HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (NEW JERSEY BUREAU) — The days after the NBA Draft are the time for fans and reporters to get to know their team’s new players.
Team executives, of course, have nothing but good things to say about the guys they picked. They’re quick to tell you that they had the player(s) higher on their draft board than the spot at which they were actually selected.
These players will prove some of the executives right, and they’ll prove some of them wrong. For now, let’s just learn about the league’s new faces…
Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer takes us back to the childhood of No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, in a must-read profile…
Though he is just 19, his life already has been filled with sadness and success. There have been many changes and an equal number of accomplishments thanks in large part to his father, Drederick, known as Dred.
“After my name was called [Thursday], I wanted to hug my father for 10 minutes, knowing that all the hard work had led to this moment,” Irving said.
Irving, who promised his father he would earn his degree in five years, comes across as intelligent, polite and mature for his age. His father calls him an “old soul.” On Thursday at the NBA draft in New Jersey, and then again on Friday in Cleveland, that father stayed mostly in the background watching and trying to come to terms with what has happened.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News profiles new Spur Kawhi Leonard…
Though still only a teenager, Leonard has learned the hard way not to take life for granted.
As a high school freshman in Moreno Valley, Calif., Leonard didn’t play basketball because he couldn’t find a ride to tryouts. In 2008, Leonard’s father, Mark, was shot and killed at the Los Angeles carwash where he worked, and where young Kawhi had spent countless afternoons helping scrub exteriors.
For Leonard, it was a brutish lesson in how the world can change in an instant. Fast forward to Saturday morning in San Antonio.
“I woke up on an NBA team,” Leonard said.
Leonard’s forte is defense and rebounding, a skill set that dovetails with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s stated goal of restoring the team’s defensive edge.
“It’s not like they’re going to have to tell me to play defense,” Leonard said. “I already take pride in it.”
Michael Lee of the Washington Post wonders if Wizards fans will love Jan Vesely as much as the fans of Partizan Belgrade do…
Jan Vesely’s final game with Partizan Belgrade was coming to a close nearly three weeks ago, his club well on its way toward winning its 10th consecutive Serbian title. He went to the bench, hugged and high-fived his teammates, and was overwhelmed by the sound. For several minutes, thousands of fans at Pionir Hall bobbed up and down — including a handful waving lit flares — and most were serenading Vesely, screaming his name.
“Ve-se-ly! Ve-se-ly! They chanted to him like he was the king,” said James Gist, the former Good Counsel and Maryland star who was a teammate of the Washington Wizards’ top choice in the 2011 draft last season in Serbia, as he recalled the scene in the closing seconds of the championship game against Hemofarm. “He was the face of Partizan. He was Partizan’s icon.”
Vesely didn’t let the moment go to waste, as he applauded the fans right back, hopped up on the scorer’s table and boisterously pumped his fists. When fans mobbed the floor afterward, Vesely began jumping with them, and it wasn’t long before he was nearly disrobed, still gleefully bouncing around.
“That was the best moment,” Vesely said with a grin. “I really liked that.”
The easy comparison of Butler’s story is drawn to “The Blind Side,” Michael Lewis‘ best-selling book and later a movie about Michael Oher, the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2009.
Butler bounced around on his own for four years, but he spent his senior year of high school and then breaks and summers from Tyler (Texas) Junior College and Marquette University with the Lamberts.
Unlike Oher, Butler never talked about his situation until predraft interviews with NBA executives. He shared it sparingly with others throughout his teenage years. His high school coach didn’t know Butler’s situation until he moved in with the Lamberts. Marquette teammates didn’t ask him much about his upbringing until Michelle Lambert, who is white, and Michael Lambert, who is black, showed up for Senior Night.
“I’m not used to people knowing my story. When people ask me, I’m still hesitant to talk about it. … I just wanted to be a normal person with a normal family.”