Was it a clash being an offense-first player and then being coached by Tom Thibodeau, famously one of the most defensive-minded coaches ever?
I’m not an offensive-first player! I try to be a defensive-first player. It may not show as much, but I’m still learning a lot on the defensive end. I got really lucky as far as getting Coach Thibs as my first NBA coach. In a rookie year, it’s great to have somebody who’s defensive-minded–he’s really a lot like Coach Calipari. Me and Derrick Rose were talking a little bit about that today because we both played for Cal first, and then both had Thibs our rookie years, so we were talking a lot how they’re really similar: If you don’t defend, you’re not going to get on the floor. If you’re not tough, you’re not going to get on the floor. In that way, they’re really similar.
Had you met Rose before he came to the Knicks? You two played surprisingly well together in his first game.
I don’t think so. I’ve watched him play so much, I feel like I know him, but I probably didn’t. I just met him. We were at dinner, and it was just me and [fellow rookie Obi Toppin] at the table and he came to us and he was like, “Look, I’m not here to try to take over anything, I’m just here to play hard and help you guys get better.” Then in the game the next day, he was like, “If you get it, don’t be looking for me. Just go up and do your thing; and the same thing, if I get it, I’ll go up and do my thing, we’ll just play off each other and things like that.” When you’re playing with somebody like that that has that open mindset, who knows how to play, it makes the game really easy.
When you were at Kentucky, your grandmother and aunt were famous for screaming “WHOOP! WHOOP!” at odd times during games. Have they been to a game? Do you even get to see your family under NBA protocols?
I get to see them, but they haven’t been to a game yet. My aunt and my grandmother, they act like I scored 30 every game, so it’s just like college. But my mom is more the subtle one, she’s like, “You still stink if you go and play basketball, so you still need to shower,” or whatever. She’s like, “You ain’t nobody,” basically. My mom’s kind of the one that keeps me grinding. But yeah, my grandmother and aunt, if they let family in, there’s no question you’re going to hear them. And if there’s only 2000 people there, all you’re going to hear is my family. It’s their worldwide trademark. We’ll end up playing the Lakers, and LeBron will probably be like, “Who is that making all that noise?”
Does this feel real yet?
It’s funny you ask that. All the time, I’ll just be standing in the Garden and I’ll just look around and I’ll be like, “Wow, I’m in the NBA. Huh.” It’s still crazy. I mean, I do that all the time.
Many players get juice and motivation from being drafted lower than they thought they should have. Are you that type of player? Are you like Michael Jordan, “I took that personally?”
I screenshotted a lot of the stuff when people are saying I was drafted too high. I was probably drafted too low, to be honest. I’m glad the Knicks took me, though, so it was a great situation. But yeah, I took all that stuff, screenshotted it and took it to my workouts. But I don’t feel like I’ve done anything yet. I don’t know if I ever will.
I literally just had this conversation with myself. I said, “I could be an all-star or an MVP, and I’ll never feel like I made it.” I mean, GQ is kind of like a big thing. They told me “it’s GQ,” and I’m like, “They want me? I didn’t even do anything yet.” And then like I thought to myself, “Man, I could probably be an all-star MVP and I just will never feel like I’ve made it.” My mind is just weird like that; I just never will feel like I made it.
This is the sort of thing I like to hear as a Knicks fan.