head coach knows he has two explosive shooting guards on his squad this year. After a number change in the offseason, Ben McLemore looks to improve upon his rookie campaign. The Wellston, Mo. native started 55 games last year and averaged 9.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.6 steals per contest. Finishing the season with a career-high 31 points and 5 assists against Phoenix, flashing his potential.
“He just needs to continue to work on his jump-shot, his ball-handling, his passing decisions and becoming a better defender this year,” stated Malone. “He has all the physical tools to be a good defender in the NBA. He’s been through it, but from a mental standpoint now he has to lock in every night and know who he’s guarding so he can shut those guys down.”
Rookie Nik Stauskas didn’t have a second to look around and appreciate his first official practice with all of his teammates.
“It was pretty fast-paced,” he admitted. “But I feel like that is the first-day jitters. Getting out there, everyone is going faster than they normally go.”
Yet, he fit in with the rest of them.
“I feel very comfortable, especially after Summer League and playing with DeMarcus and Rudy,” said Stauskas. “They were there for part of Mini-Camp and we got to practice with them a little bit. Obviously, being in Sacramento for the last couple of weeks the veterans have trickled back in. So I feel comfortable and confident right now playing with everyone.”
The 20-year old guard, who helped lead the Michigan Wolverines to back-to-back NCAA Tournament Elite 8 berths – including an NCAA Championship game appearance in 2013, found his groove from long range and may have found his niche on the team.
“They told me what they wanted me to do coming in,” said Stauskas. “Whether it’s knocking down shots or moving the ball – those are two things they struggled at last year, three-point shooting and assists.”
No. 10 admitted a full summer with the team and a few weeks around the facilities prior to Training Camp helped him acclimate. Now, it’s his turn to show what he can do.
“I know I’m going to get minutes on this team,” stated No. 10. “Whether that’s as a starter or coming off the bench, I’m OK with it. I’m just trying to play my role and work as hard as I can. If I do those two things, eventually things will work out in my favor.”
The Kings continue two-a-days Sunday in Sacramento, with exactly one week until the team tips for real in the preseason against Toronto.