Talking With Nathan Jawai
y Mike Ulmer
July 31, 2008
From Banaga, a settlement of 2000 people at the very northern tip of Australia’s Cape York Settlement, comes Aussie prospect Nathan Jawai.
The rights to the 21-year-old forward as well as centrepiece Jermaine O’Neal were traded by the Indiana Pacers in the deal that sent T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and first rounder Roy Hibbert to the Midwest. Aside from one season at junior college, Jawai learned his trade playing in semi-professional Australian leagues.
The Raptors signed Jawai, a six-foot-nine, 280-pound forward, to a two-year-deal and plan on developing him into a rugged power forward.
We wanted to talk with Jawai over lunch, but a fire alarm in his hotel room kept him housebound. That seemed to be as good a place as anywhere to start.
Mike Ulmer: We are doing this interview by phone because the elevator in your hotel isn’t working. What are your first impressions of Canada?
Nathan Jawai: The city is great. My first impression was that it was different from the U.S. I like Canada because it seems more like back home and I’m enjoying that. I love the city, the people are friendly. I’m in love with the city.
Mike Ulmer: Have you ever met Shaquille O’Neal?
Nathan Jawai: No.
Mike Ulmer: He is as big as one human being can be. People call you the Aussie Shaq or Baby Shaq. What do you think of that nickname?
Nathan Jawai: I really don’t like that nickname at all. He’s one of the best players in the league. I am not as big as him; I’m only six-foot-nine. I don’t weigh as much as him. We have a different style of game. The only reason people called me that was that I could dunk the ball really easy. It was a nickname people gave me. I didn’t like that nickname at all.
Mike Ulmer: You won’t hear it from me again.
Nathan Jawai: (Laughing) I hope not.
Mike Ulmer: When a six-nine man says he doesn’t like his nickname, you don’t repeat it. It’s just the way it works. You were the 41st player chosen in the draft. What were your thoughts about going where you went in the second round?
Nathan Jawai: Going in the second round and getting traded to Toronto was something I never knew would happen. I was happy that I did get traded here. I like the organization, Sam’s style of coaching. But getting drafted where I was kind of motivates me to work hard because I didn’t expect to drop that far. It’s funny. When I was drafted by Indiana, I couldn’t understand why because I didn’t work out for them. It’s all panned out really well and I’m happy where I am right now.
Mike Ulmer: Are Australians just like Canadians?
Nathan Jawai: Yeah. The Australians are a bit more outgoing. It’s a nice country. There’s not a lot of crime and stuff. City life is way too different in the U.S. That’s why I love it in Toronto.
Mike Ulmer: How old were you when you first picked up a basketball?
Nathan Jawai: I was 16… turning 17.
Mike Ulmer: How did that happen?
Nathan Jawai: One of the great indigenous basketball players from Australia, a man named Danny Morseu, came up to my home which is North of Cairns (in Northeast Australia). He asked me to join the National program, the Australian Basketball Association team they put in the Australian semi-pro league. I did that my first year. The second year, I played for the Cairns Taipans and my love for the game grew from that point on.
Mike Ulmer: What other sports did you play? Did you play footy?
Nathan Jawai: I played rugby, schoolyard rugby. I played all kinds of sports, cricket, soccer, Australian Rules Football.
Mike Ulmer: You are from the Bamaga Aboriginal and Islander Settlement. That’s in Cape York Peninsula. Tell me about your background?
Nathan Jawai: There are two types of culture that qualify as indigenous. There’s aboriginal and then there’s Torres Strait. I’m from Torres Strait but we are all classed as one indigenous people.
Mike Ulmer: What did your parents do?
Nathan Jawai: My Mom works for a hospital and my Dad’s kind of retired.
Mike Ulmer: Tell me about your game?
Nathan Jawai: I do a lot of things good, but not great. I can score if I want to score. I like to rebound and bang bodies. I love to play physically. The defense, the shot-blocking has to get better. When I was in Australia, I scored the ball a lot more. Here it will be more of the dirty work, playing defense, blocking shots.
Mike Ulmer: This is a team with two great big men in Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal. Your job is to work with them and against them in practice.
Nathan Jawai: That’s right. I’m playing behind Chris and Jermaine. They’re two all-stars and I look forward to learning a lot from them.
Mike Ulmer: Chris and Jermaine are different players. Jermaine is more physical. Chris is more of a finesse player. Competing every day against players with two different styles should help your development.
Nathan Jawai: I can play a finesse style of game and a physical style of game. That’s the great thing about having them here. I can learn different ways to score, different ways to defend, different ways to be physical from Chris and Jermaine.