The 2016 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, June 23rd. As the stars of the college game get ready to find out where they will begin their NBA journey, CBS Local Sports’ “My Life As” series will give them an opportunity to talk about how they got to this point and what they expect from the future in their own words.
If I had to describe my game, I would use two words: I would say ‘versatile’ and I would say ‘winner’. I would use those two words because, with versatile, I’ve experienced a lot of different roles throughout my life and especially playing basketball. My freshman and sophomore year at Notre Dame I played off the ball a lot more where I was spotting up, coming off down screens and playing almost like a No. 2 guard and not maneuvering in the ball screen as much. So knowing how to move, knowing how to relocate, that sort of thing. Also, my junior year this past year, I had to score a lot more, had to facilitate the screen and roll a lot more, so two completely different roles has made me versatile.
Then I’d say winner, too, because I always just want to win. Whatever it requires of me, whatever my team needs, whatever my coach needs me to do, whatever it is to win the game, that’s what I’ve always been willing to do. So if I need to pick a guy up 94 feet in order for us to win, that’s what I’m going to do. If I need to score the ball more, if I need to pass the ball more, if I need to rebound more, whatever it takes. That’s just always been my thing and that’s what I’m hoping to bring with me to the next level.
So far the entire draft process has been awesome. Every single city I’ve been to is a place I’ve never been before and that whole experience of just going somewhere new, seeing and traveling the country a little bit, that’s been really neat to just go see new places. And besides that the workouts have been really good.
One thing I always try to do is learn. I always try to pick brains and just develop and try to understand and strengthen my IQ of the game. Even though they’re workouts and you need to look good and you want to look good and do well, I’ve also been trying to get better at the workouts because that’s what they’re for.
I grew up in South Bend and I was kind of just oblivious to everything outside of backyard basketball at the playground. Growing up I never really thought about college, never really thought about the next level until I got a little older and got to a level where I started thinking about it more. But I’ve always been the type of player that when I turn on the game – regardless of who’s playing – I’m trying to learn and trying to watch. I’ve always been very observant, so when I turn on the game I’m just watching how the players carry themselves, watching how the guards come around the ball screen, just watching everything and adjusting accordingly.
When I was in high school, our big man was 6 foot 4 inches, so we didn’t really have a ‘big’, so to say, especially since at the next level guys are 6 foot 11 inches and 7 foot. So I didn’t have a lot of screens for me and I didn’t have a lot of off the ball screens and I wasn’t making post entries, so because of the difference between my high school and the players from one level to the next, I had to learn to do all of those little things.
Once I got to Notre Dame, I had to learn to do all those little things like making the post feed, executing the screen and roll, throwing lobs to the big man, because I never had thrown lobs to a big guy. You know, just really understanding the floor more completely because the higher the level you go the more you really need to be able to understand the floor as a point guard.
At Notre Dame, coach Brey has been really important to my development and he’s just helped me understand the game a lot more. We’d spend a lot of time in the gym where he’d be the big man and I’d make a post feed to him and then move off the post, that sort of thing. As a point guard – since he was a point guard himself – he really helped me understand the game a lot more from that standpoint and I still have a lot more improvement to do but he really put me on the right track for that.
Also, he helped me learn a great deal off the court, from just making sure I’m handling my business in the classroom, which was really important for me, to making sure I’m doing what I need to do on an every day basis. He was just a great influence for me and I’m really thankful to have had him, because every situation is different and he really allowed me to be who I am on and off the court and I think that’s helped me get to where I am today.
We had such a great group off the court and on the court at Notre Dame and that made it all the more special. On the court, I have a tie for my three favorite moments. The first one would be the ACC Championship. Being able to win the championship, cut the nets, put your hat on, dance a little bit, that sort of thing was incredible.
It’s hard to really beat that feeling of seeing everyone cut down the nets, dancing, seeing all the people who are behind the scenes who put in a lot of hard work to get you where you are. Guys such as the assistant coaches, the strength and conditioning coach, the trainer – everybody’s name gets called and they’re all the people who supported you and helped you get to where you are.
You know how strength coaches are, super tough, like, hard-nosed guys? To see our strength coach just smile and you know, he almost teared up. I mean, to see that and to see our assistant coach, coach Soloman, he kind of went through and did a little dance, too. To see everybody like that and see how proud everyone was of this accomplishment that we had as a group, not just the players but as a group, was really cool.
That’s what made it a really difficult decision to declare for the draft this year. Those memories and because of the relationships that you develop over time.
But the thing is that those relationships don’t die because you make a decision to make that next step in your life. This has been a really positive experience for me to just kind of make that next step. I have a great support system and I always try to educate myself before I make big decisions like the one I had to make. I just tried to educate myself by talking with coach Brey, talking with my teammates, talking with my family and that sort of thing. I came to the conclusion that it was the best thing for me to take that next step in my life and chase that dream.
When you step back and you think about it, it’s crazy. You go into these different places and all these people are watching and these are people that go into hopefully selecting you.
I still remember the first time that I believed that I could play at the next level. The person who helped me understand that if I continue to work hard and that I could accomplish something I wanted to accomplish was my AAU coach, Rod Creech.
He and I, we’d have a lot of individual workouts and my workouts were a lot harder and a lot longer than any of the other kids. Through our time together and my place of sanctuary being basketball, he really helped instill that belief in me that the hard work would pay off; maybe not pay off tomorrow or the day after or the week after, but down the line it would pay off and you can accomplish what you want to with hard work and the right head on your shoulders.
As I was going through different foster homes growing up, I was on the AAU team, so coach Creech was kind of this father figure for me and a role model. He’s been my role model ever since and not just because of how he taught me to play the game but beyond that, how he is as a father to his kids, how he treats his wife. He’s the perfect dad, he’s the whole thing all-around and that’s just something you strive to be some day and it’s something I hope to be some day. I want to be a great husband for my future wife and a great father for my future kids, so I definitely look up to him for that as well.
I also have to give my foster parents, the Whitfields, a ton of credit because without them I wouldn’t be in this situation. They took me into their home, gave me a roof over my head and a place to call home and a loving family. They supported me throughout everything so I definitely have to give thanks to my foster parents.
Now that draft day is almost here, I’m still not sure exactly what I’ll be doing that day. Whether I’m in New York or in Chicago or whether it’s at home or something is still to be determined. It’d be really neat to experience it in New York, that’s something you always think about and dream about. Being able to walk out and hear your name get called, put on the hat. That’d be really cool. But my expectations, I just try and make the best of every situation so I’m gonna go, have fun, smile and enjoy the moment. People talk about the draft range, where you could be and I just try to control the things that i can control, try to work hard every day to get better and leave the hard stuff to everybody else.