For a few weeks now, I’ve wanted to write a letter to GMs making my case for the NBA draft. I know that I’ll be kicking myself later if I don’t stand up now and say what I want to say.
Today’s the day. So let’s do this thing.
Actually, I’ve written a few versions of this letter. The first was short. Like really short. I counted it. It was 15 words.
Dear NBA GMs,
I’m the best shooter in this year’s draft class.
I actually liked this version a lot. It had two things going for it: It was concise and it was true.
And yeah: I really do believe I’m the best midrange and three-point shooter available this year. In my workouts for a handful of NBA teams this spring, I shot the hell out of the ball. I think they got to see what I can do.
But I felt like a one-sentence message didn’t really strike the right tone. For one thing, it’s not really my style to be self-promoting. My parents raised me to be confident, but not cocky. More than that, though, I’ve always believed that my game spoke louder than my words ever could. I mean, if something’s good, you don’t need to talk it up, right?
I still mostly believe that. But now it’s draft week. And from the moment the college basketball season ended, I’ve had my eye on one goal — to sharpen my body and mind for the NBA.
I know my game is NBA-ready. Now I just need a GM to recognize it.
I’ve gotten a lot of good advice lately. Some of it I sought out and some of it came from people who were generous enough to give it to me out of the blue. And it seems like everyone has a different idea about how to best convince a GM (or a coach or a scout) that I deserve a spot on his team.
Like, take Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, my old Wisconsin teammates who were mentors of mine there. They have been super supportive this whole year. Sam and Frank have both told me that I am capable of playing against the guys they’re playing against in the league right now — players with several years of NBA experience … which was really encouraging. And as much as Frank and Sam can be goofy, they wouldn’t be just blowing smoke. Not about this. They’re pretty honest dudes.
The boldest piece of advice that I’ve received (and also possibly my favorite) came from a basketball trainer named Idan Ravin. Idan is well known because he works with some of the best players in the NBA, so when I ran into him this spring while I was working out at UCLA, I was surprised that he knew who I was.
I’d just arrived to get some shots up at a gym on the UCLA campus and I heard someone shouting my name in the hallway.
This was my first time meeting him, though, so I wasn’t exactly prepared for his … way with words.
Anyone who knows Idan knows he’s very direct.
“You know what you should tell every GM you meet?”
“Tell them you have big balls.”
Wait, what? I legit thought I heard him wrong at first and just laughed it off.
But I hadn’t heard him wrong. He was 100% serious. He was right up in my face like we were doing a defensive drill.
He said he’d watched my games closely last year. And his advice to me, as he went on to explain, was to emphasize to GMs that I’m a gamer — to let them know that I have the clutch gene. That I’m not afraid of the big moment.
He turned to leave, but he wasn’t finished.
“Balls,” he repeated as he walked away.
I had a lot of big moments in my career with the Badgers. And there’s a lot of facets of my game that I believe have gone sort of underappreciated heading into the draft. To name a few:
- I’m a winner. I’ve proven that I can win at the highest levels of D-I ball. In my four years at Wisconsin, I played in two Final Fours and two Sweet Sixteens, and we won 117 games.
- I’m a leader. I not only led on the court, but I tried to be a leader as a person, too. This year I was honored to accept the 2017 Most Courageous Award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association for my support of the Native people protesting at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.
- I can shoot it from deep. I’m Wisconsin’s all-time leader in made three-pointers.
- In a ranking of isolation points per games of the 2016-17 NCAA season, I finished third highest overall in the country (among power conference players).
- I’m not just a shooter. I ran the point every year in college, as well as on pretty much every team I’ve ever played for. I’m just as comfortable bringing the ball up the floor and running an offense as I am playing off the ball.
- The pick-and-roll game in the NBA is perfectly tailored to my game. If a big switches off on a ball screen, I can knock down the midrange shot every single time. Or hit the roll guy for a pop, or for a pocket pass to the rim. I went to a Suns game last spring and my jaw was on the floor from seeing all the open shots that the guards got. At Wisconsin I never got to play the fast, open style that I’m best at because our system was focused on getting the ball inside. In college, I can count on two hands all the wide-open shots I got. But I’m grateful that I learned how to move without the ball.
- I want the big shot. I want the ball at the end of games. I’ve proven I can hit those shots.
- I didn’t get invited to the NBA Draft Combine, but don’t overlook my physical testing numbers. When you compare my shuttle run, agility and vertical jump numbers to those of the rest of the guys in this year’s draft class, I rank in the top 10 in each category. That includes this year’s prospective lottery picks.
- If drafted, I’d be one of — if not the only — true blood Native American players to ever play in the NBA.
But enough of that. Focusing on that sort of stuff would be a little too one-dimensional for the kind of letter I want to write — just as tone-deaf as declaring that I’m the best shooter in the draft. Not that it’s untrue … it’s just that it’s stuff that every GM can already see.
It’s what they already know about me. Thing is, so much of basketball is about what you don’t see. My biggest strength is in the work that no one but me knows I’m doing.
With me, you’re getting so much more than just what you see.
Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Images
Last summer, I found myself working out at a gym in L.A. with Michael B. Jordan, the actor. It turns out we both shared the same trainer, Corey Calliet. So we worked out together a few times.
After one workout, we got to talking.
This was the first time I had ever spent any time in L.A. I grew up in a small town on the Mississippi River. I’m a Midwest kid through and through. Part of me didn’t believe you could actually run into famous actors in L.A.
And you have to understand — this was only a year after Creed had come out. So I’ve got to admit that I was a little bit starstruck by this guy who was seemingly so down to earth … this celebrity who was working out alongside me in a random gym in L.A. on a random weekday.
So I asked him about what it was like living in Hollywood and being at the top of his profession. I figured that he must be in clubs with other celebrities all the time. You know, living it up. I mean, damn, he deserves that, right? He’d been in Fruitvale Station and then starred in Creed, all within a couple years. He’d just been named best actor by the National Society of Film Critics.
But he said that he actually didn’t do that sort of thing very often.
“I’m good on all that,” he said. And then he proceeded to tell me something that I wasn’t expecting. He told me that if I really wanted to be successful, that I had to be O.K. with being alone, with staying home and working on my craft to the point of it becoming an obsession.
Soon he was on a roll. You could tell how serious he was about the subject.
The misconception, he went on, is that successful people are constantly out and about, traveling the world, going out all night, all of that.
One phrase he used really stuck with me. It kind of just stopped me in my tracks right there in the gym. I’m serious.
“Learn the art of being antisocial.”
Something changed in me after that. I’ve always valued hard work, but I’ve taken my self-discipline to another level since last summer. Ever since then, I’ve been living in Hollywood — a city with unlimited distractions for a person my age — but I’ve been living like a monk.
Two days ago, I worked out with the Warriors in Oakland — my last workout before the draft. Afterwards, I put up a photo on Instagram about my workout — it was me with the Warriors logo in the background, like I was doing a press conference. I don’t gram that often but I was proud of the moment.
A few minutes later, I got a notification that someone had commented on the picture. It was Michael B. Jordan. He’d said some words of encouragement about the upcoming draft. My mind immediately went to that day last summer in the gym. To the art of being antisocial.
That’s when it kind of all clicked for me — and when I knew what to tell NBA GMs about what separates me from the pack: I’m the guy who’s been willing to sacrifice everything extra in my life for the pursuit of this game.
Let me tell you: it’s tedious as hell. It’s monotonous. It’s boring. It’s lonely. Michael said it would be, but damn. He’s right. Anyone who’s worked obsessively on their craft knows what I mean. You wake up early. You work alone. You eat alone. You stick to a super strict schedule and a strict diet. You definitely don’t do anything for “fun.” And you’re dead tired by the end of the day. Then you do it all again the next morning.
And you have to fall in love with that process.
I’ve been doing that since the week after I played my last game for Wisconsin.
Which reminds me of another Michael Jordan. My strength coach for four years at Wisconsin, Erik Helland, worked with the Bulls for 26 years before coming to Madison. It was pretty cool to get to spend four years with him— a guy who worked with MJ — and to hear him say that he thinks I’m an NBA-caliber player.
Coach Helland instilled in me that you have to carry yourself like a professional every day. Taking care of your body, your game, your mind — it’s a lifestyle, not a hobby. Coach gave me a lot of little pieces of advice, but my favorite is this: “You’ve gotta be willing to do what the other man isn’t.” He must have said that to me a thousand times over four years. Now it’s ingrained.
There’s one last thing I’m thinking about now that it’s draft day. It’s about a message I got in December from an NBA player who was picked last in the draft a few years back.
He was writing to wish me good luck in my senior season. This is the last thing he wrote to me: “At the end of the day outwork the competition and take what you think is yours. I always believed if Ima go out, Ima go out doing it the way I know how.”
This was coming from a guy who teams had overlooked with the first 59 picks. I can’t stress that enough: He was just not on anybody’s radar. And even when he was drafted he had to work like hell to prove he belonged. Then he got traded twice in his first four years. No one predicted he’d become an All-Star.
It gave me chills, I’m telling you.
That guy was Isaiah Thomas.
Just goes to show that there’s more to a basketball player than first meets the eye.
In summary, I can shoot the rock, I’m athletic and I have a high basketball IQ. But more than all of that, I’m obsessed with work.
I want to look myself in the mirror each day and say: What do you really want and are you doing everything possible to achieve it? I know there are a lot of guys in this draft that aren’t working as hard as I am — and it’s going to stay that way. And in my mind, that’s the key to success. It’s not somewhere you arrive at all of a sudden one day. It’s something you pursue.
As my favorite rapper Nipsey Hussle would say: TMC.
The Marathon Continues.
But don’t take it from him or from me.
Ask Adonis Creed. You can usually find him in the gym.