As the second overall selection in the 1995 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, Antonio McDyess has the distinction of being the highest NBA draftee ever from Alabama. Now in his 12th year, Antonio continues to pursue a championship as a valuable member of the Detroit Pistons.
Arnold P. Steadham covers former Crimson Tide athetes now in professional sports for BamaMag.com. He recently sat down with Antonio McDyess before the Detroit Pistons played the Boston Celtics. Here is the conversation:
Arnold P. Steadham: Antonio, what are your fondest memories of Alabama, on and off the court?
Antonio McDyess: To have the opportunity to play at Alabama fulfilled a lifelong dream. Even though I was from Mississippi, I grew up watching the football and basketball programs of Alabama. My fondest memories were of having the opportunity to beat a number one team, like Arkansas; coming home to Mississippi and beating Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Those type of memories. Having an opportunity to be around some good players that came back to the university. I saw the legends game (August 1999). That was also fun for me.
APS: Did you have some favorite players that you watched at Alabama?
AM: James "Hollywood" Robinson, has always been one of my favorite players. Roy Rogers, who I played with at Alabama. I watched those guys. Jason Caffey. Guys who were close in age to me. I watched those guys and they made me want to attend Alabama.
APS: Who were some of your earliest mentors and influences?
AM: My high school coach (Sammy Smith). He is definitely my mentor. He came my senior year in high school. And definitely my mom (Gloria). My high school coach took on the role of my father around the eleventh or twelfth grade. I didn't grow up with my father. Ever since then, he is still with me today. Also, my mom raising me as a single parent showed me how strong she was.
APS: I read where you have been lifting weights this past summer. What is your present height and weight?
AM: Actually, earlier in my career I always lifted weights. When my knee was injured, I stopped lifting. I just went back to lifting weights. My weight is like 250 or 252 pounds and my height is 6-10.
APS: What were your expectations when you were drafted?
AM: My expectations weren't very high. I was just so happy to have the opportunity to play in the NBA. I didn't have too many expectations for myself. I think overall, I was just happy to be on the court and play in the NBA. It was a privilege for me. When I got there and realized I could play with those guys, I was happy.
APS: How has your game changed thru the years since you've entered the NBA (1995)?
AM: I guess I am a lot smarter. I think the game a lot more instead of just run and jump. I developed my outside game.
APS: How did your experience at Alabama contribute to your growth, development and success in the NBA?
AM: It taught me a lot. Having an opportunity to play for a good coach like David Hobbs, who is presently at Kentucky. He stayed with an SEC team. The assistant coaches showed me the ropes and how it would be in the NBA. Having an opportunity to learn from great players who were in the NBA and had already played at Alabama. I kind of followed their path. That taught me a lot coming from Alabama. Stay humble and stay stable. I think Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a Southern town and Southern state, will always keep people humble. It will keep me humble because I know it's such a good state and such a good program when I was there.
APS: Would you talk about the bracelet you wear with the letters FROG?
AM: Fully Reliant On God. I want to keep my faith and show people that I still have faith. Where I am today is not because of me. It's because of the Man up above. I hurt my knee two or three years ago and it was career-threatening. My career could have been over. I put all my faith in Him and in anything I do. I think that's what got me back on this court. I always wear the bracelet to remind myself what could have been. I could have been sitting at home watching TV but I'm still having my opportunity to play.
APS: Do you keep in contact with some of the former Alabama players?
AM: Yeah, Robert (Horry). Robert and I still live in the same city (Houston). We have a business together. An advertising business. I see Rob all the time. Roy Rogers, I still keep in contact with him. Jason Caffey. Eric Washington. I talked to Eric Washington a while back. I think he is overseas. I see guys on and off, even football players. Alabama was a great experience for me. When I left college, I thought about it every day of my life that first year. I was like, did I make a mistake, because it was so fun. Walter Pitts, he is my best friend to this day. In the summer time, we're still together like white on rice.
APS: Tell us about playing against Robert (Horry).
AM: I'm jealous (laughing). That's what I am. A guy that's got six rings. I was just thinking, the year we lost against them, I was just wondering. Why you just couldn't let us win that series so I could get one of those six rings you have (laughing). Robert is a great guy. He is always on the court to make big shots for any team. I would love to play with him if I ever had the opportunity. He's really a smart player and gives it everything he's got when he's on the court. I think all the Alabama guys have always had a special bond. Any of the guys who come from Alabama (program) always have a special bond. I see guys today like, Maurice "Mo" Williams (Milwaukee Bucks). I never played with him but we have a special bond. I never played with Gerald Wallace (Charlotte Bobcats) but we always speak and have respect for each other.
APS: Do you have any family?
AM: I have a nine year old son, Artavious (McDyess) and I am engaged right now to Liara Williams. I'm happy they are in my life. I'm lucky to have them with me and me to be with them.
APS: What are your fondest memories of the NBA?
AM: Winning the gold medal at the Olympics and being drafted so high in the first round. Having that opportunity to win a gold medal in Sydney in 2000 probably is my fondest memory besides being drafted.
APS: Could you talk about the episode at the river where you almost drowned as a child?
AM: My friend pulled me out of the water. My brother (Tony) was on the bank laughing at me because he thought I was joking. That was the worst time in my life. I woke up on the bank of the river. Next thing I know, they were pumping my chest. After that, I blacked out.
APS: How did the near drowning change your life?
AM: I never went swimming again (laughing). Definitely not in the river. I've been pretty much afraid of water over my shoulders. I never learned how to swim. I never really tried to because I've always been afraid. That's how it affected me.
APS: What were some of the challenges the first few years on and off the court when you entered the NBA?
AM: On the court, there was a different playing style from college to the NBA because the guys were so much stronger and so much faster and so much smarter. In college you have one or two players who are really good but in the pros you are going against players every night where all five guys are going to be good. So that was the biggest difference. Trying to get used everyone athletically and how much stronger and faster they were. I think my biggest challenge was trying to get to that level. And I think off the court was the travel. That was the worst for me. I left my sophomore year. The travel being away from home 10 nights, 11 nights, back and forth. Getting in 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning was the biggest thing I had to get used to.
APS: How was the food?
AM: I had to get a chef. And I still have one. They have food for you on the plane, but I ‘m a real finicky eater.
APS: Do you like meat and potatoes?
AM: Yes, kind of but I don't eat pork. I know it kind of sounds funny coming from the south. I lost a lot of weight (laughing).
APS: What are the big challenges in the league for you now?
AM: Actually everything has been pretty easy. The biggest challenge now is trying to get over that hump and actually get a ring (championship). I'm trying to do whatever I can on the court to help my teammates. Being in the league for 12 years, you pretty much have gotten used to everything.
APS: Has the coaching staff defined your role this year?
AM: It's a new year. They ask different things out of you every year. But I think this year its going to be different because they'll look for me to score more and do a lot more now because I'll get a lot more minutes since Ben (Wallace) is gone. I prefer to still continue to come off the bench because that is where my comfort level is at now. I think my starting days are over. I chose to continue to come off the bench and get positive minutes when I do.
APS: What is different for you about coming off the bench as opposed to starting?
AM: After twelve years, nothing makes me jittery. I have the opportunity to sit on the bench, relax yourself, get mentally focused and watch what everyone else is doing on the court. You can watch your teammates on the court and adjust to way they are playing. You can watch the positive and good things that are happening on the court and try to do some of the good things.
APS: What would you tell a young player if you had a chance to advise him?
AM: I would tell them, its definitely hard work. It's not easy. Continue to stay focused. Keep God first always. Hard work always pays off. For young players, don't ever give up the dream. If you have a dream to play in the NBA, you can make it. You've just got to work at it.