August 29, 2013
Anthony Davis laughs when he tells the story of watching fellow 2012 New Orleans lottery pick Austin Rivers angrily exit the Alario Center on Wednesday, following a series of New Orleans Pelicans pickup games. After Rivers’ team had prevailed during heated 5-on-5 fullcourt play earlier in the week, Davis’ squad returned the favor Wednesday with a 3-0 sweep in games. Rivers’ entire squad, but in particular the 21-year-old shooting guard, was furious.
“Austin is a big competitor – as soon as it was over, he showered and left,” an amused Davis said with a grin. “He didn’t say anything to anyone. Their whole team didn’t talk to us the rest of the day.”
Although Pelicans training camp is still one month away, the atmosphere during the team’s recent voluntary workouts has been closer to that of mid-season intensity. With a large group of players choosing to come to New Orleans for ultra-early preparations, they’ve nearly been able to put 10 current Pelicans players on the floor at once. For example, there were nine Pelicans at the Alario Center on Thursday, including Davis, Rivers, Tyreke Evans, Darius Miller, Arinze Onuaku, Brian Roberts, Jason Smith, Lance Thomas and Jeff Withey.
“It’s very competitive,” Davis said of the intrasquad games, which will shift to the team’s brand-new Metairie practice facility next week. “There’s been that competitive spirit. We usually switch (the teams) every day, but this week it got so competitive and everybody loved their teams, so I just told them to keep it the same. They were trying to kill us, and later on we tried to kill them. I can tell this team is coming along very well.”
“I think this is big,” said Evans, drenched in sweat after running on one of the New Orleans Saints’ outdoor fields during a humid 80-degree morning. “It shows what we’ve got planned for our season. We want to be a winning team. We want to make the playoffs. We know it’s not going to be easy in our first year, but there is definitely a push in my mind to make the playoffs.”
“Our level of dedication is so high,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s really invested. We’re not settling for mediocrity anymore. We owe it to ourselves, the city and the franchise. We’re going to put in all of the work to get better.”
For new Pelicans like Evans, Onuaku and Withey, the conditioning, weightlifting and pickup games have been an opportunity to get more acquainted with teammates. Evans has friendships with Pelicans guards Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, but was relatively unfamiliar with the rest of the team, other than from playing against them in his four previous NBA seasons.
“I’ve played with some of these guys on the AAU circuit,” Evans said. “I just met (Anthony Davis), but he’s a good guy. We work well together and get along. Austin, too.”
“We’re developing (chemistry) well,” Davis said of his interaction with Evans, a pickup-game teammate at the Alario Center all week. “(On Wednesday) we ran a pick-and-roll play to perfection. He was like, ‘That’s how you run a pick-and-roll!’
“I’m very excited. This group works hard. Guys don’t have to be here. This is all voluntary. But everybody’s here to work. When you have guys on their own time who want to work, it says a lot about us.”