To the city of Indianapolis, and to Pacers fans everywhere…..
Thank you so much for the warm welcome, for real. I read ALL of your messages last night — y’all being excited has me excited.
It’s been a pretty wild journey for me to get to this point…. and it kind of feels like one chapter is coming to a close now, while this other one is just beginning. And so I thought it might be a cool idea to write a few things down — just to mark the moment, in a way, and show my gratitude.
And maybe to help you get to know your 2020 Draft Pick a little bit.
Here’s a few thoughts on where I’m at, and what I’m about:
(1) I love sports.
No, I don’t think you understand: I love sports. I’m obsessed with sports. Like….. I’m not one of these dudes who just had a growth spurt, realized he was 6' 6" or whatever, and then decided to give hooping a try.
I’m here, first and foremost, because basketball is what I live and breathe.
(2) One play I’m always proud of, that I think reflects who I am as a player, was in my junior year of high school — state semifinals.
So we’re one game away from the California state championship, and we’re down late. It’s all coming down to the final play. And let’s be honest: a lot of people here are probably expecting me to tell a story about how I hit some game-winning shot.
But that’s not the case.
Nah. See, we had me on our team, and I was one of our leaders for sure — but we also had this guy Duane Washington, who’s a really good player (he’s at Ohio State now). And my mentality in that moment was, listen: I’m always ready to take the big shot. But my top priority? It’s to make the winning play. And the way we figured it, drawing it up, with my athleticism and being able to see over the defense and whatnot, we were going to run a play with me as the full-court inbound passer, and my role was to hit Duane in the perfect spot for him to get in space for a bucket.
Basically the Grant Hill to Christian Laettner Play, right?? But I actually think ours was harder, because Duane was double-teamed. And I had to basically drop a dime, right in his hands, over two defenders. (You know what, maybe it was more like Kyler to D-Hop.) Anyway — I hit that pass, Duane hit his shot, we tied it up, won in 2OT, and went on to a state title.
I’m always ready to take the big shot. But my top priority? It’s to make the winning play.
(3) I know my history.
If you think I’m too young to be referencing Grant Hill to Christian Laettner — you’re right. That play happened seven years before I was born. But at the same time, a classic like that, it’s kind of a good way for me to show you what I’m about. Because I’m all about respecting the classics. I’m all about learning from my OGs.
I grew up being the type of kid whose idea of a fun night could easily just be watching the replay of an old NBA game — and I’m still that way. The other night, I was watching some random Bulls vs. Hawks matchup from the late 1980s…. and it blew me away. Of course, real heads, they already know why: late ’80s Bulls vs. Hawks means Michael vs. Dominique.
It was unbelievable. Those dudes were at the absolute peak of their powers, and they just went at it, tip to buzzer.
It was like the type of battles you’d have with your friends in the driveway, growing up — when it’s first to 21, you’re going shot for shot, and it’s WAR. Only this was on that NBA stage. Levels and levels to greatness.
(4) Actually, while I’ve got this platform, I have a hot take for you all.
Last Dance era Mike? He was nice. I mean, he was more than nice — late-’90s Mike is about as iconic as it gets. But still I’ll tell you what: late-’80s MJ?? Young, wiry Mike?? That might be my favorite version of the man. That might be the GOAT’s GOAT era.
It’s crazy, the stuff that Michael was pulling off. One thing I noticed is how efficient he was with the ball. Sometimes it would be two dribbles to his spot and then elevation. Or it would be three dribbles, direct to the rim. Maybe one quick in-and-out, or one crossover, max — but even those moves, every time, you could tell he was setting up his finish.
Late-’80s MJ?? Young, wiry Mike?? That might be my favorite version of the man.
And that’s been a really big lesson for me, from watching Michael in his younger years, that I’m trying to emulate: A lot of people, they see one scouting report on you, and they write you off as all flash. “Just an athlete.” But I think I’m going to be able to show people that athleticism like I have can be a weapon in surprising ways. It can be something that helps with efficiency on both ends of the court.
(5) There’s this rumor going around that I started dunking in ninth grade — but it’s not true.
I started dunking in sixth grade.
Well, technically it was the summer before seventh grade. A couple of days before orientation.
I think it was a situation where, like, they needed a few volunteers to pop into school that day to help set things up. So I was hanging around the gym doing my volunteer thing, I’m in my Sierra Canyon “uniform” — collared shirt + khaki shorts (no board shorts) + Vans — and of course you know there’s a ball out. And it’s a bunch of us just messing around.
O.K. so backtrack for one second: I had this thing, I don’t even know how or why it started, where I was just like — one of my big goals was to dunk before I started middle school. I wanted that so bad. So for all of sixth grade, and the summer before seventh grade, that had been one of the main things I’d get up to. Trying and trying to dunk. But pretty much all my tries up to that point were ending the same: clank, in and out, almost like an invisible hand was stuffing me at the rim. Like I was a few inches short, but I might as well have been a few feet short. It was a struggle.
Until it wasn’t.
I have no idea what was different about that day. Maybe I grew overnight, or I had a little extra cereal for breakfast, or….. I don’t know. All I know is, it was this bunch of us in the gym hanging out, I picked up the ball and I hit my stride, and then — BAM.
O.K. — so it wasn’t Zach LaVine in the Dunk Contest or anything. But in my head?? In my head it was like a 97, easy. Maybe a 98. In my head it was clean.
It’s funny, people are always asking me for advice on how to dunk better. Or jump higher. How to add those inches to their vertical. And it’s just like….. have you ever been in a math class, and the teacher is writing some complex equation on the board, and your brain's going, Excuse me? WHAT?? Like you know you did the homework and everything, and you’re not bad at math, but, nah. No way. That thing on the board can’t be real. It makes zero sense. And then you turn to your right and the kid at the next desk….. he hasn’t just already finished it. He’s obliterated it. And you’re like, “Bro — how’d you do that?? How’d you solve that equation??” And he tells you, like, “I can’t really explain it. Honestly I just kind of did it, you know? It was easy.”
Alright well that’s like me and dunking. For most people, with dunking, it’s like they see a bunch of confusing numbers on the board and it will never make sense.
For me? It’s easy.
I just kind of obliterate it.
I just dunk.
(6) Oh yeah and then one other funny thing about that.
My mom is an insane athlete. Actually, check that — she was a heptathlete. For those who don’t know the heptathlon, it’s seven events: hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin, and 800m run. It’s beyond legit. And like I said, my mom was insane. She was an All-America at UCLA, and competed at a world-class level. It’s wild. My mom was a legend in the game.
And then my dad is a sports agent. And I love my dad to death — I could spend hours bragging about him, and he’s a legend in his own game, for sure. But I won’t lie: He couldn’t jump over a piece of paper.
So it’s just kind of hilarious, because, like….. it doesn’t take a genius to see that I got my jumping ability, and my athleticism in general, from my mom. But for whatever reason, I think because people have all of these gender biases, it’s like they can’t wrap their heads around that. So people are always looking at my dad — who is about 6' 1" and dresses like a DAD, if you know what I mean — and they’re always like, “Huh. So, what, did your dad….. he play in the league? Or he play college ball? Or…..” And it’s like, ha. No!! Can’t jump, can’t hoop. Thanks for asking.
Meanwhile, my mom was on the damn ALL AMERICA squad — and no one ever asks me a thing.
Check your bias, people!!!!!
And Mom, thanks for the hops.
(7) I’m proud of my Los Angeles roots.
I think at this point in our history, the proof is just in the names.
The LA-area roll call is deep: Russ. Harden. DeMar. Taurasi. Lonzo. The Holiday Bros. Jordin Canada. Zach LaVine. Paul George. OGs like Baron. Cheryl and Reggie. Tyson Chandler. Lisa Leslie. Paul Pierce. Cynthia Cooper. Gil. Nick Young. And then you have new blood like myself, Onyeka, LaMelo, and it goes on. Plus plenty of talent coming up behind us, in the high school and college ranks. (Shoutout to my guy Josh Christopher over at Arizona State. Remember the name.)
And whether it’s training together, or crossing paths and building relationships in Drew League, or helping out the generation behind you, the bonds that stay holding LA basketball together are real. For example, and I won’t speak on this too much because I know he doesn’t do it for the attention, but, man….. would I be in the spot I’m in right now, having just gotten drafted to the league, if Russ hadn’t taken me under his wing? If he hadn’t gone out of his way to mentor me, and train with me, and look out for me? I don’t know.
And that’s why I’m so grateful, and so proud to be a part of this lineage.
And it’s why I expect a lot out of myself — both to pay it forward when it’s my turn, and to play a type of basketball that might make me worthy of waving the flag for our city.
(8) Probably the thing that’s helped me most to get through this Draft process — it’s a piece of advice I got from Coach K.
What happened was….. well, it’s interesting.
After I jumped 44 inches at the combine, that’s a number that’s kind of stuck with me.
Everyone wants to bring it up. First thing I’ll get questions on in any interview. Third-highest combine number since 2000, and so on. And I think for a lot of people, a number like that, it can kind of be this albatross. They can’t get free of that number, and then it sort of messes with their head. It can become this way to almost marginalize them: You’re just a jumper, or You’re a one dimensional player, or stuff like that.
But here’s why you go to Duke, man.
Here’s why you go to Duke: I already went through this once. Kind of insane, but it’s true. Early on last fall at Duke, before Media Day in the preseason, I guess people found out that I’d broken Zion’s maximum vertical record. I jumped 46 inches as a freshman. And everyone’s going crazy about it, right? So of course with Media Day coming, it’s all anyone is going to ask me about.
Coach K, though, knowing that, and knowing I think how it could potentially have these negative effects on me, he took me aside. And the line I’ll never forget that he said to me is, he just goes — “Cassius, that’s not an empty number.” And basically what Coach meant by that is, “46”.... that’s not some piece of trivia. That’s not some show number. It’s not a “12 guys in the gym and you’re touching a stick” number. That’s a real number. It’s a productive number. “46” means you can rebound like hell from the guard spot, when the other team thinks you’re boxed out. “46” means you can close out on a shooter that much faster, that much higher, that much more. “46” means that where other guys are taking low-percentage floaters and tough-angle layups, you’re playing above the rim at a high percentage. You’re playing the attack angles. You’re playing to win.
In other words: “46,” “44,” those aren’t workout numbers — they’re basketball numbers.
And I don’t jump to jump.
I jump to win basketball games.
(9) LET’S GO, INDY.
Like I said at the top — this is an ending for me, but it’s also a beginning. And I can’t even tell you how excited I am for what this beginning represents. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to become a part of this community, and to earn my spot on this Pacers roster.
And as soon as I started hearing from y’all fans last night….. I knew I was in the right place.
I think that’s a good note to end this on.
Thanks for reading — and thanks for the opportunity of a lifetime.
I’m here to work and I’m here to win.