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.
I always played in the low post as a kid because I grew pretty quickly. When I was really young, I watched Shaq and how he played in the post, which is why I always wore number 34. Then as I got older, I would watch LeBron and how he played the game. I never really had a team that I followed growing up, I more just watched players to learn from their games.
I started playing basketball at a young age at the local YMCA. I improved pretty fast and it was always fun for me to play. I remember as kids playing all day basically at the YMCA and it was just the fun of the game that drew me in.
It wasn’t until seventh or eighth grade when I was featured in Sports Illustrated for Kids’ “Faces in the Crowd” page that I started to realize I could really do something with this game. A lot of people at that time were starting to give me a look and saying that I was a good player. It was at that point that I thought to myself if I just keep working hard, good things can happen with this.
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas you hear about University of Kansas a lot. In middle school I got the chance to go up to see some games on campus and be in Lawrence a lot. I got more and more comfortable with the campus and what they had with each visit and I just knew that Kansas is where I wanted to go to school.
The biggest transition for me once I stepped on campus my freshman year was realizing that with Coach Self all he wants is for you to play as hard as you can each and every possession whether you make a mistake or not. I just had to get past that initial phase of playing to not make mistakes and just go out there to just play. When I realized that and got into that mindset of just going out on the floor and playing, good things started to happen.
There are two big moments that I’ll always remember from my Kansas career. The first came towards the end of my freshman year at the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State. I had a really good game that night (23 points and 6 rebounds) and the fans started cheering my name which really gave me a lot of confidence moving forward. The second biggest thing for me is being able to win four Big 12 championships in my time at school. That’s not an easy thing to do and looking back on it now, it’s a great accomplishment. I’m very proud to have been a part of that winning tradition at Kansas.
When it came to my time at Kansas, the reason I stayed for all four years was I felt that I could do more each year and get better with every passing season. It just felt like the right decision to keep coming back each one of those years. That experience of being around the college game for four years definitely benefited me and helped me to become both a better player and a better person.
The NBA Draft Combine was a different experience, something that you can’t really understand or describe until you go through it really. Being in front of all the teams and all the different players who are trying to get on a team, it was different. But, different in a good way. I had the chance to get my feet wet before getting into the individual team workouts. As a player you always think that you can do better, but I think I performed pretty well out in Chicago.
How I see myself fitting into the NBA really depends on the team. I’m a guy that can play the three or the four, really whatever the team needs. I feel like I can mold myself depending on the team and what they need or want because I’m a versatile player.
The way the NBA game is now I think it really benefits my skill set. At Kansas, I was consistently catching the ball at the top of the key and being given the opportunity to do different things. Whether it was driving to the basket or pulling up for jumpers, I felt comfortable doing that. As I get ready for the NBA I’ve been working a lot on my perimeter game. Handling the ball, shooting from the outside and I’m feeling very comfortable out there. I think I can and play on the outside if I’m asked to do that. It will continue to be a work in progress, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable with each day.
The workouts have been going well and the feedback that I’ve been getting from teams has been good. I just go out there every time trying to compete and play my game. Teams really like the body of work that I put together in college. They like the fact that I produced in college but also am a guy with high character. You just never know what can happen, so I’m going to keep competing hard and playing my game, then go from there. I just want to have fun playing this game at a high level. The goal I have for myself is to take advantage of every day and keep working because you never know what can happen.