Right now, I’m in Las Vegas as part of the Team USA pool that’s getting ready for the FIBA World Cup. That’s pretty special. There’s nothing like playing for the USA. I said that when I played for the United States U-19 Team in New Zealand, and nothing has changed.
There’s just something amazing about having USA across your chest.
I’m really excited and thrilled that I was able to get this opportunity, and hope to make the most of it.
I would love to make the final team, and get to go to Spain and play. It would be a dream come true. That’s something I’ve thought about and wanted to do my whole life — especially with Coach K there, and some of the other talent.
To be alongside those guys would be really fun. When you’re around the kind of talent that’s on the National Team, you sometimes catch yourself watching your teammates, in awe of some of the things they can do. At the same time, I’m right here with them.
Every time I’ve been around players of this caliber, I’ve tried to be a sponge, and just soak up everything. There’s so much to learn. The coaching is unbelievable, and it’s great to get know some of the players you don’t normally play with. You build friendships and then those become rivalries when you go and play that team during the season.
That’s quite a different dynamic, too, which is very cool.
IMPROVING ON AND OFF THE COURT
Working with Team USA is also helping me get ready for the upcoming season. There are a lot of adjustments I need to make to help the team succeed, and to succeed in what I’m trying to accomplish as a player.
First and foremost: I need to be a much better shooter than I was last year. I’m constantly working on shooting and continuing to develop my mid-range game. I have to get better these next couple of years.
I believe that I can, and that I have the talent and drive to be an All-Star. It’s not something you can do alone in this league. You need your team to be successful to get there. So that process starts with making sure our team is doing the right things, and making sure we get ourselves going in the right direction.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m also working on improving as a leader. I know the Jazz want and need me to be a leader in the locker room, and on the court. I’m not an extremely vocal guy, but I’ve always led by example. That’s who the Jazz expect me to be: Somebody that the younger guys can look up to and see that I’m competing every day in practice, that I’m doing the right things and being professional.
It’s a pretty cool feeling to be in this position at my age, but it’s not entirely unexpected. A high school coach told me a while ago that leadership isn’t about how old you are. It’s going to be a challenge for sure, but something that I’ve dreamed about being able to do. I want to see it through. And the older I get and the more experience I get, the more vocal a leader I think I’ll become. That’s something else that I can continue to improve upon. The best teams usually have the best chemistry, and everybody is on the same page. That’s something that I can try to make happen as well.
Communication is a very important part of that. The longer you play together, the more you develop what I call silent chemistry. It’s the point you reach where you can just give each other a look, and know where to go. Obviously, we’re not there yet. So we have to make sure we’re all doing things the right way, and then, we have to hold each other accountable.
I didn’t know much about our new coach, Quin Snyder, before he was hired. I’d seen him on benches before. I knew he had the reputation of being very tough, but also a player’s coach. And from what I’d heard, he is a really good X and O guy.
I talked to him right after I signed, and it was a really great conversation. We didn’t even talk basketball. He’d heard that I just recently got married, so we talked about the wedding, and things like that.
That really struck me. He seems like someone that players can relate to. It’s comforting when you can meet someone who you’re going to work with, and they know that it’s not all about basketball, and instead just chat with you about life. It helps to strengthen that relationship.
Coach Snyder also came out to Las Vegas to meet with me at Team USA Training Camp, which is a great thing.
I’m looking forward to getting to know him better as time goes on and working with him this fall in Utah.
EXPERIENCE THROUGH ADVERSITY
Through my short time with the Jazz, we’ve gone through some bouts of adversity. But any time you can fight through adversity, you become stronger both as a person and as a basketball player.
Even though it’s only my fifth year, I’ve seen a lot.
I’ve seen a legendary Hall of Fame coach leave during the middle of the season. I’ve seen an All-Star point guard traded. We’ve made the playoffs one year, and been one of the worst teams the next. I’ve definitely learned a lot already, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the winning side, and moving forward from there.
Competing in the Western Conference is very difficult, but the level of competition throughout the conference also brings out the best in players. As an NBA player you want to compete against the best, and you definitely get that chance in the West every night. There’s no room for error. The teams are so good from top to bottom. You have to bring it every single night. If you don’t, then you’re out by the middle of April.
Success comes with experience. That was the biggest difference in our team between the years we went to the playoffs, and the years we didn’t. Not to make excuses or place blame, but when you have a guy who’s a coach in a place for 26 years and he leaves, that’s a difficult transition for any franchise.
We’ve kind of been rebuilding since then, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. In the future, I believe we’ll be right back to where the older teams were.
We definitely have the talent to be successful. Now it’s up to us to decide: Are we going to come together as a team, have everyone play their role and give ourselves a shot?