How is your summer going?
"It has been good. It's been a hectic summer. I've been traveling back and forth, getting accustomed to the NBA life. I've been to LA (Los Angeles) a lot. I was out in (Las) Vegas about a month ago at another NBA camp. That doesn't include all the pre-draft camps. It has been a traveling experience the whole summer. (The NBA) is a business and that's how I try to treat everything. With me being so young, I haven't learned the ins and outs of being a professional."
What are some of those ins and outs?
"Basically, you don't have a coach there like you did in college. In college, your coach is like a father figure. The coaches in professional ball treat you like a grown man, which is what you are. You have to make decisions on your own. You have to get up and get to practice on time, never miss a bus. Now, you don't get the chance to run when you are late for practice, you get fined for being late. I never want to get in one of those situations."
How much are the fines?
"It depends. I think it ranges from something like $50 to however much they want to fine you."
Have you been fined for anything?
"No, no, I was the earliest one everytime, everytime."
Was there any one thing that caused you to realize that basketball is now a business for you?
"I realized that when I was playing in the summer league. After a game in college, you have a team dinner where guys eat together. In the professional ranks you pretty much are on your own. I had a chance to eat with my fellow teammates, but I was trying to eat by myself. That was one of the things I had to get used to, not being around people that I have been with for the last four years."
Have you since developed any kind of bond with any of the other guys since you have been around them?
"The guy who got drafted with me, Mickael Pietrus, we talk a little bit because we are both rookies on the team. A lot of the guys who play on the summer league team were real talkative and very helpful."
Was it hard to develop any kind of team chemistry in the summer leagues since so many of you were competing against each other for a job with the team?
"Once training camps start, it's every man for himself. You have guys competing for jobs and sometimes you might let egos effect how good the team can be. But I think that's how the good teams get separated from the bad teams. I think once the season gets started and we have a set roster, then there will be team cohesiveness."
Unlike college, in the pros there are guys who get traded or free agents are signed. Does that hurt the possibility of developing a family atmosphere on the team?
"I don't get into dealing with the trades and people moving on because that is the business side of it. That's for the guys in the front offices with the big desks. When you have a lot of veterans on the team that care about winning and don't care about all the other ins and outs, they will go about it in a professional manner and put all the egos aside."
Speaking of family, you were used to seeing your family at MSU games. Now, you won't have that luxury at Golden State.
"No, they won't be able to make the drive like they used to from Louisiana to Starkville, Mississippi. But I do have some close relatives who stay in California. Actually, they took care of my bother when he did an intern there two years ago, so I kind of have it like family there."
When do you go back to Golden State?
"I think I leave next week. They called me a few days ago and asked me to come back up there, so that I can start working out with the guy and some of the coaches before training camp officially opens. That was fine with me because I'm ready to get it started. I wish my contract situation was complete, but that's the business side of it and I can't control that. The only thing I can control is how well I perform."
What things did you do well during the summer league?
"It was basically the same things I did well at Mississippi State. I led the team in blocks again. They said they had never seen a guard block so many shots. I led the team in assists, steals and I was, I believe, fourth in rebounds. I had some pretty good stats. Playing in the pro ranks, you really don't have to do much scoring from my position. We had guys who were the first option and in the NBA you keep giving them the ball."
Do you think they might try to mold you into more of a scorer or use you like they used you during the summer league?
"I think they will ask me to score more. It's all about opportunities. If you have a chance to step up and make a shot, you have to do it in the NBA. You have to be someone that has to be defended. You can't be out there playing four on five. I think with me being able to score, that will add another dimension to the team."
Exactly what is your status with the team at this point?
"My status is I'm invited to the camp. Right now, my contract is not guaranteed. I'm still in the process of making the team, but the coaches really like me and I had a real good summer league for them. I think everything is looking bright for me and I think I have a chance to make the team."
Do you have any idea what to expect from NBA life once you make the roster?
"They have something called rookie orientation that we have to go to. If you don't go to it, I've heard there's something like a $10,000 fine. It actually is at the end of this month. It teaches you about the process of being an NBA player. Things like the travel, how to handle people from the outside coming at you trying to take advantage of you because you are young. You saw just this past summer there have been a lot of athletes that have gotten into trouble; the Kobe Bryant situation, Darryl Armstrong, one of the good guys in the NBA, getting arrested. You really have to be careful."
If you do make the team, what will be the length of your contract?
Just in case you don't make the team, has your agent talked to you about other options that you might have available to you?
"To be honest, I really haven't thought about it. But I know there will be other options out there for me to explore. I just want to take advantage of the best opportunity that is out there for me. If my chance with the NBA doesn't work out and I just happened to get cut this year, I'm not going to let that affect me. I'll just try to go somewhere else to play."
What did you think about Mario Austin being sent to Russia by the Chicago Bulls?
"I was actually shocked that they sent him over there. I knew he was in a tough situation with the Bulls. But Mario is a hard worker and a good person. And I think good things happen to good people. There is no doubt that he can play in the NBA because he was one of the best players in college. I think he will be in the NBA next season."
What do you think about (Coach Stansbury) picking up all these big kids (Piotr Stelmach, Lawrence Roberts and Terry Licorish) over the summer?
"Coach (Stansbury) and I actually sat down and ate lunch together Wednesday. He was talking about the big kids that he signed. I told him that he got an early Christmas gift, an early Christmas gift."
How do you think Mississippi State will do this season?
"I think they will be fine. I think you will see a lot of guys really step up, guys like Winsome Frazier, Ontario Harper, Marcus Campbell. There's a big bullseye on (Campbell's) back."
What have you told MSU (senior guard) Timmy Bowers about this coming year?
"Be a leader. It was always in him but he had me to rely on, so he hasn't had to do much talking."
Has he asked you anything about the NBA camps and what he needs to do to prepare for them?
"I told him not to worry about that. All that will take care of itself. You just worry about the season and make sure you are doing everything right to help the team win. (I told him) after the season is over with, you call me and we'll talk and I'll help you through everything."
You seem to never get starstruck, even now.
"When guys get starstruck, I think that is where you get caught up in it and lose yourself and end up not focusing on what you are there to do. I think you have to go out there and just play. Don't worry about who you are guarding or who is guarding you. You can't back down. If Michael Jordan wants to come out there and guard me, I'm not going to back down. I have to go at him. That's the only way I can keep my job. That's how I have to approach it."
What kind of advantage does having played four years of college give you over the young high school players such as (Starkville High School forward) Travis Outlaw that have chosen to bypass college and go straight to the NBA?
"It gives me an advantage because I had a chance to grow while going to college. I came to college as a 17-year old freshman and I left as a 21-year old young man. Not a grown man but a young man. It's hard for a high school kid to go from high school to the professional ranks. In high school you were the big guy on campus. Everybody knew you. Now, coming from high school to the pro ranks, you are just another guy. All that high school hype doesn't mean anything. I wish all the high school kids the best because it is a struggle. I struggled when I was out at LA. Sometimes I was homesick and I had been through college and was away from my family for four years. You are by yourself. You really don't have anybody to talk to. You are not familiar with the people around you. It is hard to open up to people because you don't really know if they are in your best interest or not."
Do you have a favorite dunk from your college career?
"It has to be the one from McNeese State (during the 2002 NCAA Regional in Dallas). I still get calls about that dunk. I got a pretty good picture of it at home. It actually has the ball going in, I'm on the rim and he is going back."
If there is one moment in your career that stands out over all the others, what is it?
"The last picture we took in Humphrey Coliseum after we beat Auburn (for the 2003 SEC West Championship). It was all the guys with all the fans around us. I looked in the media guide before the season started and I saw the picture where it was Carl Nichols and he had all the fans around him. They had just won the SEC Championship (in 1991). I said we need to get us a picture like that. They got a picture of us with everybody surrounding us. That is one thing that really stands out because we won the championship on our home court and got a chance to celebrate it with our fans."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at email@example.com