When I spoke with Washington Wizards forward/center JaVale McGee before his first NBA game, he was the epitome of cool. He had oversized headphones on his ears, he had the hood of his sweatshirt nearly pulled over his eyes, and although practice had just ended, he did not appear to be sweating at all.
He was fresh off a preseason game, that saw him not only start for the first time, but play in such a way that All-Star New Orleans Hornets guard, Chris Paul, said that McGee’s game was like Orlando Magic center, Dwight Howard’s.
Still, when I interviewed McGee, he seemed to take it all in stride.
“[Chris Paul] just said that so I gotta’ keep working hard on my game, so I can be better than [Dwight Howard].”
Not quite what you expect from a rookie, who was just compared to an All-Star center who is coming off a gold medal performance in the 2008 Olympic Games. But this is who McGee is.
In contrast, prior to me covering my initial game for the Wizards, I was hell on wheels. I could barely sleep the night before, I had millions of questions I wanted to ask my editor, the Wizards PR staff and other journalists, and I was questioning whether I was really ready to cover my first game.
I had heard of butterflies, but this was ridiculous.
On actual game night, McGee again had this cool aura surrounding him. We crossed paths as he strode on to the court to warmup, and he recognized, gave me a quick head nod, then proceeded to slowly jog on to the court along with Wizards assistant coaches Phil Hubbard and former Maryland star Tony Massenberg.
Hubbard would throw an entry pass, and McGee would unleash an assortment of post moves on Massenberg. There was the dropstep hook towards the baseline; then there was the dropstep jump hook towards the paint; then there was the headfake and power move to the basketball. McGee’s moves were swift and intense, but still he never broke a sweat.
As he jogged off, even this exchange with a Verizon Center security guard was the epitome of cool:
“McGee, how you feel baby?” the guard said.
“I’m good, I feel good,” McGee retorted.
Game day for me was not at all as smooth I was too nervous to eat, the water I sipped seemed to dry my mouth rather than wet it, and I could not find any of the New Jersey Nets that I wanted to interview. Unlike McGee who was not at all fazed by Howard and his comments, I was completely starstruck when I met legendary announcer Marv Albert and the “Czar of the Telestrator”, Mike Fratello. In fact, I’m quite sure I made a fool out of myself in the process.
The 2008-2009 season is the rookie year for both McGee and I. McGee was the 18th pick in the 2008 NBA draft, out of Nevada. I came to Hoops Addict via Ryan McNeill, and although I had done numerous articles prior to this year, this was going to be my first season of full fledged coverage.
Prior to the season, Wizards’ coach Eddie Jordan made it clear that McGee was going to get limited playing time as a rookie; however things changed when center Brendan Haywood had wrist surgery that is expected to keep him out until March or April at the earliest. That injury thrust McGee into the rotation, and seemingly brought more pressure onto McGee, but even this did not alter his stoic demeanor.
“I don’t really feel pressure, I just go out there and do what I do, ” McGee commented while juggling candy in his hand. “I never grew up to fear anybody or admire.”
Even when he was asked what he could bring to the Wizards his answer was short and sweet.
“Defense and running the floor.”
When he actually entered the game against the Nets in the second half, McGee did not disappoint. Despite only playing 9 minutes, and going 0-4 from the floor, he grabbed 4 rebounds, and had one impressive blocked shot.
He made some mistakes rotation-wise, but overall his debut was stellar, and even Coach Jordan was pleased.
“I brought in JaVale and I felt he gave us a little spark. He won’t grow until he gets experience. He can play in practice but we like his potential. You have to give him spot minutes. I liked the athleticism he brought to the court”
In this instance, I actually matched McGee’s performance. During the game I took notes, paid close attention to any and everything going on around the court, and for first time all evening I actually felt like I was in command. Unfortunately, I lost that momentum after the game, when I did not get any quotes from the Nets players.
I did not have a coach critiquing my performance afterwards, but when I was feeling a bit dejected, my editor did have some uplifting comments.
“You’re being too tough on yourself. I told you the room would spin, it’s only natural as a rookie. I’d give you a B+ for the simple fact there is some room for growth. However, for a debut I was more than happy.”
Those words applied to me exactly, but they just as easily could applied to McGee’s debut.
McGee did not play at all in the Wizards’ loss to the Detroit Pistons, which is fitting, because I was not able to attend and cover that game since it was on the road. The next game for McGee will be Wednesday night against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
The next time McGee and I will meet again will be on November 7th against the New York Knicks and I think we’ll both be shooting for a Grade A performance.
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media