"Courtney's a guy that was really an unselfish player in college and the NBA people had a problem with that. They thought he should have been more assertive and actually he was just a good teammate. He had to show in his workouts that he was a better all-around player than what maybe he was showing at Western Kentucky and obviously he did that and still doing that with Orlando."
-- David Thorpe, ESPN.com & IMG Academies
David Thorpe needs no introduction, but as has been my custom with my other interviewees, he deserves the same treatment.
Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts, Inc. (under the ESPN umbrella), and is the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies. Thorpe posts a weekly column on ESPN.com, in which he covers this year's rookie class and compiles a Rookie Ranking which gets updated frequently. Needless to say, Thorpe's resume is impressive, given the work he's done with various NBA players these past few years via his Pro Training Center (including Orlando Magic's Courtney Lee). I could go on, but I'll save the rant.
Thanks to Anthony Macri, who's a colleague of Thorpe via IMG Academies, I was able to secure an interview with Thorpe and speak with him this past week. Thorpe was gracious enough to allow me to ask him a plethora of questions, ranging from his work at the Pro Training Center, to his opinion on this year's rookie class, and more.
Given the length of my interview with Thorpe, I'm going to split up the transcript into a three-part series (Part II will be revealed on Saturday/Part III will be revealed next Monday).
Today is Part I of my Q/A with Thorpe.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
When did you first start the Pro Training Center? How did that come about?
Basically, I used to train very high-level high school players that went off to play in big colleges and kids that would come home for the summer that would seek me out and I was managing other businesses that were basketball-related when a friend of mine, Jason Levy, was working as an agent for a law firm in Washington. He thought what he had seen me do years before with high school players I could do with pro guys. I agreed with him, but I just didn't know if there was a business there. I started doing it and one of the first guys he sent me was Udonis Haslem.
I had Udonis Haslem down, I had Josh Powell down, I had some high level European players down that he was representing or were living in the area. I knew Kevin Martin's college coach, and when Kevin's college coach knew that I was working with some players, trying to develop their game, he asked if he could take Kevin down. He would try to get him to be a dribble-driver, as he was just a shooter.
Things went well. Udonis made the Heat. Kevin ended up going back to school and scored 46 points in his first game. The guys that I was working with were doing pretty well, and I realized that it's just not a part-time thing, I can kind of take things more into a full-time business and take it seriously and that's really how it began.
What was it like working with Udonis Haslem, specfically?
He's probably the smartest basketball IQ I've ever accounted at the pro level. I've had one other player that I would put in Udonis' class. He was a kid that I coached when he was in high school for four years but Udonis' basketball IQ is the best I've ever encountered. His basketball background is second to none. He played for one of the top high school coaches in the country, in a guy named Frank Martin who's now the head coach at Kansas State.
He played for Billy Donovan in Florida. He's the most winningest Gator of all-time. Back-to-back state championships when he played in high school. Just incredible mind for the game and one of the most hard working guys I've ever had. He's the toughest individual, even now, he's one of the top 5 toughest players in the NBA. He's a gentle, beautiful person on the court who's just locked in incredibly well.
I worked with him twice during the week they were playing the Mavericks. Actually, I worked with him right before Game 6 against the Pistons and then I went back before Game 5 against the Mavericks in Miami. He was just as focused on those nights trying to make sure his shot felt great and confident, as he was in the middle of August and a couple of years prior to that. He's a locked in student and one of my favorite guys.
Would you say that he has a really great work ethic, in terms of just getting himself prepared for each game?
I think that, sure, that he's someone that's not afraid to spend a lot of hours in the gym and on his body. I think that some of the things that he does really, really well. He's naturally just so tough and such a great mind on the court. What we had to do with him is we needed him to work on his face-up game. Obviously this is something he didn't do much in college. He was a back-to-basket guy and at 6'8'' or so, he going to have to be a face-up guy. We always had to work on that mid-range jumper and some basic moves and footwork to get those shots.
Also, I think we helped him appreciate better the importance of him being a better out-of-area rebounder. He was someone that was really great in the area because he's so big and strong in college but to be better in the pros, you gotta be very better out-of-area. We kind of talked a lot about that over the first couple years and we drilled him a lot. We watched film and we talked about certain players that I thought he could play like Ben Wallace, who was one of the guys we talked about. I thought he had to do the dirty work like Ben a little bit. A lot of players have an ego that you can't do that with. They don't want to be compared to anyone else, they don't want to feel like they should have to grow their game. They just want to play their game and Udonis is open to any suggestions that would help him be a better player and help his team win more because he was playing better.
How long do you think it took for him to really develop a consistent jumper that he could rely on in an NBA game?
I think it was the second year. I think in his second game of the second year, they played the Trail Blazers and Portland's strategy was to not guard Udonis at the high post in the hi-lo action that Miami ran and all they did was let Zach Randolph hang low to cut off Shaq. Udonis thought his job was to just get the ball to Shaq every time and so he was shooting it only because he was open, not because he knew he could make that shot and literally after the game we talked about you have to believe in yourself. They're leaving you open, you have to make them pay for it. You play tomorrow night against Atlanta. Show the guy that you know that you are a shooter and he went out to set his career-high the very next night. That's when Udonis realized, 'okay, I can really shoot this ball and I can make them pay.'
You have done work with both professionals & collegiate players for the Pro Training Center? Which professionals have you worked with specifically, other than the ones that you mentioned like Udonis Haslem and Kevin Martin?
One of the guys that I'm most proud of is Rob Kurz. After being advised by the Warriors camp, although we were told that is very unlikely he makes the team because they already have 15 guaranteed contracts. The front office wanted to give him a chance and so we really worked with him on not just fine tuning his shooting, but really try to help him play in the overall NBA game the way it needs to be played for someone like him. Obviously, as of now, he's still with the Warriors so we feel great about that.
I'm really appreciative of Luol Deng's & Tyrus Thomas' attention to what we do. Both of them have recovered from very, very bad Novembers, career-low in both cases in November. Just adjusting to the rookie point guard, the rookie coach, the new system, the third coach within a season basically when you go back to last year. Both are now playing at a very high level. Lu, statistically speaking, has been their best player since December 1st. Tyrus has had a career-high in PER and has four double-doubles his last five games. It's great satisfaction knowing that our big teaching points are consistency of effort, learn from every mistake, learn from good games, learn from bad games, stay humble, stay focused, it's a long season. I'm very glad that those guys are kind of a living embodiment of what we talk about. Instead of dragging their tails after November and being resigned to it not being a great year, they've re-doubled their efforts and they're even more focused in making themselves as productive players on a team that's now starting to play better.
Obviously, we've had Courtney Lee last summer. Courtney and I have been friends for about a year now. When he was in college, we talked because I trained some of his teammates from high school years ago. So we've been friendly and it's very satisfying to see how we came out of the draft process. I think he worked out for almost every team and said he didn't have a single bad workout. Many teams have called me or told me in person since the draft that they were shocked at the kind of player he was after watching him in college. Courtney's a guy that was really an unselfish player in college and the NBA people had a problem with that. They thought he should have been more assertive and actually he was just a good teammate. He had to show in his workouts that he was a better all-around player than what maybe he was showing at Western Kentucky and obviously he did that and still doing that with Orlando. He's a guy that's done so well for them and they're loaded to begin with. We have a great affection for him.
Obviously with Jameer Nelson going down, that's really been a big blow for the Magic and they're going to have try to find a way to pick up the slack offensively with him being out. Do you think that Courtney Lee will be able to provide some of that offensive punch? Do you think he'll be able to pick up the slack a bit?
I think it's all mind-set. Players that are well-coached play their role. Stan is one of the best coaches we have in the world and he's really delineate what he needs Courtney to do. I know the guy that I saw on the court all summer is someone that can beat people off the dribble, shoot the three, mid-range game is strong, transition game is strong, his handle is very tight, he's a very, very good ball-handler, a very good slasher but he also has zero interest in taking a bad shot just to score.
In the previous role, he wasn't ever going to take a bad shot because they had so many good players around him. But to do that now that he may need to score more, the adjustment will have to be is that he may have to take a bad shot here and there. You're never really going to be sure it's going to be a bad shot until the very end. You have to be more offensive-minded. I think that Stan is brilliant at helping guys understand their role and I think Courtney will learn what his role is. I think he'll be a better offensive player as they're going through April than he was the first few months of the year.
What are your thoughts with the Keith Bogans/Tyronn Lue trade. Obviously that was a reaction to Nelson going down with an injury. Do you think that was the right move by the Magic or do you feel Otis Smith could have hatched a deal for a better player?
Well, I think that there's risk in whatever you do. The risk in not pulling this deal, in hoping to get another one, is that you don't get any deal. If I was Otis Smith, I would have every point guard that you think is available on a list or give them a rating and maybe 'A' would be a guy that you can get, like a Steve N ash let's say, that would absolutely be able to fill that hole for the most part and Jameer is a unique player. And so maybe Lue is a 'C', I don't know how they're laying this out, but the risk would be you don't do this deal when you did it and all that's left are 'D's' & 'F's'. They had to do something. At least they've done something. They know the kid well. He's a very professional player. I think he's a little bit underrated actually and may end up being a decent piece for them.
Without question, you wouldn't favor them to win two playoff series anymore. As it stands now, we have to watch how he plays and if Lue can really fit in well and Anthony Johnson continues to be good off the bench, then maybe we can start thinking of them as contenders again. They were undoubtedly contenders before. I would argue that there is not a team in the league that can lose their starting point guard and be the same. Losing Bynum, like L.A. did, is less of a blow than losing your team's quarterback.
Part II of my interview with David will be unveiled on Saturday. Stay tuned.