Posts Tagged ‘Florida Gators’

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Greene Grinding His Way Back




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Orien Greene lights up when talking about his high school and college glory days. He battled Miami Heat star Udonis Haslem while starring at Gainesville High and then joined forces with Haslem and fellow NBA stars David Lee and Matt Bonner during his first two college seasons playing for the hometown Florida Gators, all of them destined for long and fruitful careers on basketball’s biggest stage.

But unlike his former teammates, Greene’s path to the league has been littered with detours that he never imagined would be a part of his experience. And both Haslem and Bonner had scrap and claw their way into the league before becoming mainstays for contenders, Bonner in San Antonio.

So when Greene tells you he’s cherishing every minute of his latest attempt to make it back to the NBA, you know it’s coming from the right place.

“It’s definitely gone by in a blur. I can remember playing against Udonis in high school like it was yesterday,” Greene, 30, said of the hoops odyssey he’s been on for the better part of the last decade. “The time goes by just like that.”

Greene has had his taste of the league. The Boston Celtics selected him with the 53rd overall pick in the 2005 Draft, he finished his college career at Louisiana Lafayette, and spent his first season in the NBA as a backup point guard to Delonte West. But poor decision-making off the court cost him his spot on a young Celtics team, one that would be broken up later by the assembly of the famed Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

(more…)

Wizards’ Beal Caps Off Summer League, Eager To Pair Up With Wall

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
 

 

LAS VEGAS — Bradley Beal was still smiling after his five games in Las Vegas, but hardly satisfied.

“It was fun and at the same time it was a learning process,” said Beal, who the Wizards took with the No. 3 pick in the 2012 Draft. “The working doesn’t stop. I always have to get better. I was happy, but I wasn’t happy with my performance.”

Beal had a solid but not spectacular Summer League, averaging 17.6 points and 4.6 rebounds while struggling at times with his shot, finishing at 41.7 percent from the floor. Beal averaged 30 minutes of action, giving the Wizards staff a long look at their shooting guard of the future.

“He’s got great composure,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t tell if the kid scored 30 points or one point. He makes right decisions. He makes the extra pass if he doesn’t have it — almost sometimes too unselfish. But when you’ve got a guy with that character, a coach likes to have that.”

Wittman spoke highly of the Florida guard for his ability in the pick-and-roll and looks forward to seeing how he and point guard John Wall work together in the backcourt.

He’s not the only one.

“I think it will be great, honestly,” Beal said of playing with the Wall, who sat courtside for Tuesday’s game. “We just want to win. That’s our mentality. We want to try to make each other better every day. That’s what he wants, that’s what I want. I think our chemistry is already building. I really can’t wait to play alongside him.”

Beal showed off his ability to score in a variety of ways and seemed to improve in the pick-and-roll throughout the Wizards’ five games. Beal found success using the high screen, repeatedly knocking down the elbow jumper or continuing down the lane for the easy layup or dunk.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see him use pick and rolls,” Wittman said. “At Florida, he didn’t really play the pick-and-roll game much because he was playing small forward so we wanted to see that. I like what I saw.”

Beal says he’s looking forward to settling in to the D.C. area, and hopes to move in at least a month before training camp opens in the end of September.

“This was just a taste for him,” Wittman said. “You hope to see a guy get comfortable as the week goes on and I think he did. Now we’re going to be able to show him some things that we can work on so at camp he’ll have an idea of what to expect”