When newly acquired power forward Markieff Morris realized where the Washington Wizards were hosting this year's preseason training camp, bad memories instant began flooding his mind.
See, the Wizards are conducting this year's camp at the home arena of Virginia Commonwealth University, the same VCU that knocked Morris and the Jayhawks out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament one game shy of the Final Four.
In an interview with WRIC's Mitch Carr, Morris expressed his frustration of having to practice under VCU's Final Four banner.
Now with his third team in his sixth NBA season, the 2011 NBA Draft lottery pick is projected to be the Wizards' starting power forward this season and is looking forward to playing alongside backcourt standouts John Wall and Bradley Beal.
During his first five seasons in the league — with Phoenix and Toronto — Morris, 27, has averaged 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 372 career games.
Morris will be joined on this year's Wizards' roster by fellow former Jayhawk Kelly Oubre, who was the No. 15 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft after one year at Kansas.
Here's a look at the recent interview with Morris inside VCU's home gym:
Some of the other biggest names of his generation have retired, but Paul Pierce will forge ahead and play one more NBA season.
After a summer of contemplation, the former Kansas star, entering his 19th season in the league, announced Monday on The Players’ Tribune his intentions to play this coming year with the Los Angeles Clippers — and then retire. Pierce’s decision comes in the same offseason that saw such legends as Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Pierce’s former Boston and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Garnett call it quits.
“You know, I’ve played a lot of years in this game. I’ve given this game all I’ve had all my life,” Pierce said in a recorded speech. “And just like any difficult decision that you’ve ever got to make in your life, I think you’ve really got to be at peace with yourself to make a decision like this. I realize that it’s time to move on from the game of basketball. It’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, but this is it. This is my final season.”
As the 10-time all-star indicated on The Players’ Tribune post, Pierce remains hopeful the Clippers — led by younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — can help the soon-to-be 39-year-old be a part of a championship level team in his final go-round through the NBA.
Pierce, of course, won a title with the Celtics in 2008, when he earned NBA Finals MVP honors.
For his career, “The Truth” has averaged 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists, while shooting 44.5% from the floor. But his numbers have been on a steady decline since Boston, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 1998, traded him away to start rebuilding.
This past season, Pierce’s first with L.A. after stints with the Nets and Washington, he averaged career lows in minutes (18.1), points (6.1), field goals attempted (5.8), field goals made (2.1), field-goal percentage (36.3%), rebounds (2.7), assists (1.0) and steals (0.5).
“I think I’ve had an illustrious career,” Pierce said in The Players’ Tribune video. “I’m very satisfied with the work that I’ve been able to do over the past 18 years, and I realize that you can’t play forever. You know, this is a young man’s game, and as I get older and not being able to be as efficient and do a lot of the things I do, you know, the signs, you know, they’re there. You can’t reach the goals that you put out there for yourself like you’ve done in the past and it gets harder as you get older and the players get better. And I feel like I have one more opportunity on a great team and something to give on and off the court.”
— Watch Pierce’s entire announcement video below:
Thirty-plus days into free agency, former Kansas star Thomas Robinson remains a man without a team.
The fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Robinson spent all of last season with Brooklyn, a rarity for the backup power forward who already has played for five different franchises.
If demand for his services was high enough, Robinson already would have signed a new contract. Still, a report from BasketballInsiders.com suggests the 25-year-old big man also wants to take his time and find the right fit. After all, neither Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia nor Brooklyn worked out for Robinson, who left KU with so much promise.
In Robinson’s rookie season with the Kings, he averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 51 games. Then Sacramento traded him to Houston, where, in 19 games, Robinson averaged 4.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Year No. 2 in the NBA for Robinson, while more stable — thanks to Portland adding him in the offseason and keeping him around for the duration of the year — didn’t bring more production: 4.8 points, 4.4 rebounds.
In 2014-15, Robinson was back on the move, but at least got to better show off his skills on an awful Philadelphia team, averaging 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 22 appearances after the trade deadline.
However, after signing as a free agent with Brooklyn last summer, Robinson only got to play 12.9 minutes, putting up 4.3 points and 5.1 boards in his most recent campaign.
All of those stops around the league and tough lessons learned along the way have changed Robinson’s approach, he told Basketball Insiders. Now he understands he can still make an impact in the NBA, and earn the respect of his peers, by becoming a reliable, role-playing big, such as Bismack Biyombo or Tristan Thompson.
“I’ve matured so much,” Robinson said. “I see things completely different now. Coming in young, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to hear, ‘Be a defender! Be a rebounder! That’s all you need to do!’ I didn’t want to hear those things. I’m okay at doing things other than just rebounding and defending, so I didn’t want to just do that. But after all of the trades and constantly hearing that, it sold me. I think the biggest sign of my maturity is the fact that I’m not striving for the same things that I was when I came into the league.”
The former King, Rocket, Blazer, Sixer and Net no longer has visions of becoming a superstar or, as he put it, trying to play like Kobe Bryant.
“I know that my job is strictly to be a solid rebounder and defender. I want to make it clear to everybody: that’s all I want to do,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “I want to be one of the best rebounders in the league and lock down anyone who comes my way.”
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders suggests Robinson just needs minutes in order to produce, citing the athletic forward’s averages in seven starts for the Nets this past season: 14.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steal to go with 54.4% shooting.
And while Robinson himself admits some people around the NBA might have a misinformed opinion of him — that he’s “standoffish” or a bad person — some of his former co-workers gave him glowing reviews. On BasketballInsiders.com coaches and players used words such as “coachable,” “I loved working with him,” “great competitor,” “fearless rebounder,” and “always a very positive teammate” while describing the free-agent power forward.
Portland guard C.J. McCollum said he connected with “T-Rob” easily, because of the big man’s passion.
“I think he can help every team in this league with his skill set and motor,” McCollum added. “He just needs to get the right opportunity.”
So where will Robinson play in his fifth NBA season? Many teams have used up the bulk of their space under the league’s salary cap. According to sportrac.com, the organizations that still have plenty of wiggle room for larger contracts are Philadelphia, Denver, Brooklyn, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Utah, Minnesota and Indiana. Now, that doesn’t mean those teams have the roster space or a need for Robinson. They could just afford to pay him more.
Other franchises, though, could still bring Robinson in on a veteran’s minimum deal. One such team reported to have interest in Robinson is the San Antonio Spurs.
Training camp doesn’t open until September, so there is still plenty of time for Robinson to find a new (or perhaps former) team to join.
Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has yet to play an NBA game, due to significant foot injuries.
Because of the aforementioned two seasons worth of missed action, Embiid tends to be the butt of social media jokes — sometimes just for the fun of it and other times in response to those who still believe there is greatness on the horizon for Philadelphia’s 7-foot-2 rookie-to-be.
So if you happened to see Embiid’s name pop up on Twitter today it would’ve been safe to assume some wisecracking fan thought it would be funny to say Embiid is so far removed from the actual sport of basketball that he spends his time arm-wrestling Justin Bieber.
But apparently that actually happened.
As detailed by a Twitter account called JustinBieberCrew.com, the fun-loving Embiid began this past weekend by not only kicking it at a club with an international pop star, but proceeding to dominate the much smaller multimillionaire in an impromptu battle of strength.
Check out the video below. I mean, this is why the Internet exists, right? (Embiid is the one who doesn’t look like a Canadian teenager.)
All jokes aside, Embiid, still just 22, has been cleared for actual basketball activities with the Philadelphia 76ers, and just a few days ago showed up on social media doing much more impressive things than defeating a tiny singer/dancer/whatever in arm-wrestling.
Embiid’s offseason hoops trainer, Drew Hanlen, posted an Instagram video of a recent Embiid workout. The Cameroon native not only looks to be in great physical shape, but back to his old ways of incorporating fancy footwork into monster dunks.
On and off the court, Embiid appears to be well on his way to becoming the NBA’s most entertaining big man.
By all accounts, Cole Aldrich, the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has no say in the NBA franchise’s uniform design. Still, the former Kansas center couldn’t help offering up a slight adjustment to the team’s look during his introductory press conference Thursday.
Seeing as how Aldrich is one of three Jayhawks on the roster, along with rising star Andrew Wiggins and recently signed veteran Brandon Rush, the 6-foot-11 big man suggested the Wolves add a Kansas patch to their jerseys, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Admittedly, the Burnsville, Minn., native feels pretty good about life in general these days, what with that freshly signed three-year $22 million contract to play for his hometown organization. As Aldrich, a six-year NBA veteran who already has played for Oklahoma City, Houston, Sacramento, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers pointed out, the free-agent deals he reached over the past few years were neither longterm nor as lucrative as his new contract with Minnesota.
“It’s great to have security, in a sense, where I have a three-year deal,” Aldrich said in the Star Tribune’s report. “For me, I’ve gone through pretty much my career on one-year deals (since a guaranteed contract as a first-round pick).”
A backup post player since leaving KU to become the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Aldrich never averaged more than 3.3 points a game until the 2014-15 season, with the Knicks, when he put up 5.5 points in just 16.0 minutes. He matched that 5.5 average with the Clippers this past year, despite playing fewer minutes (13.3 a game).
“I finished six years in [the NBA] and sometimes I wonder how the hell I even made it this long,” Aldrich said. “Because the average career is three and a half. It’s just a blessing.”
A self-proclaimed lifelong T’wolves fan, Aldrich also considers himself lucky to be back home. He recalled attending several games during the 2004 playoffs, when Kevin Garnett led the franchise to its first Western Conference Finals berth. Minnesota hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since, but Aldrich said his affinity for the organization never wavered.
“Whether it was in another city, playing for New York or Oklahoma City or wherever, I always tried to keep tabs. You root for your city,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “For me to be home, I’m going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to guarantee a championship or anything like LeBron [James], but I’m going to try to do all I can to help us win games.”
Minnesota’s addition this offseason of Tom Thibodeau, new head coach and president of basketball operations, is expected to give the middling franchise a significant boost as all-stars-in-the-making Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns continue to expand their games. Aldrich, a projected backup center with the T’wolves, said he’s eager to work for the famously tough-minded coach.
“The grit and the grind basketball,” Aldrich responded, when asked why he will fit in well with his hometown team. “I love to get my nose dirty. As you can tell, I’ve got a few scars, and I’ve got a missing tooth.”
Many NBA players would look back at a six-month-long season that included merely 104 shot attempts with contempt. Tarik Black isn’t wired that way, though.
During the young center’s second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he only played in 39 games, logging just 12.7 minutes off the bench in those sparse appearances. But the former Kansas big man, who this summer agreed to a two-year deal to stay with L.A., thinks his trials should only help him.
“You can look at the negatives. You can look at the positives. I choose to look at the positives from every situation,” Black told the Los Angeles Daily News. “The positives of that was it built my character.”
Under former Lakers coach Byron Scott, Black saw his playing time with L.A. drop by about 9.0 minutes a game from the 21.7 he averaged as a rookie. Of course, his productivity took a hit, too. Black’s scoring with the Lakers went from 7.2 points a game in 2014-15 to 3.4 this past season, while his rebounding numbers dipped from 6.3 an outing to 4.0.
Still, Black prefers to plow ahead in his career with a minutes-half-full approach.
“It taught me so much and prepared me to be the player I’m going to be moving forward,” Black said. “I definitely learned patience and perseverance. It’s tough mentally to still work hard in all situations. Throughout the season, I continued to work and always stayed competitive when I got on the floor.”
What else would you expect from a guy who drove from L.A. to Las Vegas earlier this week just to support his young Lakers teammates at the NBA’s Summer League.
Black’s character and work ethic figure to serve him well as the Lakers try to change course, under new coach Luke Walton. When Black, a 6-foot-9 big, reached a deal to stay with the Lakers, an increased role next season seemed implied. At the very least, the 24-year-old backup has a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into with the new regime.
As Black told the Daily News, he already had a good relationship with Walton, from their days together with the Memphis Tigers. Walton served as an assistant one season during Black’s time there, before the sturdy post player transferred to KU. In fact, Black said he has kept in touch with Walton since.
That relationship had to help Black feel great about his chances moving forward. And it had to make it easier to have an honest conversation with his new head coach. The Daily News reported Black spoke candidly with Walton about his role for the upcoming season.
“‘I don’t ask to be given anything. I just ask for a fair shot,’” Black related. “‘If I earn something, give it to me.’”
“‘I respect that, appreciate that and will honor that,’” Black shared.
Of course, none of that means you’ll suddenly see Black playing 30 minutes a game for the rebuilding Lakers, who just went 17-65. There will be competition for frontcourt minutes, with newly acquired projected starting center Timofey Mosgov, as well as young forwards Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Not that any obstacles would faze Black.
“I see a world of potential for myself,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back in the gym and get back to work. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Paul Pierce, in his 18 NBA seasons following three years at Kansas, has seen it all in the game of basketball. The 38-year-old forward recently imparted some of his hoops wisdom with a young prep player for a feature on The Players’ Tribune.
Pierce, a contributing editor for the site, met with a high school guard named Oscar Lopez, who plays for a team in Pierce’s “The Truth” AAU program. The two of them broke down video and ran through some drills for a segment called “Scouting Myself.”
Before meeting Lopez for the recurring piece, which in the past has featured NFL players Greg Olsen and Clay Matthews, Pierce explained the origins of his interest in AAU basketball and how his own experiences led to him setting up a program.
“In the AAU circuit, you get to play against all type of players. You know, you’re playing against the best of the best,” Pierce said. “There’s some guys on my AAU team that I still talk to today, because we were able to develop that family atmosphere, and that’s what I want to have in my program.”
In particular, the Los Angeles Clippers forward said he wants to give kids a sense of direction.
“I just want to be somebody who they can come to who has no other agenda for them,” Pierce explained.
After surprising the youngster with a visit, Pierce turned into a coach of sorts, watched some game footage with Lopez and gave him some constructive criticism, while also praising him for his pump fake and balance on a move that led to an open jumper.
The two then went out to the court to work on some drills that Pierce told Lopez would help him in the long run. Among other tips, the veteran recommended the prep take jump shots with a band around his lower legs, forcing him to work on his balance.
The session closed with Pierce providing a pep talk, advising Lopez to focus off the court, as well, with an emphasis on the importance of staying on top of school work and “doing the right things.”
Pierce is reportedly leaning toward returning for a 19th season in the NBA, and has two years remaining on his contract with the Clippers.
— Watch The Players’ Tribune’s entire “Scouting Myself” video with Pierce below:
A regular at the draft lottery for more than a decade, Minnesota might finally be on the brink of NBA relevance again. Just ask one of the franchise’s young faces, 21-year-old forward Andrew Wiggins.
Since the dynamic wing left Kansas early and became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Wiggins trudged through a 16-66 campaign before experiencing a 29-53 season. But he doesn’t expect Year No. 3 to be so unbearable.
In an interview with NBA TV while attending the Las Vegas Summer League, Wiggins detailed how the team’s identity is in the midst of an overhaul.
“We are young, we’re gonna be playing hard, we’re going up and down, we’re gonna be all over the place on defense,” Wiggins said. “I feel like we’re gonna be a nightmare to play.”
Many around the NBA expect the Timberwolves to be one of the breakout teams of the 2016-17 season. That optimism for a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004 began to swell when Minnesota brought on former Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau as its new president and coach. With the fiery, defensive-minded Thibodeau pushing his young stars to new heights, the thinking goes, Wiggins and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns are poised to make a significant leap, and bring the rest of the team with them.
Wiggins isn’t making any bold proclamations or guaranteeing a playoff berth for the T’wolves in 2017. His first two years in the league have taught him just how difficult it is to compete night after night. Plus, he learned not to weigh himself down with the disappointment of all those losses.
“We’ve just got to trust in the process. Nothing was built, nothing was set in one day. It’s a process,” Wiggins told NBA TV. “And every day, with some new additions and players coming back, we’re gonna be even better this year. New coaching staff, we’re probably gonna have a different kind of style of play. It should be a good year for us.”
Since Thibodeau took over as the new boss this offseason, Wiggins said the team has shown interest in everything the players do, whether that’s with the organization or on their own time. He took that level of involvement as a sign the new regime wants its players constantly evolving during the offseason.
As for Wiggins’ personal growth as a player, he’s honing in on his defense.
“… Especially with a new coach coming in, Thibs, he’s gonna really push defense and playing hard and all of that,” Wiggins said. “We’re all looking forward to it, especially with the new addition, Kris Dunn (Minnesota’s No. 5 overall pick in the draft). He’s a great player, as you can see the last couple of games (in Las Vegas) he’s played. And defensively he’s great, too, so he’s gonna help us with a big push.”
In Minnesota next season, Wiggins will have a couple of new teammates who happen to be former KU players, too, in Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush, both of whom signed with the T’wovles in free agency. Before too long, Wiggins might be asked to keep all of the Wolves, including his elder Jayhawks, in line. Those are the sorts of responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the franchise. And Wiggins said he isn’t quite as soft-spoken as he used to be.
“It comes with growth, with experience. I’m going on my third year now, so I have a lot more responsibility than I did before,” said Wiggins, who averaged 20.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in his second season. “I’m becoming more vocal, becoming more of a leader.”
Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t have the most exciting or memorable rookie season. But now that the NBA Summer League has arrived, the former Kansas wing can try to put that behind him and establish a new tone for Year No. 2.
Washington’s 6-foot-7 small forward went for 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals in his Las Vegas debut Saturday, against Utah. The following day, Oubre posted 21 points, 2 assists and 2 steals versus Atlanta.
Shortly after Oubre’s first exhibition, he told CSN Mid-Atlantic why everything felt a lot easier for him this year, in his second trip to the Vegas summer league.
“Now I know what my defined role is, or can be, on this basketball team,” Oubre said. “I’m just trying to do that and perfect that. I’m just out here playing as hard as I can, trying to get wins. That’s the best I can do.”
Still just 20 years old, Oubre (3.7 points in 10.7 minutes during his first full season) appears to be a long way from molding himself into a valuable NBA shooter. So far this summer, he has attempted 15 3-pointers for the Wizards and connected on only 3 (20%). While appearing in 63 regular-season games as a rookie, Oubre made 25 of 79 long-range tries (31.6%).
But there are other ways to ensure yourself regular minutes, and, as Oubre told The Washington Post recently, this offseason he is treating personal defensive improvement as a necessity.
“I’m an energetic player,” Oubre said. “I come in and I try to first and foremost start on the defensive end because that’s what God blessed me with, length and athletic ability, so I feel that’s kind of my calling card, coming out and trying to get stops.”
Oubre showed off his 7-foot-2 wingspan in his first summer action, playing harassing defense that led to deflections and his 4 steals against the Jazz.
“Defense is the key to winning championships, to our offense, to everything,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic after that showing. “So if I can bring that, and bring that heart and bring that dog onto the court, then we’re gonna be successful.”
Oubre (as pointed out by The Post) is the only player on Washington’s July squad who has a roster spot for the 2016-17 season. Unlike some other former KU players participating in Las Vegas, such as undrafted rookies Perry Ellis (Dallas) and Brannen Greene (Memphis), Oubre is playing as an established commodity for his team. The 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Wizards want him to squeeze as much development as humanly possible out of these summer outings.
Washington’s summer coach, Sidney Lowe, told CSN Mid-Atlantic after Oubre’s strong start in the opener he likes the way the second-year wing is approaching the game.
“He made a couple of big shots for us, but I thought his defense was outstanding,” Lowe said. “That's what he can do. He's long, he's athletic, he was able to get in the passing lanes and it generated some fast breaks for us."
Oubre and the Wizards play again Tuesday afternoon against Brooklyn.
There could be one less ’Hawk in the NBA for Kansas basketball fans to follow next season.
Washington waived veteran power forward Drew Gooden, a fan favorite in D.C., according to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s report on the move.
One of the league’s charismatic journeymen, Gooden has played for 10 different teams since leaving Kansas and becoming the fourth pick in the 2002 draft.
The Wizards, who signed Gooden late into the 2013-14 season, helped revitalize his career after he spent most of that season out of the NBA.
Now 34 years old (Gooden will turn 35 before next season begins), he only played in 30 games this past season with Washington. The backup big man was inactive for eight games during his 14th season — the other 44 he suited up but never checked in.
Gooden averaged just 10.2 minutes a game when he did play, contributing 2.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and a career-low mark of 32% shooting from the floor — impacted negatively by his 7-for-41 (17.1%) season from 3-point range.
CSN MId-Atlantic reported the Wizards waived Gooden to create salary cap space for the free agents they attained this summer. The franchise couldn’t afford to pay a seldom-used sub $3.6 million next season.
While what kind of market exists for Gooden remains to be seen, he told CSN Mid-Atlantic after the season ended he had no plans to retire.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Gooden said in April.
Now the question is: Will another team be interested in picking him up for what would be Gooden’s 15th season, and potentially 11th franchise.
According to ESPN's Marc J. Spears, Gooden had received inquiries from New York, Toronto, the Los Angeles Lakers and the L.A. Clippers within hours of being waived.
The Wizards still have two other Jayhawks on their roster: outspoken power forward Markieff Morris, and second-year wing Kelly Oubre Jr.
After having more former KU players on its roster than any other team last season, Washington will relinquish that very unofficial title to Minnesota. The Timberwolves agreed to deals with Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush in free agency, and, of course, they have third-year rising star Andrew Wiggins — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft who went on to win rookie of the year.