One on one with Shavlik Randolph

His recruitment was a Tobacco Road legend. But after three years in Durham, many didn’t expect Shavlik Randolph to leave school early for professional basketball. Since that shocking decision, the 6-foot-11 power forward has enjoyed a successful and varied career - one he credits Duke for preparing him for. We spoke with Randolph about that and more.

To start, Shavlik, I’m hoping to ask about what has been a fairly long professional career for you—how would you evaluate it to date?

Shavlik Randolph: You know my career has been….obviously, there’s going to be ups and downs with anything you do, and it definitely hasn’t been as smooth as I would have hoped for it to be. It has definitely tested my character, it’s helped developed my character with having to deal with some of the injuries I’ve had to deal with.

With that said, I’m still here. I’m still playing some of the best basketball that I’ve ever played and even at 30, or 31, I still feel like I have some really good years ahead of me and there’s been lots of things I’ve learned and had to overcome, first when I was at Duke and then when I was first in the NBA with the different catastrophic injuries I had.

To follow up on that—what do you think you have learned about yourself through dealing with the myriad of injuries that you have in your career?

I wouldn’t say it’s I learned about myself, I would say I have definitely learned that God is so faithful, there’s certainly times where my faith has been tested and even some points where I didn’t really have faith in understanding why certain things happened to me the way they did, but God is faithful whether I’m making millions of dollars in the NBA or not making any money doing nothing. He still loves me and I learned where I am or what I’m doing doesn’t define who I am or what I’m willing to do to get there. I learned that I feel like I can overcome anything, especially during the times where I was really down because of injury and being able to come back from several serious injuries, especially when I broke my leg, you just kinda rally, get yourself together and move forward.

What for you were the major catalysts or the motivations to keep persevering through all the injuries and to keep coming back?

It all goes back, I remember when I first decided and started dreaming that I wanted to play in the NBA, I was 14 years old and a spark just gets lit inside of you and I had it. I think probably the best thing, the best quality about myself that I like the most is I am able to just not give up. I know it sounds cliche to say, but if you really want to do something and you are willing to work really hard for it, if you consistently work hard, surround yourself with the right people and do the right things and you don’t give up and you keep pushing forward, I always feel at some point you are going to get over the hump and get to where you are hoping to go. I’ve always tried to do that in my career. 

Looking back over your professional career—do you have any experiences that are particularly memorable or are your favorites for any reason?

That’s a great question, I’d say that my time overseas, the time I spent in China and even when I was in Puerto Rico, it really helped develop me so much as person going over there and being by myself. I mean being in China, you have to step out of your comfort zone in a big way. I remember going out there and just being so afraid and just becoming best friends with guys that I didn’t even speak the same language with that I’m still friends with to this day. People always associate when you get cut and you go overseas that you aren’t good enough, this and that, but for me, my time in China was one of the highlights in my career.

Now you are playing for the Phoenix Suns who are well-known in NBA circles for the training and medical staff they have and what they have been able to do for various players at different stages in their careers. Can your provide a first hand account of what they do for their players?

Yeah they are just tedious in the detailed approach to your body. They are a well-oiled machine where every single player has a program that is tailored specifically to your body. You get your body assessed, where you are strong and weak in, where your range of motion is and they spend a lot of time with each individual person, it’s not just handing out a standardized plan for everybody and say here go and lift and that’s it. You spend a lot of time with them on that and there is a reason why they are as good as they are. They’ve really kinda pioneered a new wave of training/physical therapy in the NBA where it’s almost like a sort of pre-habilitation instead of rehab and there’s a lot of other NBA teams that are picking up on it. I’ll tell you it’s been great for me, I’ve had so many surgeries and they have done a great job in always helping my body feel good, all the time.

With your injuries Shavlik…how did it change how you work on your skill development? Did it change any of your workout habits or approaches that you took to working on your game?

For me all those injuries that I had were very, very bad. It wasn’t so much the severity of the injuries that affected my skill work, it was more the timing of those injuries. Like breaking my leg right when I was on the last year of my contract with the Sixers to where if I had another year or two on my contract, I might have been able to work for better opportunities. Having that surgery on my hip right when I was coming into college at Duke when I didn’t know what was wrong with me, all of that affected things.

To try and better answer your question, when I came in from high school I was an inside/outside player, but when I started losing cartilage in my left hip, it started affecting my gait. The hip is kinda the center point, the core of your body from what I’ve learned, so when that started being impacted by injuries I was experiencing, I couldn’t shoot on balance the way I used to before I came into Duke and there’s been a handful of times where I have had to totally re-invent my game and I’ve had to re-learn my body because when you come back from serious injuries, your body is going to be different and you have to re-learn your body all over again. People can come back from a serious injury and they can do it, but I’ve had to come back from that like three or four times, so it’s just me having to re-learn my body and learn what it can do and what it can handle and not hammer it. If I can’t get the same range of motion on one side, then I have to learn how to shoot the best way I can using my right side more, stuff like that.

Going back to high school and dealing with the injuries that you did back then—what was it like for being as highly touted and recruited as you were while dealing with the reality of the injuries?

For me the one word I could say is it was frustrating because I remember when I was healthy in high school and what I was able to do against my peers when I played them. Obviously I had top billing and it just frustrated me because back then, it wasn’t like a clear, defined injury that I knew that I had, like an ACL, they know what it is, they repair it and then you go rehab it. I really just did not know what was going on with my body and I remember at the end of my junior year when I had an injury, I played my entire senior season with it and my whole freshman year at Duke with the same injury, I tried to play with it there too and by the end of my freshman year it had just gotten so bad that at first I thought it was a foot issue and then I thought it was my knee, but it was actually my hip where the issue was. The ball of my hip didn’t fit properly into my socket and over time it actually started wearing away at my cartilage in there. I just didn’t know what was going on and to be honest, even at the time when I had surgery on it when I was at Duke, I don’t think it addressed the source of the problem, it just addressed the symptoms I’d say, and I think that’s because we really didn’t know what was really wrong.

I felt good for a couple months after the surgery but then the symptoms started coming right back and that’s when I had to undergo micro fracture surgery and I had to go see a bunch of specialists in Vail, Colorado for it. Even after I had been with the Trail Blazers after my fourth year with them, I was still dealing with the injury and I was still competing at an NBA level, but I just knew I wasn’t ever going to be, I had to see that if the hip was going to be fixed, I just had to try and get it fixed. I actually went through a micro fracture surgery on it and it actually helped grow back some of the cartilage on it. It was just really frustrating with that injury but I still played through it and it wasn’t like I wasn’t as good as people/analysts were saying I was, I absolutely was, it’s just something unfortunate that happened to me, it was a freak injury, it’s a degenerative thing that I think was there from when I was born but like I said, I’ve overcome it, I’ve worked through it but definitely when I was in high school it was really frustrating to go from that level to just be de-railed so quickly but I didn’t complain about it and I just tried to play my best through it. It didn’t always look good at times, but it did develop a lot of character in me.

Separate from the injury issues in high school—I wanted to ask what the experience was like for you with all the recruiting and media attention that you received in high school?

For me it was goals reached. It was something I had worked really hard for, prayed even harder for. I remember going into my sophomore year, I wasn’t anybody really and obviously in North Carolina, there’s always top rated guys each year and I remember playing against them and wanted to be like them because at that point I wasn’t anybody that people knew. So I set a goal for myself to be one of the top guys in the country, if not the top player. Of course there were people who said that I was stupid to set that goal but by the end of my junior year, I was certainly there. It was just really great to see that you reached what your goals were at that point and getting to see goals obtained. 

I had a strong family that was very supportive that protected me and kept me very humble throughout that process. I actually became a Christian during that time when all the attention was happening, so I kinda kept my eyes towards the sky and I really didn’t pay attention to all the things going on around me. It was just kinda a by product of what was going on, but me not paying much attention to it I think was really because of my faith and just daily walking in my faith in God.

With Duke recruiting you in high school—what was the approach they took with you and how did the relationship grow with them before you decided to go there?

You know what, I remember at first Wojo started recruiting me. He just started coming to a lot of my AAU games and as I kinda progressed up the charts I remember that I took a lot of unofficial visits to Duke and I just remember going to the game and seeing how crazy the Cameron Crazies got and I just remember saying to myself, “golly, I would LOVE to play in front of these fans and how awesome that would be.” I just felt so comfortable with the coaching staff and the players coming in, the players they had already signed at that point and when Coach K brings you down to his trophy room in his house and he tells you how much he wants you to be a part of the program, it’s just kinda difficult as a 17, 18 year old kid to turn that down. 

What for you then really settled it in your mind that you wanted to choose Duke when you got down to final decision time?

I had taken my official visit, it was on my official visit to Duke and I remember leaving Duke and kinda knowing that I wanted to go there. I’ve always kinda learned to go with my first instinct, don’t second guess it, if that’s your first gut feeling, just go for it. I just didn’t want to confuse myself and I didn’t want to go on any other visits because I didn’t like disappointing people, I had great schools recruiting me and great coaches talking to me. I just felt like I knew and that I saw everything that I needed to see when I went to Duke and I needed to go ahead and commit to them and move forward as a Duke Blue Devil.

Being on campus for three years at Duke—who did you grow close with ? How did you grow as a person there?

I obviously knew JJ, I was close with him, we were roommates with myself, JJ and Sean Dockery. I had a different bond with everybody in that class but I think me and Sean Dockery really bonded which surprises some because of the whole opposites attract, but him and I grew close, he became one my best friends on campus. Then there was a football player my second year on campus, he ended up becoming my roommate named Harrison, he knew Lee Melchionni from the Pennsylvania area, I ended up becoming really good friends with him and he’s my wealth manager now. We still are best friends to this day. Obviously everybody knows that me and JJ were close and I’m still friends with him to this day, we continued to grow our friendship. Like I said, we all got really close in that freshman class I was in. 

Playing with JJ—what was that like for you being a three year teammate of his?

To this day, the best shooting I’ve ever seen in person has been JJ at Duke. I’ve gotten to play with and against some of the best talent in the NBA, but from a pure shooting standpoint, the best I’ve ever seen to this day was some of the shooting displays he put on at Duke. I don’t know what it was for him, I don’t know if it was just me setting amazing screens for him or if it was something else, but he did some things in practice and pickup games and in the games that to this day, I’ve never been more impressed with.

In your time at Duke, how do you think being there helped you grow as a person and a player?

I think it helped me in it helped toughen me up. Obviously playing for Coach K, he’s a tough coach, he’s not going to sugarcoat anything, he’s going to tell you straight up how it is and if someone is better than you, he’s going to tell you they are better than you. That was one of the reasons that I went there, but it definitely helped toughen me up a lot because my time there wasn’t easy. To go to a program like that, at that level and be injured, a lot of things didn’t go my way. I really learned how to fight for my life while I was at Duke and it really helped prepare me for anything I was going to have to deal with the rest of my life. In situations I’ve been in since I left Duke, I’ve had to fight and crawl my way back, it really helped me grow in that aspect.

What’s your take-away thoughts overall from your experience at Duke?

I wouldn’t trade it for the world, outside of my blood family, my Duke family is one of the most special and important things i’m a part of. Being able to say I’m a part of that brotherhood, that family of peers and coaches and everybody that was there when I was there, all the players that have been there before or after me, to be able to say that I’m a part of that is something I take some of the most pride in in my life.

Leaving Duke a year early and going pro—what kind of things did you evaluate as you decided to either go pro or go back for the last year?

In my evaluation I remember you could put your name in the draft and then pull it back, so at that point I just wanted to test the waters. I had only had one person’s, one set of coaches in my ear for the past 3 years and I just wanted to test the waters and get other feedback and play in other settings and see how I did. I liked the way that I played and I liked the way that I felt and I knew I probably wasn’t going to get drafted, but I still felt I liked the way I was playing and I liked the way I had done in my draft workouts and I knew I had played well against other players that were projected to be top picks in the draft. I knew I would have opportunity to be on a team and play on a team. 

What kind of feedback did you receive from Coach K and from the League during that process?

Obviously based off what I did at Duke, I don’t think anybody expected me to get drafted or make a team, much less play. So the feedback I was getting from NBA teams was I think they were surprised that I did some things in my workouts that I hadn’t done when I was at Duke. I was able to by that time that I had started to learn my body around that time and I had actually just started seeing a chiropractor at that time and getting active release on my muscles around my hip and that actually helped open up my hip joint more, so I felt healthy again and a lot it was based on that. The feedback I got around that time was that I probably wouldn’t get drafted but I would be given the opportunity to compete and I knew if I got an opportunity that I would take it and run with it.

For fans to understand—what’s the experience like for a player like yourself who is navigating the NBA world as an undrafted player, especially early on in your career?

It’s a lot of uncertainty, it’s a lot of un-guarantees and you have to earn it every single day. I remember going in a lot each and every day just feeling completely expendable and that I was going to have to fight for my life. Like I said before, that was something I learned to do at Duke, so it wasn’t anything new for me. I had a new sense of purpose, starting again, starting fresh after I left Duke and the Sixers gave me an opportunity to come in over the summer and workout with them and I impressed them there and they invited me to training camp and I impressed them there and I continued to impress them and that’s how I got my first shot.

It doesn’t sound like you have any of the regrets that some guys have who leave school early and go undrafted and have to fight through those difficult roster situations—that a good read Shavlik?

No there’s not any regrets, I definitely don’t regret that. If there is one thing I do regret is not addressing my injuries earlier. Like when I was in high school, I should have just stopped playing and tried to figure out what was wrong instead of trying to just keep playing through it, that’s the only real regret I have but even with that I always believe that everything happens for a reason, there’s no benefit to regretting stuff like that. All you can do is take what you learn from your experiences and learn how to not let it happen again and just be better, just make something positive out of it. That’s all I try to do.

Every player so far in this series has indicated that their relationship with Coach K has both changed and grown over the years from their time at Duke to now. How has your’s changed and grown with Coach K?

It’s been pretty much the same actually because I’m from Raleigh, so I actually work out there a lot during the summer. During the season he’ll shoot me a note here and there and I feel like once every couple of years he seemingly reaches some kind of milestone, so whenever he does something like that, I always reach out to congratulate him. I see him all the time during the summer when I work out there and a lot of guys don’t get the opportunity to see him that much because they aren’t from the area. I’m from the area so I work out at Duke a lot during the off-season, I’m around those guys a lot and I get to see Coach a lot, so my relationship with him stayed real strong.

Were you around last summer with the new guys on the team?

Yeah I actually was, me and Miles Plumlee we were there for something that Grant Hill has started to organize the first week of classes where he encourages the old guys, alumni of the team to come back who are playing in the NBA or playing overseas to come back and spend a week getting to know the incoming freshman and the current team and we play pickup against them every single day. So me and Miles were back there for that and Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood were there, Trajan Langdon came back, Dahntay Jones was back, Grant was back but he wasn’t playing and there were also a handful of guys who were coming in and out the whole time and it was just a great time. 

Those pickup games had to be pretty competitive I’d imagine…

Yeah well, the first day of pickup games, I think it was me, Miles, Dahntay, Trajan, I can’t remember who all we were playing with, but it was the first time I think all the new guys on the team were playing together and we just absolutely handed it to them the first day as we should have, we’re NBA players and even with them as talented as they are, we should have an advantage that first day. I don’t know if they won any game that first day, they might have won one game and then we ran off a string of games in a row but after that, you can tell that their pride kicked in and the games got much more competitive and they gave it back to us that second day and we were just like wow, if these guys play like that during the season, they are going to be the top team in the country, no question about it.

That setting sounds like it would allow the current and former players to develop new relationships…..

It absolutely was, we were playing pickup, a lot of the times I was matched up against Justise Winslow because Miles was going up against Okafor and Justise was at the 4, so I played him a lot. We were just battling the whole time and I ended up getting to know him and getting cool with him and then our pre-season started with the Suns and we were playing the Rockets in Houston and Justise was on break, sitting court side at the game, I remember going up to him and I said something to him during the game when we were playing and I was actually in the game and that was all because I had gotten to know him over that week at Duke. You feel that bond with every Duke player.

I’m sure you are tracking the season as it’s been going, if you were there and in the locker room—what would you be saying to the guys as they have experienced the adversity they have these past 2 games?

Whoo, after a home loss like that, first off I’d be scared to walk in the locker room. If I could build up the guts to even go in the locker room after two losses in a row, I would just tell the guys that it’s better that they have lost now and gotten these losses out and figure out why they lost now instead of in March. They have shown that they have the ability to play and beat anybody in the country but I think it’s good to get humbled and I don’t think any team should go into the Tournament undefeated. You should know what defeat tastes like and what the recipe is for you to get beat by so you don’t let it happen again. I think it’s good they got it out of the way now and although I’m sure the coaches are on them, the coaches are doing what they have to do right now so those kids can learn and get better from it and come February, March those things don’t happen again. I think they have a real good chance at hanging another banner up there.

Remembering back to your career—did any of the teams you were on go through a losing streak like that and if you did—what kind of things did the coaches say to you to get you back on track?

Every season there’s, you go through some adversity. I remember my sophomore year I think we lost to Purdue in the Great Alaska Shootout and then our next game was in Michigan when Michigan State was like a Top 5 team, people thought we were going to lose that one. I think moments like that is when Coach K shines the most in getting the players to rally around and he’s able to get everyone to lock arms and to go into somebody’s house and play well. I remember going into Michigan State, he got us so focused and so hyped, we went into Michigan State and beat them by 30 on their home court, which is really hard to do in college, especially a Top 5 team like that, and in their house, on National TV. I think like I said, anytime Duke teams lose, I think they come back so much better than they were before.

What’s your thoughts on the discussion leading into the Louisville game this weekend of what are a lot of questions about Duke, how are they going to do in that setting against a Top 5 team ?

I think Coach K is going to have them ready, he’s going to have them motivated. I don’t know exactly what he’s going to do with this group of guys, but I know with us, when our backs were against the wall, he’d tell us stories of past Duke teams who had been in similar situations and how they responded to it. He’d show us clips and have highlight videos and just made you feel like it’s your destiny to go in and beat this team. Losing was not an option, you didn’t even think it was a possibility going in and it wouldn’t even be something you’d talk anymore about because you knew you weren’t going to lose again. I don’t know what he’s going to do but I know for sure that those guys, that’s why he’s arguably the greatest coach ever because he’s able to tap into players emotions to get them to do those types of things.

I wanted to thank you for making the time for this interview Shavlik and in closing, I was hoping to hear from you on what your future plans are looking like? Is that something on your radar yet—any future plans in motion for once your NBA career is completed?

To be honest with you, that’s something I started thinking about when I broke my leg, when I was laying on the floor and my whole leg was bent in a 90 degree angle. I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again, so I was thinking about it right then lying on that floor.

I just turned 31, I know I can’t do this forever but it’s something that’s not new to me. I’ve been fortunate to meet some great people who are going to open the door for me to do some unique things when I finish playing. I haven’t narrowed anything down yet but I have been able to start some things while I am playing. I think all players should do that because as a player you understand that you are able to get your foot in doors that you may not be able to when you are done playing, so I’m trying to take advantage of that and hopefully when every player has to realize that that passion you have to play basketball, once you stop playing, you aren’t going to lose that, you will just channel it into something else. As much money as you can make playing basketball, if you are successful in business, you can make a lot more money doing stuff after basketball than you do while you play basketball. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that and I’ve definitely taken that to heart. It’s definitely something I’ve thought about and will continue to think more about as I try to milk these last however many years that my body will let me play.

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