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NO. 202 NOV V 2016 20 2 01 16 6



It’s very weird, but it’s very true: Dwyane Wade really is a member of the Chicago Bulls.

For the first time in a hot minute, the 2016-17 Women’s NCAA Preview isn’t dominated by a certain Storrs-based university.



Isaiah Thomas became an All-Star and led the Celtics to the Playoffs, and yet haters are still running their mouths. Why?

Could Villanova be the first team since 2007 to win back-to-back NCAA Championships? It’s looking very possible.



Timberwolves big man KarlAnthony Towns (right) can literally do it all. Here’s a safe bet: The future is his.

48 WE MAJOR It’s all about the college hoops powerhouses in our 2016-17 Men’s NCAA Preview.

The Bucks’ Jabari Parker is ready to step up, both on the court and in the community.

62 STRENGTH AND GUIDANCE Spalding’s summer camps are helping kids reach their full potential.


Atiba Jefferson

Do remember: The 1996-97 Arizona Wildcats were one of the dopest college hoops teams of all time.



Reuben Reuel — New success, marrying African fabrics with western fashion.

Looking back is part of the ride. As Reuben Reuel moves forward on the road to the new success, he knows that sometimes you have to take a backward glance. Introducing the new 2017 Toyota Corolla, with standard Toyota Safety Sense™ P1 and standard Backup Camera.2 Entune™ Audio Plus with connected navigation is also available. You’ve got the wheel. Now, do. Options Shown. 1Drivers should always be responsible for their own safe driving. Always pay attention to your surroundings and drive safely. Depending on the conditions of roads, vehicles, weather, etc., the system(s) may not work as intended. See Owner’s Manual for details.2The backup camera does not provide a comprehensive view of the rear area of the vehicle. You should also look around outside your vehicle and use your mirrors to confirm rearward clearance. Environmental conditions may limit effectiveness and view may become obscured. See Owner’s Manual for details. ©2016 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

NO. 202 NOV 2016

FRONT COURT 12 TRASH TALK Lotta love out there for The King.

15 HYPE A look back at when KG was a rook, OG Anunoby is about to cook and a group of WNBA players who never get shook. Plus pieces on Courtney Vandersloot, Dwight Freeney, Rakeem Christmas and more.

28 SLAMADAMONTH DeAndre Jordan puts on for the US of A. Sorry, Pau.

BACK COURT 68 THE FAN Classic Boston and NY attire.

70 KICKS ON COURT Only a few playground days left...

72 KICKS OFF COURT Get first-day-of-school fresh.

73 KICKS EXTRA Ronnie Stanley plays the system while Chris Simms reps the Swoosh.

76 PUNKS Destiny Littleton, Nick Weatherspoon, Austin Wiley, Lindell Wigginton and Wendell Carter Jr (right) are all on their way up.

80 FROZEN MOMENT KAT’s *been* prepping for the big stage.




2016 Vol.23 No.9


Editorial MANAGING EDITOR Susan Price Thomas SENIOR EDITORS Ryne Nelson, Abe Schwadron ASSOCIATE EDITOR Peter Walsh ASSISTANT EDITORS Franklyn Calle, Max Resetar NEWS EDITOR Marcel Mutoni EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Rajah Allarey, Bill DiFilippo,

Habeeba Husain, Leo Sepkowitz, Alex Squadron CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Ryan Jones, Tzvi Twersky PRODUCTION MANAGER Jillian Burmeister BASKETBALL EVANGELIST Rick Telander SENIOR WRITERS Jake Appleman, Russ Bengtson,

Michael Bradley, Alan Paul, Khalid Salaam, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams, Nima Zarrabi Mohamed Bamba, Shannon Booher, Christopher Cason, David Cassilo, Kris Dunn, Jordan Hagedorn, Danny Hazan, Sherman Johnson, Clay Kallam, Sam Rubenstein, Eli Schwadron, David Zirin EDITORIAL INTERNS Anel Ganic, Rob Johnson CONTRIBUTORS

“Every time I’m with KG, it feels like, in my opinion, like I’m looking at myself in a mirror.” “I’ve always said that I want to leave the game on my own terms, finish as the best player that’s ever lived, and do it my own way—never a version two of someone else, but the first version of myself.”


arl-Anthony Towns told me the two quotes above at our cover shoot this past August. It’s a strange juxtaposition, right? KAT has a mentor who, if all breaks right for him, he’d be lucky and assuredly honored to follow in the footsteps of. And yet he doesn’t want to follow any footsteps at all. He wants to be the first Karl-Anthony Towns, blazing a new trail that others can some day follow. Each quote can be true, of course. Karl-Anthony can become a legend both in Minnesota and in the minds of basketball fans worldwide just as his vet Kevin Garnett has done over the course of the past 21 (!!!) years, and he can do so using the template that KG has established for him, with on- and off-court guidance and advice from the 40-year-old that I’m sure is fed to KAT on a daily basis. He can still do it entirely on his own terms, too. SLAM grapples with this concept as well. We’re now a couple hundred issues and almost a couple dozen years deep, so the legacy is thick, and important to protect. To disavow anything we’ve accomplished thus far—including basic survival, if we’re being real—wouldn’t be fair to any of those who laid the groundwork, be it the editors and writers who raised us from a distance during most of the current staff’s formative years (sorry, SPT) or those who literally molded who we are today over the past half-decade (what up, BO). But we also push forward—and what a weird, fun time to be sorting through the mud. Remember when having a print magazine and a website was a confusing juggle? Now throw in social media, video, live streaming, events... Which is why we keep it moving, leaning on the brand’s foundation while figuring out what can be added to our house as we attempt to build upwards and out. KAT’s doing something similar, though he admittedly looks way cooler doing so. And in that regard, we’re happy to assist. So, two covers: One paying homage to his big bro Kevin’s classic “100% Juice,” and one CGI-enhanced joint that resembles no other SLAM cover I can remember in the mag’s history. A mirror of something that came before him, and a brand new look, a trail of his own.


Art Atiba Jefferson, Tom Medvedich, Chris Razoyk, Buck Squibb


Circulation/Advertising ASSOCIATE GENERAL MANAGER David MVP Spiro Maroulis ADVERTISING SALES Michael Yaari


Manufacturing Operations VP, MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS ARCHIVIST Thomas Voehringer

Greg Parnell


Donald T. Robinson III

Editorial & Advertising Offices 261 Madison Avenue, 6th floor, New York, NY 10016 p: 212.915.4000 WRITE TO SLAM: To carry SLAM in your store: 800.381.1288

Subscriber Customer Service FOR US: or 800.333.6411 INTERNATIONAL: 386.447.6383 or write to SLAM, P.O. Box

420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Please include name, address and phone number on any inquiries. CANADA POST: Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to

Adam Figman

IMEX Global Solutions, P.O. Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2.

Reprints For high-quality custom reprints and eprints, please contact The YGS Group at 800-290-5460 or

PS: Yeah, you might’ve noticed: New Ed. Alert. The biggest of thanks to DP and Schneezy for bringing me back, and the same to Ben for…absolutely everything. Best of luck, my guy.

OFF THE BENCH EUGENE SEREBRENNIKOV is the founder/creative director of Burn & Broad, the design studio behind the artwork on this issue’s cover 1 of 2. Originally from NYC, he’s made a name for himself in the design world by collaborating with the world’s biggest brands and artists including Pepsi, Nike, Jordan Brand and Warner Music. Burn & Broad is a multi-disciplinary design studio specializing in the creation of brand campaigns, album cover design, apparel collections and animations. Before starting his own studio, Eugene was the Art Director for Nike Basketball, designing collections for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

10 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M

Back Issues To order back issues, visit storeBackIssues.html Any submissions or contributions from readers shall be subject to and governed by TEN: The Enthusiast Network’s User Content Submission Terms and Conditions, which are posted at Occasionally our subscriber list is made available to reputable firms offering goods and services we believe would be of interest to our readers. If you prefer to be excluded, please send your current address label and a note requesting to be excluded from these promotions to TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, Attn: Privacy Coordinator.

Printed in U.S.A. Copyright © 2016 by TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved.


Holla holla, SLAM. First and foremost, shout out to LeBron and Kyrie, them boys were awfully impressive! The price of greatness is responsibility. The way this year’s Finals was set up, historical greatness was on trial to be judged. Golden State had a dream season to complete, whereas LeBron had a dream mission to achieve. Respect due to Steph Curry wit’ the shot, for regular season MVP, must-watch-movie-like performances he put on. Me being real recognizes real basketball fans. I will never forget his highly entertaining record-setting year. Nevertheless, you know what’s up? There can only be one beyond a reasonable doubt, best player on a basketball court in the world! After 13 seasons, LeBron finally exercised his truest basketball demon—winning a ring for The Land. No doubt it’s Bron’s world, may the hate rest in peace. Melly Mell, Queens, NY It’s evident that the real MVP is King James, not Steph Curry. LeBron has outplayed him in the Finals two years in a row and he’s crushed any hope the Warriors had of going back-to-back, solidifying himself as the best player in the world. Luke Smith P.S. I would like the editor to reply, whether he agrees with my opinion or not. LMAO. Here you go.—Ed. Peace and Blessings to every name, worker, staff, administrator and all who’s involved with blessing us with SLAM. I greatly appreciate it. Congrats to Adam Figman, keep it up, and peace Ben Osborne. #SLAMISFAM

I’ve always had somebody that got SLAM so I can read and enjoy. Now I’m a subscriber and everybody on my wing/cellblock wants to be a part of mine. That’s how you know y’all articles have substance. More than a good dunk. The way y’all post our comments for Trash Talk, we appreciate that so much. I believe there’s more diehard fans in the joint than the free world, but SLAM allows us to be free, keeping us up on the latest and the Hall of Fame photo with Izzo, Shaq, Sheryl and AI was priceless. It was very interesting to read “Minority Report” by Gustav Gauntlett, that was a real piece and I commend y’all for allowing a REAL topic and let that play out in

INSTAGRAM OF THE MONTH @MR_CAMRON Pop said.. “killa u lookin good, think Ima give u dat 10 day contract”.. I said “thx.. But I’m balling already” RealSpursFanTho #TheyreAllGonnaLaughAtU


#MYSLAM 12 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M

y’all pages, much respect. Thanks to Michael Bradley. #NEVERFORGET. We lose games in prison like that, and it starts fights, but for the US Men to not get they Gold, that’s going to become conversation again. Because of Mohamed Bamba’s height and hunger, he can follow after KD and Dirk practicing for two years on outside shots, so he won’t just be a role-playing great big man like Marcus Camby and Nene. Remember that’s what made Bosh great. Outside shot. I love the props y’all give to PUNKS every issue, and knowing 16, 17-year-olds are possibly the next MJ. Markell Johnson is on his way, and he’s in a Cleveland public high school. Steve Alton James, Toledo, OH Unless I somehow missed it, how did you guys miss putting in an article on Pat Summitt’s passing. Good grief. A basketball magazine and you miss out on noting the passing of the coach with the best record in Division I, male or female? Yup, more than Coach K. Even if you’re not a fan of women’s basketball, you have to recognize that kind of excellence. And her 100 percent graduation rate for her players? Amazing coach and I bet she could have coached in any league. Overall love the magazine. One of my 90-year-olds in my assisted living

place waits for it every month. She’s a rabid basketball fan. Yep, your fans are everywhere, all ages. Mary Hart You should read NOYZ. And that’s dope—send us a pic of her with the mag. #mySLAM—Ed. Look here, Shannon Booher: I’m incarcerated at a maximum-security prison in Kentucky (Eddyville), and while I’m currently on appeal awaiting a decision for a new trial from the judge, I sit here an innocent man, real talk. So being that it’s highly possible my release is underway, I thought it was finally time to put my skills on display with the hottest mag in town. I got whole songs on this level, so check it out: SLAM is the messiah talking now/ So tell everybody quiet down/Because P-zo taking over the game/ By way of SLAM/So tell Steph Curry and LeBron/I want the crown/ The whole league couldn’t shut me down/’Cause I am/The type a shooter you keep around/“Blam”/ On ’em like Yosemite Sam/Or more like Detlef Schrempf, lob me da hammer/I slam on em like Shawn Kemp/And P-zo not even a Supersonic/But I’m smoking like chronic/ Enhancing my game/Call it bionic… MAN/’Cause I’m on da block, ock/ With the rock in my hand/Street credit like a card/You can scan… DAMN/Probably could get you a


@SLAMonline SLAMmagazine

shot in SLAM/Fam, who the hell do I think I am?/The messiah kid/ But it’s M-E- wit 2 Z’s/Dropping bombs on ’em/Michael Jordan and two threes/They can’t hold me/Even if they paid the referees 20-geez/’Cause y’all can’t compete wit bad kneez/When I’m a Warrior like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and KD/Peace. George Harbin, Eddyville, KY BARS.—Ed. Shout out to King James and the Cavs finally bringing home the trophy to Cleveland. This for all the LBJ haters who said my boy couldn’t do it without Wade and Bosh. Well here we are. Just broke up the fairytale ending for the Warriors. We should be back-to-back champs going for a third next season, but you know Kyrie and Love had got hurt and we still won two games! And this year, we came back from 3-1. I don’t think that’s ever been done in the Finals? Also, I enjoyed the SLAM 200 issue. It was the truth—my boy Steve Francis! Looking forward to the next issue to see what rookies my Lakers took. AJ, Midway, TX

NOW WHAT? On the precipice of Marvel Civil War-level changes in the NBA, SLAM 200 will forever stand as the defiant fist before the storm. It’s nice to see a definitive end to the ’96 Bulls vs ’16 Warriors debate, though Scoop da God’s theorized final word from Money on the matter says it all. Otherwise Spree, Mighty Mouse, AI and Steve Francis all in one issue? In 2016? Dope. #WhatEverHappenedToThatBoy. Not every story has a happy ending, but this wouldn’t be SLAM if you didn’t cover the game from every angle. Like the write-up on certified G and bona fide stud Kris Dunn. I’m still baffled as to why the Celtics passed on him with No. 3. We picked up Horford but lost the KD sweepstakes, and now it looks like even NY and Chicago have leapfrogged us in the East Reloaded Summer Sweepstakes. Everybody fears the NBA will turn into a one-horse show again like the Shaq/Kobe era, with little to no team disparity. But when your one-horse team (2017 Warriors, who are now more

dangerous than the Death Star) can pull off such a series of masterful heel turns (from Dray Green’s Finals suspension to Ayesha Curry’s Twitter outburst to the KD deflection), I argue the incentive to see them beaten will only benefit the entire NBA even more in the long run. Not that the NBA needs any more incentive to pay Courtney Lee $50 million. @MadStepDad Courtney Lee deserves every penny.—Ed. SLAM, today my heart is sad. Adam Silver and the NBA have decided to move the All-Star Game from Charlotte. I live a little outside of Charlotte and I wanted to attend one of the weekend events, but Mr. Silver did not consider the fans but what was best for his PR! You

may agree or disagree with the law but the people who passed it were elected to a government office and Adam Silver was not. It is too much power for a commissioner of a sport to decide what laws he does and doesn’t agree with, and then try to force them to be changed. If he wants to pursue a career in politics I would encourage him, but until then his job is to think about the fans and now he has severely hurt many fans and an entire city. Joshua Smith via email

SLAM attached please find a letter le SLAM, for Trash Talk from my son, Warat Tangmatitham, and a picture of him and his little brother. It would mean a lot to them if you can put them in print. Been buying almost every issue for the past 10 years and subscriber for the last two (getting harder and harder to find them on our shelf). Many thanks and keep up the good work! Tritecha Tangmatitham You are the best parent imaginable. Keep it up!—Ed.


S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 13







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APRIL 21-23, 2017

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BOYS AND GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENTS FOR ALL AGES Play against the nation’s best: Teams such as Mac Irvin, Team Melo, Houston Hoops, Oakland Soldiers, California Supreme, FOH Seattle, International Teams, plus many more and be seen by college coaches and top recruiting services from around the country. The competition awaits...


JULY 12-16, 2017

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JULY 26-30, 2017


JULY 31-AUG 3, 2017


Rick Telander

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images


either Stephen Curry nor LeBron James played in the recent Rio Olympics. A big reason is that they are pursuing something more difficult than a basketball Gold medal, that bit of four-year hardware the US can win without every NBA star being on the national team. Consider the US men have gone 138-5 since basketball was introduced at the 1936 Olympics, and you get the picture. In truth, what Curry and James have in mind is winning the next NBA Championship, the title Curry’s Warriors won in 2015 and James’ Cavaliers won this past spring. You think the crown isn’t important, both to the players and their cities? Consider the Warriors hadn’t won a title in 40 years until Curry led them to one against the James-fueled Cavs in ’15. And the Cavs, well, they were 0-for-franchise-history until LBJ led his team to a revenge title over Curry and his Warriors a few months ago. That stunning Finals comeback from a 3-1 deficit made the Cavs legendary, since not only did they beat a team with the best regular-season record in NBA history (73-9), they gave sports-cursed Cleveland its first champion in any pro sport since the NFL Browns in 1964. It didn’t hurt that they beat Curry,

the man who can make threes faster than a puppy can bark. It’s all about legacy now. The Warriors are going for the reboot, snagging superstar Kevin Durant in the offseason. That gives them four All-Star starters (Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) and 6-11 fifth man Zaza Pachulia, who averaged 8.6 points and 9.4 rebounds a game last season. Off the bench there’s Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Curry

has serious firepower around him. Then there’s the massive, unstoppable James, who has stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to help him out, plus lunch bucket guys Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and Richard Jefferson. The key for the Cavs will be if their roster continuity can remain strong enough to counter the Warriors’ crazy talent pool. Maybe the fact there is only one ball will hurt the Warriors—it’s

hard to shoot when you’re trying to rip the rock out of your teammate’s hands. But this likely will come down to a personalized battle between the two best players in the game, as different in weight, size and style as a gazelle and a lion. It could be spinning, firing, yo-yo-ing Steph against bounding, rumbling, flying LeBron one more time, for bragging rights. The third time’s golden, you know.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 15

Our favorite phrase, “Secure the bag,” took on a weird new meaning this month. Big shouts to our friends at Sports Studio in L.A….“STB” then inspired Ed.’s new favorite installment of Check This…One thing you learn while writing about sneakers: So. Much. Lockdown. Who’s gonna commission French Montana and Kodak Black for “Lockdown,” the remix to “Lockjaw?”… Nobody is scared to catch those paws, Max… The US women’s gymnastics team might be cooler than any NBA team…


OG ANUNOBY Indiana Hoosiers 6-8, F

16 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M


In his even younger years, OG wanted to be like another player who rocked the No. 3: Allen Iverson. Beyond AI’s obvious skills, Anunoby says, “I thought his braids were cool, and the headband.” Funny, since the potential first-round pick in 2017 now models his game after another player with cornrows. “Kawhi Leonard. He’s probably my favorite in the world right now. I mean, I like LeBron,” the 19-year-old explains, “but the player I try to be like is Kawhi.”

Considering OG’s role as a beast on D and Frankenstein-ish measurables—he’s 6-8 with a 7-6 wingspan—Kawhi is a reasonable comp. Factor in his quiet, manof-few-words demeanor…On his hopes for the Hoosiers in 2016-17: “To win a Big Ten championship and then a National Championship.” And on what makes him special: “Versatility, being able to do a lot of things...” and it’s perfect. —Abe Schwadron

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


orn in London but raised in Jefferson City, MO, OG Anunoby had brief dalliances with baseball and football (his older brother Chigbo played defensive tackle for a handful of NFL teams). But, Anunoby says, he just “didn’t have as much fun” as he did playing basketball. OG (a conveniently awesome nickname for Ogugua) threw down his first dunk at age 13, and he developed into a force in high school before suffering a wrist injury that took him off the D-I college radar. Story goes, Indiana head coach Tom Crean was in Atlanta to scout a couple of Anunoby’s AAU teammates the summer before his senior year. Almost immediately Crean was intrigued by OG’s raw athleticism and began the full-court press recruiting. The rest is, like OG on the court, a blur. In the span of a few months, Anunoby went from an anonymous recruit to one of the hottest names in NBA Draft circles. He exploded onto the national college basketball scene during March Madness, one mind-boggling highlight after another. On one end of the floor, he threw down a 360-dunk against IU’s first-round opponent Chattanooga. On the other, he locked up Jamal Murray in a second-round upset over Kentucky, blocking more than one of the future top-10 pick’s perimeter shots. The requests for selfies skyrocketed on campus, OG says, and while freshman-year averages of 4.9 ppg and 2.6 rpg for a team that won the Big Ten title don’t exactly jump off the page, that’s what makes him such a tantalizing prospect: OG hasn’t even begun to tap into his considerable potential.



Russell: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images; Ginobili: Elsa/Getty Images; Dunn: Atiba Jefferson

D’Angelo, you are a young future superstar, coming off a sensational rookie year with the promise of bright things to come. Yet you’ve become more known for your one social media slip-up, where you secretly filmed a teammate talking, unfiltered. Sure, there was a backlash that could have defined you for

the rest of your career, and maybe you feel like it was just a fun silly thing that young people do. Maybe you’ve learned a life lesson from it. Still, there is one story people tend to cite on the topic of surveillance and spying in a dystopian future. 1984 by George Orwell is the classic of the genre, a nightmare vision of the future where we are all being watched, betraying our friends, living in constant paranoia.

LINE OF THE MONTH LYRICS OF THE MONTH “Pure shooter like DeMar DeRozan,” “Block Wars”; “Only Cali nigga with a beard like Freeway/Well James Harden too, but you know where he stay,” “Freeway”; “I’m at the Staples, Louboutin frames/Feet on the wood, nigga I could trip LeBron James,” “Gutter”; “I love the Bulls but my neighborhood Cripping/So I’m walking home, I’ma die for this Pippen/’Cause ni**as get ran for they Jordans,” “Run It.” The Game gonna crank out albums (like the Block Wars soundtrack) and he gonna reference Jordan, LeBron and some L.A. ish. Guaranteed like a Patrick Ewing quote. GOLDEN GENERATION OF THE MONTH Argentina, how long will we mourn ya? With the USA winning the 2016 Olympic Gold in rather blah fashion, the enduring memory of the tournament may be the last stand of Argentina’s “Golden Generation.” Manu, Scola, Nocioni and dem done did it. Now the international game is desperately looking around for the next USA challenger to blow. Dropped outta school now we dumb rich.

Now, you were born 12 years after this “future” was scheduled to arrive. All the more reason to learn. Big Brother is watching, and no, not Kobe. Back in 1949, Orwell wrote his novel as a warning to what could happen in the worst case scenario for the future when there is no privacy, not even in your own mind. Your career has just begun, and you can try to erase the memory, the meme you have become. In 1984, Winston Smith is being observed by the thought police, made to stay on the right path so he doesn’t go against the party regime. Much like how after your re-programming, you will no longer do things to upset the Buss family or Nike or Adam Silver. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, changing the past to make history better. It’s like being able to delete and re-write tweets or repost better videos. Don’t you wish the world worked that way? Don’t you just wish all of our mistakes could be burned up in a memory hole? Ah, but being allowed to make mistakes is part of what makes us human, you say. The pattern goes: mistake, public shaming, personal regret, somber apology, jokes, forgiveness. When you first made your mistake, there were insane people on TV, the internet and on their devices screaming the hottest of takes about how you will never be trusted in a locker room ever again, how you violated the bro code, like you were just a horrible person. They were really mad at you! Orwell foresaw this potential for hysteria back then; you live right in the middle of it as a pro athlete. You’ve done a good job poking fun at it in a classic Foot Locker commercial, but seriously, Big Brother is watching. —Sam Rubenstein


Shannon Booher



Every season since 2002, a rook has shared his first run in the NBA with our readers via our Rookie Diary. Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry and others have handled the pen, but now it’s time to introduce the ’16-17 Rookie Diarist: Minnesota Timberwolves PG Kris Dunn.

My name is… Kris Dunn. I’m from New London, CT, a smooth, small city where everyone knows everyone. There’s a lot of good hoopers. Connecticut is on the rise.

I fell in love... with hoops my junior year of high school. Until then, I played basketball and football. My dad wanted me to choose, and once I did, I put my all into basketball and never looked back. I was pretty good at football, though!

Growing up in Connecticut… you don’t have local teams to root for. I’m a Redskins fan, having lived in Virginia for a bit. As far as basketball, I rooted for players. Kobe, really, is one guy who always stood out, so it was awesome I got to his last game.

I went to... Providence; it was great for me. If I had to pick one thing that stood out, it’s that I was treated like a regular person. I’m also really proud that I graduated.

Since the Draft… life has been crazy. Minnesota’s great. The biggest adjustment is how much free time we have. Luckily, I’ve been filling that with video games, naps and a lot of time in the gym. Training camp is almost here. I can’t wait!

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 17

This year’s Elite 24 was dope, as per usual… Nobody tell 21 Savage that Robert Horry has *seven* rings…Consider us very intrigued by ex-NBAers Josh Howard’s and Brandon Roy’s new coaching gigs…We’re all for God Shammgod having a solid NBA gig as well. Would’ve been fire if he wound up in Minny with our new Rookie Diarist, tho…All of the shoutouts to the entire #JellyFam. We mess with them so much we might need to change our Twitter handle to @JellyFam_SLAM…


SPIN CYCLE One of the most feared defensive ends in the history of the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons’ DWIGHT FREENEY was once a basketball letterman, too. And he’s been an NBA fan for life. of his powers, defensive end Dwight Freeney was one of the scariest forces in the NFL. A first-round pick in 2002, the seventime Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro helped Peyton Manning and the Colts win Super Bowl XLI, and his 119.5 career sacks rank top-20 all-time. Freeney, 36, played on the basketball team back at Bloomfield High in Connecticut—he credits basketball for the footwork that goes into his spin move on the gridiron—before earning a football scholarship to Syracuse. (He says fellow ’Cuse alum Donovan McNabb is still the best NFL hooper he’s seen.) He’s also a Jordan Brand athlete, for which he’s thankful beyond the PEs he laces on Sundays, since the now-Atlanta Falcon is a long-time Bulls fan.


SLAM Who’s your NBA team? DF Chicago. That was the first bas-

ketball team I ever loved, back in the mid-’80s, during the Michael Jordan era. I stayed with them and I’m loyal. Who are your favorite players now? Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade—it’s crazy that he’s playing for Chicago now. Those are three guys that, they’re not the biggest guys in the world, but they play big for their position. I really admire what they do. What was your reaction when Wade signed with Chicago this summer? I was ecstatic. I wish it would have happened like four years ago [laughs], but he’s a special talent. He still has a lot of ability and I think he can still get it done, definitely. Butler said he could be an NFL wide receiver. What do you think? I 100 percent believe it. He’s a tough kid, man—he plays hard. He almost

plays the game kind of like a football player. I don’t think it’s appreciated enough that he’s one of those guys that isn’t afraid to get hit. Do you have any friends in the L? I’m friends with CP3, and a couple guys like Al Harrington on the Pacers back in the day that I became close with. Carmelo Anthony and I have the Syracuse connection, so I’m always

PICTURE ME BALLIN’ JAMES DANIEL III, Howard We’ve all heard about this summer’s No. 6 overall NBA Draft pick Buddy Hield, and rightfully so—he had an amazing 2015-16 season at Oklahoma. The scoring machine was second in the nation with 25.0 points a game. Wait—second? Who was No. 1 then? Meet James Daniel. After becoming the first men’s player in school history to score over 1,000 points in his first two seasons, the hot-handed junior at Howard University erupted for 27.1 points per game last year. The senior Bison guard stands an ordinary 5-11 and 165 pounds, but his get-buckets abilities are ridiculous.

KENDALL NOBLE, Western Kentucky Only 19 players in NCAA D-I Women’s Basketball recorded a triple-double in 2015-16, and Western Kentucky’s Kendall Noble was the only player to notch two of them (the only trip-dubs in school history). The junior guard vandalized box scores by averaging 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.9 blocks a game while leading the Lady Toppers to 27 wins. Noble’s play earned her both C-USA’s POY and Defensive POY honors. Noble wants to be a doctor when she wraps up her basketball career—which shouldn’t be too hard, since she’s already a surgeon on the court. —Rob Johnson

18 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M

going to be a fan of his, too. JR [Smith], LeBron, I see them all from time to time. I know a lot of the guys. What was your bball career like? I would consider myself a Charles Barkley, without scoring that many points. If you gave me five or six inches, I could have been a problem. I would have had a real decision to make. But the problem is, you can’t be 6-1 playing power forward in college. What’s your game like? Man, my game is straight old man game. I’ll post up here and there, but I’m passing the ball mostly, and just trying to stay out of freakin’ trouble. What did you think of KD’s move? I didn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately right now, when you’re a star like that, you’re defined by championships. As far as your legacy, if you want to be one of the best, you have to win a championship. I can understand it. It’s no different than what LeBron did, in a sense. I’m old school, as far as staying on the same team, but I understand him. Who’s the worst basketball player on the Falcons? About the whole offensive line. Of the linemen, I don’t think there are any great players. But, Bryan Cox, our D-line coach, he’s the worst basketball player I’ve ever seen. —Abe Schwadron


Freeney: AP Photo/David Richard; Daniel: Rodney Pierce; Noble: Megan Stearman; WNBA: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

CAN’T HOLD US DOWN Lost amid this summer’s deluge of splashier, less uncomfortable headlines, a group of WNBA players refused to have their public political protests silenced. Threatened with discipline and fines, they fought the league. And won. always by


Dave Zirin

here are times when the rock of history gets pushed forward by just a yard and we miss the fact that it’s not just an ordinary yard. It’s one that takes us into new territory. I would make the case that such a moment went down in July. It’s understandable if we didn’t fully appreciate it. At the intersection of sports and politics, this was a cacophonous, emotional summer. There was the death of Muhammad Ali. There were the countless controversies at the Rio Olympics. And there was that moment at the ESPYs when Carmelo, CP3, D-Wade and LeBron opened the show by speaking about police violence and made a public commitment to use their platform to help agitate for a solution. In a smaller font, with far less

attention, this summer was also when WNBA stars like Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson (above with Moore), Swin Cash and Tina Charles used their own platform to wear political t-shirts during their pre-game warmups. Emblazoned upon these black t-shirts were the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both killed by police, as well as a message of support for the Dallas police officers killed by a sniper at a demonstration against police violence. Then came the crackdown. WNBA President Lisa Borders—following the direction of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, according to my reporting—sent letters to all the teams involved in these kinds of oncourt political statements. Players were warned of fines if they con-

tinued to wear anything other than official warm-ups before games. Silver’s belief—and it’s a fine line—is that he wants players to be able to express themselves politically…just not on the court. As he said at his press conference during the Vegas Summer League, “My preference would be that players adhere to our uniform rules, both in the NBA and the WNBA. I think it’s a very slippery slope. As to where you would draw the line when it’s appropriate for a particular player to use that, use a game, pregame, as a political forum, I think it’s a dangerous road for us to go down. So I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.” This was, NBA officials told me, the same policy exercised toward NBA players like LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving after they wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts following the death of Staten Island’s Eric Garner, who died after being put in a police choke hold. LeBron and company complied with the NBA’s wishes: They wore the shirts until they were asked not to. Yet the players in the WNBA refused to comply. They were fined $500 but refused to pay. They pledged to not speak to the media

about anything other than the political reasons for why they would continue to protest. Even Carmelo expressed his support, saying, “I don’t see no reason to fine them. If anything you should want to support them.” The players in the WNBA were saying that the League Office does not have power over their rights to express themselves on the court—that this is in fact contested space and they would fight for that space. Then something remarkable happened: with very little fanfare, the NBA blinked. A tersely worded statement from Lisa Borders was issued that the fines would be rescinded. The players stood their ground and they won. This story, told at the margins of the sports page, matters because the NBA season is now set to begin and the League’s biggest stars have made it explicitly clear that they plan on speaking out about the world around them. It just got easier thanks to the women of the WNBA. They showed what solidarity, strength and resistance to corporate pressure looks like. In doing so, they have created space for NBA stars who care about these issues to have an easier time with Adam Silver and anyone who would hope to muzzle them. That door is now open. All they have to do is walk on through.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 19

If you’re ever in a foul mood, just go watch that Boogie Cousins IG video with the jet skis and dogs frolicking in the water…Say what you will about NBA free-agency contracts, but Timofey Mozgov deserves $64 million for those post-Championship pictures alone…Any of y’all want to take back the Ben Simmons SLAM cover shade after watching Summer League?...OOOOOOUUUUUU…Here you go, Pete: SLAM’s first NWO Wolfpack reference… #BlameOsborne is in full effect! Love you, BO…




efore he was the League’s MVP, before his turnaround jumper and tenacious D saved basketball in Minnesota, before he returned the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Boston and taught us all that anything was indeed possible, Kevin Garnett was just another rail-thin teenager unsure of himself and his place in life. “I vividly remember him calling me after his first day of training camp and on the brink of tears,” recalls Eric Fleisher, Garnett’s former agent. “The guys on the team were being physical with him, pushing him, grabbing him. He was a kid joining a man’s world.” Garnett was just 19 years old at the time, two years away from being allowed to legally buy a drink. He was also just months removed from being selected fifth overall by the Timberwolves, becoming the first player since 1975 to be drafted into the NBA straight out of high school. A South Carolina native, Garnett moved to Chicago prior to his senior year so he could enroll in the more prestigious Farragut Career Academy, and


also so that he could get away from his native Mauldin following a racially charged fight at his school. But this latest move to Minnesota would present an entirely new set of challenges. Suddenly KG had millions of dollars in the bank and millions of fans following his every move. The mall was no longer an option; 6-11 men with octopus-like arms don’t exactly blend in. So Garnett found other ways to entertain himself. He and his friends would race go-karts up and down the street, Fleisher says. Garnett bought himself some puppies, too. Anything to ease his adjustment off the court, so that he could focus on thriving on it. And—when given the chance to play—thrive he did. Garnett averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds during his rookie season, despite playing

just about 29 minutes per game for a team that would win just 26 games that year, a number that even as a kid KG found unacceptable. “He’d call me after games, almost in tears following a loss,” Fleisher says. “Even then he couldn’t take losing—and when he was a rookie he’d get even more upset when teammates of his would be joking around in the locker room after a loss.” Then again, Garnett’s rookie year wasn’t about wins and losses. It was about building a new foundation in Minnesota, and in the NBA, too. KG was there to show high schoolers— and the League—that skipping college and going straight to the NBA was a viable path. Not just for anyone, though. It took more than raw talent to pull off that jump. Sure, Garnett was blessed with

a combination of physical gifts we see once in a generation. He was as tall as a skyscraper but could run like a gazelle. He could bury jumpers from 20 feet out but also shoot over smaller defenders in the paint. He was the rare player who could swat a shot on one side of the floor, then sprint down the court and finish with a dunk, and he often did. But there was always more to No. 21’s brilliance. KG showed a generation what it meant to play with passion and what it looked like to be addicted to winning. “He paved the way for lots of high school guys and young players,” Fleisher says. “All you have to do is look at the Drafts after him.” Kevin Garnett changed the NBA. And it all started his rookie year. —Yaron Weitzman

Jon SooHoo/NBAE via Getty Images

A 19-year-old KEVIN GARNETT showed up in Minnesota with the weight of the world on his shoulders. His rookie season laid the foundation for a Hall of Fame career that blazed the trail for a generation of preps-topros phenoms to come.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 21

We owe UA’s Peter Ruppe a massive apology for misspelling his name in KICKS. Our bad, man…How many big-time analysts criticizing AAU ball actually go to AAU games?...The “2016 Team USA Is On Par With The 2004 Team” narrative lost a lot of juice when USA cracked Serbia by 30 in the Gold Medal game, huh?...And maybe the games themselves weren’t that entertaining, but did you watch the guys’ Snapchats? Incredible…What up, @NJHoopRecruit!...Any headline with “Making the Block Hot” is a good one…Ditto for “Trying to Find the Booty”…





leader out there. Every team goes as the point guard goes.” As games go on, Vandersloot scans the floor and looks for her star teammates. Get Elena Delle Donne early touches to establish spacing, make sure Cappie Pondexter is running in transition. “Sometimes it’s incredible to see how much attention [Delle Donne and Pondexter] draw and how much that opens up for me,”

Vandersloot says. “A ball screen with Elena is so hard to defend.” Defenses haven’t been able to stop Vandersloot, either. Five years in, she’s already 30th all-time in assists, has made an All-Star team and an All-WNBA team, and been part of the Team USA talent pool. Her gritty, gutsy style even has a little bit of Stockton and Payton to it. − Max Resetar

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images


he Pacific Northwest has given us John Stockton and Gary Payton. Two of the best, most competitive point guards to ever lace ’em up. Stock was born and raised in Spokane, WA, and GP reigned over Seattle for years as a pro. They were point gods who basically raised a generation of players across the region. One of those impressionable young hoopers was Courtney Vandersloot, a 5-8 floor general who grew up watching the aforementioned HOFers. “I was a diehard Sonics fan. Gary Payton was my guy,” she says. And Stockton? “He’s awesome. Super nice. You see him around Spokane and unless you know, which a lot of people there do know, he doesn’t draw attention to himself,” the PG says. “That’s a Hall of Famer right there.” Like Stockton, the Kent, WA, native starred at Gonzaga University before she was picked No. 3 overall in 2011. She’s a pure point guard who, for the last five seasons, has set up her Chicago Sky teammates with room-service dimes, hit clutch buckets and been the ultimate leader on the court. “I might be a little biased but I think the point guard is the most important position because the flow, both defensively and offensively, relies on the point guard,” she explains. “They’re the coach, the


BOOKS THE BOYS OF DUNBAR: A STORY OF LOVE, HOPE, AND BASKETBALL by Alejandro Danois The story of the greatest high school basketball team ever assembled was overdue long before Alejandro Danois was inspired 10 years ago. The Boys of Dunbar: A Story of Love, Hope, and Basketball begins all the way back before the “boys” were even born—when their big brothers and uncles put the Baltimore school on the map. The book focuses on the ’81-82 Paul Laurence Dunbar High School hoops team, led by Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Reggie Lewis. They were the nucleus of an undefeated team that knocked off Camden and DeMatha, the biggest names in HS hoops at the time. Danois explains in detail how the team was built from the ground up by coach Bob Wade, a former NFL cornerback who was meaner than

Bobby Knight—he made his players do suicides with bricks strapped over their shoulders. Bogues was a Greco-Roman wrestler and ping-pong prodigy who got his nickname from mangling opponents who took his diminutive size for granted. He grew up in the infamous Lafayette Court projects with Williams and started developing his skills at the local recreation center that was a groundswell of talent for Wade. Wingate and Williams went on to lead the Georgetown Hoyas to a national championship as freshmen, while Bogues and Lewis became stars in the NBA. But they weren’t the only ones. The Boys of Dunbar also tells the stories of the great ones who never made it, but who laid the foundation for future generations. How special was this team? Danois suggests we’ll see another Michael Jordan before we see another Muggsy Bogues. − Sherman Johnson

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We don’t know exactly what it’s gonna take for more NYC basketball players to actually stay in NYC for high school, but we hope steps get taken in that direction ASAP…Brandon Jennings might lowkey be the @SLAMonline Social Media Editor. Love that guy…If not the best, the New Orleans Pelicans are certainly the *coolest* team in the NBA right now…Shump keeps on winning…Thanks to adidas for allowing us to customize the first gear in the #CozyBoyz signature collection…Li-Ning should really holler at Doron Lamb. #WOW…


YOU CAN’T STOP THE REIGN With Chicago native ANTHONY DAVIS on hand, hometown team Solid Gold won the RED BULL REIGN 3x3 Basketball Tournament for the third straight summer.


represent Team USA this summer— he spent this offseason working his way back from a left knee procedure that cut his ’15-16 season short—the opportunity to be around basketball, especially in is home city, was much-needed therapy for the All-Star big man. “It means a lot to host this for the third year, watching exceptional players showing teamwork and competing hard,” Davis says. “Coming back and doing this in Chicago is huge for me, seeing that I’m from here, and especially with everything going on, it makes it a safe haven for these guys to come out and just play.” Chicago’s Bill Davis took home the dunk crown without much of a challenge, eliciting a few stank faces and perfect 10s. While the aerial display was nice, spectators in the stands quickly focused on whether anyone left in the field could dethrone Team Solid Gold. Al Stewart, Chris Singletary, Emmanuel Little and JaMarcus Ellis have been competing against and with each other for more than half their lives. Just as they have done since the inception of the tournament, they targeted every opposing team’s weakness from the jump. There was definitely a target on the back of the two-time defending champs, but even when the group found itself down, they never panicked and played with a poise

and patience that demonstrated both experience with the tournament rules and long-standing chemistry. The quarterfinals and the championship game would be Gold’s only close calls, as it pulled out a 12-10 victory over Only 4 Family from Indianapolis and a 9-7 victory to edge out White Iversons to complete the threepeat. “My group of guys, we just know how to play hard,” Little said. “It’s great that Red Bull throws this


every year and has us out. While we are beginning to take it a little for granted, we’re grateful to win it again. “The competition is getting better,” he continued. “Guys are coming hard at us because we’re the threetime champs. We’ll definitely be back next year to try and make it four.” During Solid Gold’s celebration, Anthony Davis even proclaimed that the Pelicans needed to get the four teammates some 10-day contracts because of their heart and hustle. New cities are expected to be added to the rotation next year, opening it all up to more teams. “These teams from the other cities have to step it up,” Simmons said. “Those guys are just dogs. They’re the true essence of a Chicago basketball team. They’re not the biggest, the strongest or the fastest. But they can do it all and they’re scrappy. That’s how the average Chicagoan is—we’re scrappy in everything we do.” −Christopher Cason

From left: Ryan Taylor/Red Bull Content Pool; Amira Hamid Joseph


hicago’s Seward Park is the birthplace of the Red Bull Reign 3x3 Basketball Tournament, which debuted in 2014. It’s only fitting, then, that hometown team Solid Gold continued its reign. New Orleans Pelicans star and Chicago native Anthony Davis joined emcees Hustle Simmons and Young Wayne for this year’s event. The duo showcased their own endurance throughout the day-long contests, calling games for over six hours. The community aspect of the event takes a backseat to the action on the court, but Simmons feels it’s arguably more important, as basketball bridges the gap among communities throughout the city. “We’re Chicago,” Simmons says. “And what’s the one thing that always unites us? Outside of music and food, it’s basketball. These games are cool because it gets people off the streets for an afternoon. Basketball is a getaway from everything a person might be going through.” With the regional contests expanding to new cities every year, the comp has continued to improve, too. Each city brings a unique brand of ball to the table. This year’s regionals took place in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and Chicago. The top teams from each region made up a 16-team bracket that would compete in rounds of pool play during the national finals for a chance at the title. As the competition whittled down to the final eight and action moved from the asphalt to the hardwood, AD joined Simmons and Wayne for the finals. Even though he couldn’t


X-MAS IN JULY Pacers big man RAKEEM CHRISTMAS hosted a charity basketball game this summer back home in St. Croix, the largest of the US Virgin Islands. Here, he speaks on giving back to the community that made him.


iving in St. Croix for 11 years molded me in a lot of ways. My grandmother took care of me after my mom passed away, and she was always there for me. I only saw my dad every so often, because he lived in the States. I lived with my grandma, my uncle and my two aunts. So it was a full house. My mom passed when I was 5, and I don’t remember a lot about her. From hearing stories, everyone loved her and she was always a happy person. Everyone says I’m just like her—I keep to myself and I bring smiles to peoples’ faces. I started playing baseball in the fifth grade. I played outfield, first base and pitcher. I was 14, 15 years

old throwing 85 miles an hour. I was always intimidating everyone. I couldn’t really control it that much, but throwing that fast was rare. I made the little league national team twice. I could still play right now! When I left for Philadelphia to live with my aunt, basketball was the big thing. In Philly, it’s more of a bully ball type of thing. Everyone gets in your face, tries to push you down and talks a lot of crap to you, so you’ve got to get past all that and keep playing your game. In St. Croix, everyone is mellow. I’m the most laid-back person when I’m not doing anything, but when I’m on the court, I’m a different person. You won’t see a smile on my face. My aunt took me in after she

graduated from Drexel. If she had told me, “No, you can’t leave St. Croix,” I probably would’ve been here on the island doing God knows what. She’s not trying to replace my mother—she’s just trying to do what’s best. My grandma also instilled in me to work hard. My two aunts were the first people in my family to graduate college, so I wanted to keep the line going. Me and my aunt came up with the idea for the charity game by figuring out how to keep the kids active and out of harm’s way. There’s a lot of

violence going on down here. I’ve been hearing stories that people are getting shot once a week. All the proceeds of the game are going toward fixing dilapidated courts around the island. The one court that I remember playing on is in my neighborhood, St. George’s. We used to play there all day long, even though it’s rusted and the street it’s on is messed up. When I was a kid I never had the opportunity to be around an NBA player, so giving back to the community feels awesome. −as told to Eli Schwadron

Our favorite theme as of late is rappers performing at apparel launches—and actually performing lots of songs. But not when they spend the entire show making fun of the corporate crowd. Just do your music, fam…The Mohamed Bamba x A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie pics we got this summer are going to make absolutely incredible #TBTs one day…“Where’s the Dime Drop, Abe?”…SLAM 203 is going to be cool, but SLAM 204—just wait…Vaughn Harper…Derril Kipp…Nate Thurmond…Tyrek Coger…Cesar Odio... John Saunders…Joel Cornette…Nykea Aldridge




hen you looked at Joel Cornette, you saw Goliath. The physical behemoth, who stood just south of 6-10 and weighed just north of 240 pounds, could scare you with just a stare and move you multiple feet with the slightest bump. When you talked to Cornette, though, you quickly realized that he had the heart of David. The charismatic native of Cincinnati made everyone feel like a close friend, tackling their problems as if they were his own. The world lost both the lionhearted David and giant Goliath on Tuesday, August 16, when Cornette was found without a pulse in his Chicago apartment. He was 35. Over the course of his short-butaccomplished life, he was a star basketball player on multiple levels, worked in college hoops and spent his final years as an NBA playeragent at Priority Sports. More than that, he was a standout human being who never let his accolades on the court surpass his kindness off of it. “We all knew he played D-I basketball, but he never elaborated on the magnitude of his presence at Butler or in the basketball world,” said Andy Shiffman, who worked alongside Cornette at Priority and sat in the office across from him. “It’s a credit to his humility that he didn’t walk around bragging or boasting.” As much as Cornette downplayed his playing days, there was a lot to talk about. As a senior at St. Xavier High School in 1999, Cornette was named the Greater Cincinnati League POY, First-Team All City and honorable mention All-State. After that, the man-child matriculated at Butler, where from 1999 to 2003 he helped navigate the program from afterthought to national sweetheart.


While amassing over 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 140 blocks, he played on Bulldog teams that won 100 games, made three NCAA Tournaments and reached a Sweet 16. “He was the consummate teammate,” said Todd Lickliter, who coached Cornette for part of his tenure at Butler. “He was always about his team, teammates and the success of the university.” In 2003, Cornette graduated with a degree in marketing. With the world in his oversized palm but basketball in his blood, he continued his playing career overseas. Three years later, Cornette joined the basketball staff at Butler. After a season there, he reunited with his old coach, Lickliter, at Iowa for three years. Still not done with basketball, Cornette scored a job as a color commentator with ESPN. Finally, from 2012 until his passing, he worked as the Director of Basketball Recruiting at the renowned Priority Sports and Entertainment. The story of how Cornette got the gig at Priority was told at Hinkle Fieldhouse during his memorial service and is worth passing along. Before he hires anyone, Mark Bartelstein, long-time NBA agent and CEO of Priority, puts candidates through a scrupulous process. “Five, six, seven interviews to get final acceptance,” said Bartelstein. In the months leading up to Cornette’s hire, Bartelstein interviewed a wide variety of candidates who were presented to him by Priority employees. None, though, sold him. One day deep in the process, Cornette interviewed…and got the job on the spot. “I had six interviews and it took seven months before I got hired, and somehow Joel sold Mark in one meeting in a way no human has

done before or since,” remembers Alex Tarshis, SVP of Athlete Marketing at Priority. “Joel came in that first time, and I was awed,” said Bartelstein. “I pretty much asked him for a job when it was over.” Had Cornette lived long enough, plenty of people would have ended up working for him. “He came in with so much energy, enthusiasm and passion,” said Tarshis. “Not a passion for making a lot of money or seeing his name on Hoopshype,


but a passion for helping young men achieve their dreams.” Even in the few years he worked as an agent at Priority, Cornette more than proved himself to be a smart hire and dreamchaser. The evidence is in the roster of players he was growing (Bradley Beal, Wade Baldwin IV, Sam Dekker, the Plumlee brothers and more), the rate at which they were improving, and the off-court images they were cultivating under his and the agency’s watch. Sadly, it’s also visible in their messages after his death. “I lose a big brother, but gain an angel,” Beal wrote on Instagram. “Words can’t express the pain but I know you’re watching over me. Love you big bro!” “Joel was more than just an agent to me,” said Dekker on Twitter. “He was an awesome man and unreal friend. Gone way too soon…gonna miss you man.” “He was a gentle giant,” Bartelstein said. “A big man who had the biggest heart.” −Tzvi Twersky

Headshot: Courtesy of Priority Sports; Elsa/Allsport

The basketball world grieves the loss of former Butler basketball player JOEL CORNETTE, gone too soon at the age of 35.









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he end of Pau Gasol’s international career, if the Rio Olympics were indeed the end for the 36-year-old Spurs center, was probably not what he envisioned when he chose to represent Spain in Rio. Yes, they won Bronze, as his 31 points paced Spain in an 89-88 win over Serbia in their final game, and yes, he continued to showcase his versatility in international competition. After all, it was just a year ago, at 35, that Gasol earned tournament MVP honors as Spain won Eurobasket gold. There were indications early on that this would not be as smooth, however. With little big brother Marc sidelined due to an injured foot, Pau had to spend more time inside, where younger players (i.e. virtually everyone) went after him. First it was in their very first game of the preliminaries, when Sixer-to-be Dario Saric sent his potential game-tying layup back, preserving Croatia’s 72-70 victory. Spain would lose their second game as well, barely making it to the medal round. Once there, they easily rolled over France before facing the USA, who were just finding themselves after their own preliminary difficulties. Gasol managed 23 points—none in the fourth quarter—in a 6-point loss that sounded more respectable than it was. He also got yammed on by DeAndre Jordan. And Pau, if you do decide to suit up for Spain one more time, at least DeAndre can’t play in Eurobasket. −Russ Bengtson




This summer, after being the face of the Miami Heat for 13 years, 34-year-old DWYANE WADE left to join his hometown Chicago Bulls. Strange as it may be, the future Hall of Famer couldn’t be more excited for a fresh start. BY LEO SEPKOWITZ


a black suit with a white shirt and striped tie—a nod to the outfit from his intro presser in Miami, back in ’03. No socks this time. “I’m not jumping over the backboard, I’m not zooming past people. I’m playing my game, to the capabilities of my body.” Wade has signed on with his hometown Bulls for two years, $47.5 million. He was born in Robbins, IL, about 25 miles from the Bulls’ home floor, and attended a local high school, Harold L. Richards. The Bulls eyed him as a draft prospect in 2003 and as a free agent in 2010, but were edged out by the Heat both times. In Miami, Wade accomplished it all, winning three Championships in five NBA Finals appearances while setting the career mark for almost every statistic in franchise history. But, all these years later, Chicago is once again the right place for Wade, and Wade is once again the right player for the Bulls. In June, the team traded Derrick Rose to New York, ending what had become a messy, emotional roller coaster of an era. Chicago needs some fresh air, and, ironically, the

aging Wade will supply it. Critics wonder whether a Big Three of Butler, Wade and fellow Bulls free-agent acquisition Rajon Rondo can space the floor—indeed, none of the stars is a good threepoint shooter. But, as Wade says, “I’ve learned that I can play with anybody—that I can figure it out and be successful.” In 2004, when Shaquille O’Neal arrived in Miami, Wade became a star (and made nice with the Diesel). In the ’06 Finals against Dallas, Wade, the series MVP, averaged 35 a game. (No teammate averaged over 14.) In ’08-09—without Shaq— he led the NBA in scoring while becoming the first guard to reject 100 shots in a season. In 2010, Wade delivered LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami—the group only soared once Wade morphed into a hyper-efficient (and overqualified) sidekick. Last season, Wade brought the Heat to within a win of the conference finals—his best campaign in five years. Wade is not the athlete he once was, but he never leaned solely on

physical traits, anyway. He’s a thinker on the court, armed with size and strength, sure, but also a distinct cool control, like, Everybody calm down, I got this. If he needs a stop, he can get one. If he needs to get to the line, he can do that, too. Wade’s greatest asset has always been his savvy. This summer, his patience and insight drew him away from Miami— and Cleveland, perhaps—and toward Chicago. “It just came down to me being like, D, What do you want to do right now at this point in your career?” Wade says. “Once I talked to Jimmy and I seen, OK, Jimmy’s on board with me coming, I started looking at the roster: OK! You know what, this team is better than I thought it was! I look for basketball players and leaders, certain qualities. Once Rondo signed, I saw the direction that they’re going in. I started envisioning myself playing there, with those guys.” courts here. Wade is seated on one. Two of Wade’s sons—Zion and Zaire—are on the


Previous spread and this spread: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Dwyane Wade doesn’t play for the Miami Heat. Hard to believe, but the evidence here is pretty damning. Wade is in Chicago for his introductory press conference at the Bulls’ practice facility. He is up on stage, next to the Bulls GM, with the Bulls logo plastered behind him. He is holding a mic—again, the Bulls logo—smiling, reminiscing about a childhood spent watching the Bulls a half-hour away. He is praising Jimmy Butler, he is dissolving the Heat into the past tense, and he is requesting that local reporters preface their questions by stating their names, so that he can get to know them, since, it seems, he plays here now. It’s odd seeing Wade up there. This is Dwyane Wade, after all—Flash, No. 3, the leader of the Heat for 13 of the franchise’s 28 years. Some nostalgia flows for the NBA as it was a moment ago, so reliably maintained by Kobe, Duncan and Wade in their respective corners of the country. TNT double-headers. Pencil in Wade for the evening, maybe against the Knicks or these very Bulls. Fall asleep to Kobe and the late game. This transition has loomed for some time, and yet it still feels crude. Of course, one fact separates the 34-year-old Wade from the senior pack: his career booms on. “It’s funny, everyone comments about my age, but I looked at my game from last year—what did I do that I can’t do again?” Wade says. The press conference is over. Wade leans forward from a black fold-out chair on one end of the spacious Advocate Center, just down the block from his new home, the United Center. His hands cup in his lap. His legs stretch out wide. He is wearing


in pain, but I played the next game. I only scored 5 points [against Boston], and [Paul] Pierce talked a lot of stuff to me.” He’ll speak to the NBA’s broadening fashion sense, which he sees as a throwback to past eras. “Walt Frazier, Dr. J—look at them back in the day—it was art, the way they dressed.” Wade’s own audacious taste helped to reopen the floodgates. “I was in the NBA at the right time—got into fashion at the right time—where I helped make it OK for the guys coming up to express themselves. We’re in a macho league, and guys can be a little iffy about that. But when you see guys you respect [dressing boldly], it makes it easy to do it.” He acknowledges that, between Kevin Durant’s free-agency move and his own, this offseason was an especially wild one. “I made a decision that was like, What?! We was

“Everyone comments about MY AGE, but I looked at my GAME from LAST YEAR. What did I do that I can’t do AGAIN ?” 34 SL AMONLINE .COM

already like, What?! when KD made his decision, so it was like, What?! What?!—like a double What!” Wade says. “I’m happy that he made his decision for himself, and myself the same. If you’re a supporter of mine, then you’re happy that I made the decision for me. Doesn’t mean you love it, but you’re happy for me.” Most importantly, he is forthright about the worst part of his breakup with Miami: leaving behind Udonis Haslem, with whom he entered the League. “I’m gonna miss him on the court when I talk shit,” Wade says. “I’m happy that he gets to continue his career in his hometown, but I’m gonna miss him. I’m gonna miss the shit out of him.” Sadly, UD couldn’t keep Wade in Miami. Neither could Pat Riley, though maybe “could” is the wrong word there—the team president made no effort to retain his star guard. Instead, Wade negotiated with the team owners, the Arison family, who offered a fair deal by market standards, but not by a hero’s. Haslem wonders if that distinction made the difference. “Dwyane wanted to feel like he was loved and respected more—that was important to him, as it should be,” he says. “He never thought he’d leave Miami. Never. None of us could have envisioned it. Last year, he gambled on himself with a one-year deal and played really well. Going into this summer, he didn’t think it would be as much of a negotiation as usual. I think both sides expected the negotiation to be smoother.” Wade insists that this is all about Chicago. “For me, it’s as simple as, I got a deal in Miami for $41 million, I got a deal in Chicago for $47 million,” Wade says. “It didn’t come down to the money. I thought about Cleveland, but I didn’t fit there. You don’t just do something because, Oh, I could win the ring there. I have three rings. I don’t need to chase the ring. This is what I wanted to do. I couldn’t fight it. If you fight it, you’re gonna always be like, You shoulda, or, What could’ve—I don’t like to live my life like that.” That much is evident—Wade is perhaps the League’s premier opportunist away from the game, too. In 2012, he left Jordan Brand to sign with the Chinese company Li-Ning. (There, he has his own sub-brand—Way of Wade—and the title of Chief Brand Officer.) The following year, Wade began designing socks for Stance. For $19.99, Wade Cellars offers a 2013 Napa Valley Red Blend, available online. A Wade-fashioned Hublot watch runs for about $20K. Wade will soon star in a reality TV show, on which he and Union will flip houses (though they should probably keep one). Yes, Wade may be “Team No

Sleep,” but the one constant has always been his day job: Shooting guard for the Miami Heat. No longer. for a legend to relocate. In Miami, Wade’s name carried tremendous weight into each game. If he shot 2-12, he was still the dude with three Championships. If he missed a buzzer-beater, well, Remember that time he cookied John Salmons with four seconds left in a tie game, then dribbled down and drained a pull-up three for the win?


Left to right: Bob Metelus; Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

other, showing off their jumpers for Butler (who’s in town for a Team USA scrimmage). The signing affects the brothers as much as it does their father—they’ll soon begin studying at a new, midwestern school. Meanwhile, Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, sold a Chicago home back in 2013, and have not yet found a replacement. “So much is going on,” Wade says. “I don’t know. We’ve been looking at schools, looking at houses, and we’re gonna try to find the right one that fits our family.” Wade is sharp and sincere. He is attentive, despite the busy day, and he’ll indulge any topic of conversation. He recalls his introduction to the NBA with ease. “That first game, I have 14 at the end of the first half. I’m yelling, like, Man, I’m about to drop 20 in my first game! Like, This is cool! But that game I got a hip pointer, which I never had. I ended with 18. I was

In Chicago, fans expecting a Hall of Fame slasher will have to settle for a wise old man with a sweet mid-range game. That might be a problem for some. So while the stats and standings would probably register about the same in Chicago or Miami, there is still great risk for Wade in leaving the Heat—there is still his identity to protect. There is the concept of Dwyane Wade, the winner, the man who carried his franchise to relevance and even glory. It is not

that Wade’s legacy is on the line—he passed that checkpoint 10 years ago when he delivered Miami its first title. But, in the coming years, the bright image of Wade, the valiant champ, may dim in some way, or else just sort of freeze in time, as if his career really ended the day he switched uniforms. One considers the tenure of Allen Iverson in Denver or Dwight Howard in L.A.—prolific but empty— and wonders if they were ever really there. Wade will play well and be loved in Chicago, but it can’t ever

be quite the same, or really even close, can it? Hard to say. Maybe the hometown kid can pull it off. Everybody at the press conference is thrilled Wade is here. Local writers want to know how long he’s been dreaming of this day. A TV news reporter asks which restaurant he visited first upon returning home. Today, nobody really cares whether Chicago has formed a “super team” around Wade, Butler and Rondo. Little attention is paid to

how this team will stack up against Cleveland or Golden State. Who cares if Wade’s Bulls win games? Wade’s a Bull. That’s a win. Until opening night, anyway. “I can’t wait to open up here,” Wade says. “First game here, hear my name called for the first time. I just wanna come out and hear the roar of the crowd. Then I wanna produce and give them something to cheer for. It’s like a new excitement. I’ve been in the city before, but it’s different now. I’m a Bull.” S



Boston Celtics point guard ISAIAH THOMAS became an All-Star and led his team to the Playoffs in ’16, but that hasn’t stopped the haters from doubting him. Don’t worry, it isn’t stopping him from setting— and reaching— brand new goals.




Isaiah Thomas’ first real job was at the local YMCA in his hometown of Tacoma, WA. He was 15 years old, and his father was on him about getting a job and growing up. Considering Isaiah was already at the YMCA playing basketball most every day anyway, his pops convinced the manager there to give him a job. “It was funny because I was always there, so then when I worked and I was on my lunch breaks, I would just go in the gym and play basketball, and then come back and scan the members’ cards to get in,” Thomas recalls with a smile. “Lunchtime was not really lunch to eat, it was to get more shots in.” Skip ahead to a Sunday afternoon at present and here’s Thomas, still getting extra shots up at lunchtime. In this case, the setting is slightly more upscale than his humble beginnings at the Y. And, thankfully, he’s already eaten today. It’s mid-August, and Thomas has just wrapped a two-day basketball camp with hundreds of young Celtics fans in Boston. We’ve linked up back at his brand new apartment complex in Cambridge, MA, just across the Charles River. Thomas shoots around for a few minutes on the halfcourt adjacent to the building’s in-house gym as we take some photos and roll video. IT flicks up consistent cash from deep, hardly breaking a sweat. Between reps, he talks about how freezing it was during February’s All-Star Weekend in Toronto, and how excited he is that next year’s festivities have been moved to New Orleans. This line of conversation, of course, has taken on new meaning for Thomas ever since he participated in the game himself. Beyond altering his schedule—you know, keeping the Sunday after Valentine’s Day weekend free on his calendar—the All-Star honors haven’t changed Thomas much. If anything, he notes, it’s outsid-


ers who are changing their tune. “Everybody I guess feels like they knew this was going to happen,” Thomas says, laughing. “So that’s the funny thing. In the basketball world, from high school to college to the NBA, you work with the same people, and you see how they treated you back then and you see how they treat you now—like they always knew that was gonna happen.” Still, that faction of phonies is almost tolerable when you consider the incessant chorus of naysayers who remain, despite all of Thomas’ success. After joining the Celtics at the trade deadline of the 2014-15 season, Thomas scored a career-high 22.2 points per game in 2015-16 (11th-most in the NBA) to go with 6.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds, while starting 79 games and appearing in all 82. He led the C’s in points, assists, free throws (he was fourth in the NBA in FTs made) and threes. Boston finished with its highest post-season seed since 2012, and took two games off the Hawks in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. And yet, the Isaiah Thomas haters remain steadfast. “Last season was an All-Star year, and a lot of people think that was given to me for whatever reason,” Thomas says. “A lot of people think that I lucked up, that I just had a pretty good year and that I won’t have another one. Those are the types of things that give me extra motivation,

knowing that this is a big year and I’m gonna be an All-Star again next year and I’m gonna have a great year and I’m gonna lead my team to the Playoffs, hopefully even further than the first round. So I’m just gonna continue to do the things that I do and do it with a smile on my face.” Recently, Thomas has devoted more effort to his mental focus. He often consults with close friend and champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. He scored a sitdown with Kobe Bryant, too, to get advice on how to lock in. He’s even become fascinated by the teachings of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. Even with all the added Zen, though, Thomas still openly admits to paying attention to what’s being said about him in the media, good and bad. “I definitely read things,” he says. “I like to read who wrote the articles, just to see who it is, and then prove them wrong—kill them with kindness, try to make them eat their own words. “They’re always gonna say something about my height. Even this summer around the Draft, some analyst said the Celtics should draft a point guard, and that point guard would be the best point guard on the Celtics,” Thomas continues, referring to ESPN’s Chad Ford, who suggested Boston ought to draft Providence’s Kris Dunn as an upgrade at the PG position. “It’s like, if anybody else was an All-Star and 6-1, you would never say that, and that’s what happens with

being small. They always overlook you no matter what you do—unless you’re Allen Iverson.” He’s right. Thomas is, at 5-9, the smallest player in the NBA. And his sub-6 foot stature makes him the only All-Star that any Average Joe would ever foolishly claim to be able to compete with. Even the biggest idiot at the rec wouldn’t claim they could post up LaMarcus Aldridge or Andre Drummond. But guaranteed there’s a bozo on every block who swears he could check Isaiah Thomas. (Such a claim is, obviously, so batshit insane it doesn’t deserve a defense here.) Zeke chugs a bottle of Fiji water and we dip into an elevator. He presses the button for the penthouse, where from the roof, on this beautiful sunny day, the sprawling view of Boston is stunning. Thomas squints at the sunshine, and for a minute, watching him stare out at the city from high above, it reminds me of that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” In the foreground of the picturesque landscape, front and center from this vantage point 21 stories up, sits TD Garden. That arena is, without a doubt, under Thomas’ reign. It only took one game for Thomas to endear himself to the Boston fans; he was ejected in the fourth quarter of his Celtics debut, an OT loss to the Lakers at Staples Center. Perhaps not prudent at the time, but Celtics head coach Brad Stevens can laugh about it now. “That was a little bit unique,” says Stevens of the first impression between PG and coach, “but I think the bottom line was, he has a passion and a fire for doing well and playing well for Boston—from the moment he’s gotten here.” And as quickly as Thomas embraced Boston, the city embraced him back, as it so often does with its sports stars. Whereas during previous stops in his NBA career, in Sacramento and Phoenix, the average-sized Thomas might blend in with the normal human population, now even his young kids often get recognized by fans on the street. “The biggest difference is, it’s Boston,” Isaiah says. “They love sports. They treat you like a god out here. If you give it your all each and every night, they’re gonna respect you. That’s the difference between anywhere else I’ve ever been, these people here, they really love their sports, they really love their team, and it seems like they’ll die for you out here.” This season, Thomas will team up with some big new pieces, most notably No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown and free-agent acquisition Al Horford, a fellow All-Star who jumped ship from Atlanta. The Celtics were among the teams to meet with Kevin Durant, too, and though his well-publicized decision to join the loaded Warriors meant disappointment for Celtics

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

fans, the fact that Boston was among the finalists points to an uptick in the team’s Q-rating, thanks in large part to No. 4. Thomas won’t divulge much about the specifics of the KD meeting, but he was in the room. He says it went well (“I mean, Tom Brady was in there”), but not as well as it could have gone, in his mind, had better timing allowed the C’s to show up with Horford in tow. The dream of Durant deferred, Thomas isn’t afraid to take on the lion’s share of leadership duties once again for the Celts. His steady improvement is only surprising to those who haven’t been paying attention. See, following Thomas’ breakout season with the Sacramento Kings in 2013-14, we had a similar conversation. He laid out two goals then: “I want to be an All-Star.” Check. “I want to get to the Playoffs.” Check. Throw in the fact that the 27-year-old also got married to longtime girlfriend Kayla

“The BIGGEST DIFFERENCE is, it’s Boston. They LOVE sports. They treat you LIKE A GOD out here. If you GIVE IT your all each and EVERY NIGHT, they’re gonna RESPECT YOU.”

Wallace a few weeks after our latest chat, and 2016 is already the biggest year of his life, by far. So what’s next? “I want to be an All-NBA player— that’s an individual goal for me,” Thomas explains. “I know with having a good team and a Playoff team, all the individual success will come with the work that I put in. Maybe one day I’ll be at the MVP level. Those are the next goals for me, and I always like to speak stuff into existence.” “I think the chip on your shoulder is contagious, if directed the right way,” adds Stevens. “There’s a pride that comes with being challenged—he constantly feels challenged and I think that’s a good, contagious thing for him and our whole team.” One of Thomas’ favorite sayings is All gas, no brakes. “I just kept my foot on the pedal and I’m here,” he says. “I’m here today going into my sixth year, and I’m at a pretty good moment in my life.” S



Standing 7-feet tall, the Timberwolves’ KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS can bang in the post, shoot from deep, run the floor and defend inside and out. He’s got one of the best personalities in the League, too. What more could you possibly ask for? WORDS ADAM F IG MA N PO R T R A I T S ATIBA J E F F ER S O N


The year is 2008, and Karl Towns Sr, a varsity basketball coach at Piscataway Vocational Technical School in New Jersey, brings his daughter to Piscataway’s Day Park to work on her game. Karl-Anthony, Towns’ son, tags along, too. While Towns Sr and his daughter get shots up and run through drills, Karl-Anthony walks over to the court where the high school boys are playing and tries to get in a game. Karl-Anthony was always tall—as a seventh grader he was already hovering around 6-5, requiring a special desk to sit at while the other students in school sat at a table as a group— but that didn’t help him get picked to play. In fact, it was the opposite. “The older kids considered him awkward and uncoordinated,” Towns Sr says. “They said, ‘He’s only in seventh grade.’ He was big and people would say, ‘Look at him—he can’t be coordinated. He’s got big shoes, big feet.’ He was always picked last.” That was unwise. Because ever since his son was barely old enough to walk on his own, Towns Sr had him in the gym every day, be it to teach his son the game or to have him hang on the sidelines while Pops coached high schoolers. KAT was indeed gangly, all arms and legs, and he did have massive feet—but the kid could hoop. His range extended out beyond the three-point line and he could handle the ball as well as the older kids at

the park, regardless of height. “By the time games were over, everyone would be like, ‘Who picked this kid last?’” Towns Sr says. “They didn’t know that he was in the gym every day with me practicing—and practicing with high school kids every day. Nobody ever thought that.” “I took [getting picked last] as a challenge to be better,” Karl-Anthony says. “I took that as motivation to keep striving.” You know what happened over the next few years. The NJ native kept getting taller and kept getting better. He became one of the top recruits in the country. Played for the Dominican national team at the age of 16. Graduated high school in three years. Played at Kentucky for one. Declared for the Draft. Got picked a little higher than he did back at the park. Then he went on to have one of the best rookie seasons ever, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for the young Minnesota Timberwolves. He became the fifth rook ever unanimously selected Rookie of the Year, earning all 130 first-place votes from the media. Not a bad way to start a career. Los Angeles afternoon in August, as the 20-year-old strolls into the Bay Club in Thousand Oaks to take part in his first solo SLAM cover shoot. He arrives alone, rolling into the gym wearing a Like Mike-inspired Calvin Cambridge basketball jersey, light blue jorts and all-white Air Force 1s. “What you guys do is art,” he tells SLAM photographer Atiba Jefferson, “and I could never rush art. I’ll be here for as long as you need me.” It doesn’t take long for the energy in the room to pick up. “Let me put on something me and D’Angelo [Russell] listen to,” he says, taking control of the photographer’s iPhone and playing Logic’s “I’m Gone” on Spotify. Then he begins simulating some in-game moves for the camera, and suddenly I understand why a bunch of foolish kids in a park once thought Towns was way less talented than he really is. It’s not that Towns doesn’t look like he can ball—dude is a legit 7-feet, after all—but his athleticism exceeds any expectations. As Jefferson snaps away, Karl-Anthony starts with lay-ups and finger rolls, then attempts a dunk, taking off from the baseline relatively softly and drifting into the air, seemingly set to fall a few feet short of the hoop. And then: bang! His arm go-go gadgets into the sky as he floats just longer than gravity typically allows, hammering the ball into the hoop with such force that the entire gym feels like it’s shaking as the boom ricochets off the surrounding walls. Then he does it again. And again. Each time from a different—and more impressive—angle. As a professional basketball media


member, I probably should’ve known that he could pull off such maneuvers. But those kids at that Jersey park—they can be forgiven. Because while it’s a given now that KAT is on his way to becoming one of the best basketball players walking the planet, it was a little less apparent in the late ’00s. To most. But not Towns Sr. Karl-Anthony’s dad played at Monmouth University in the mid-’80s and had plans to hoop overseas until an injury sustained in a park dashed those plans. He went into coaching, and as soon as his son hit about 3 years of age, Towns Sr was bringing the kid to his varsity practices every day. As KAT got older—and taller—he played with the high school kids, learning to hold his own around more mature, more talented players than those his peers were practicing against. Perhaps because he was practically raised with a ball in his hand, or perhaps because of some innate ability, Karl-Anthony had a knack for the game, able to dribble like a guard and shoot like a wing, despite his height. He attended high school at St. Joseph in Jersey, playing for head coach Dave Turco. By the time KAT was in ninth grade, he stood 6-9, but Turco didn’t pressure him to stay close to the hoop. Instead, KarlAnthony led the team in three-pointers through his high school career. “People would come to games and be like, ‘Why do they have that big kid out on the wing?’” Turco says. “At the time we had a kid named Quenton DeCosey who was very good at getting to the rim. So Karl was on the perimeter, because if the [opposing team’s] big man stayed inside, we’d get Karl the ball and he’d knock down threes, and if he went outside then Q would get to the rim pretty easily.” As a 16-year-old high school freshman, Karl-Anthony decided he wanted to play for the Dominican Republic national team—his mother is from the DR, so he was eligible—and the family traveled to NYC for tryouts on a weekly basis. “We were traveling to New York every weekend for, like, two months,” his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, remembers. “Elimination.

Elimination. Tryout. Tryout. And Karl was still, still there. Everyone got eliminated but him. A month had gone by—from thousands of kids, now to a hundred. He said, ‘Mom, I’m gonna do better next tryout. Better. And better.’ And he got it.” With the Dominican national team, Towns played and practiced alongside NBA players Al Horford and Francisco Garcia, and faced up against Team USA (and was guarded by Anthony Davis) in an Olympic qualifying game in 2012. “When I spent time with the Dominican national team, I think that’s where I really took that next step,” Towns says. “You know, learning to be a professional, learning how to treat my body, learning those little tips and tricks and different skill sets that I had never been introduced to.” University of Kentucky coach John Calipari famously coached that Dominican team, which is where he met KAT, a point critics of Cal have often noted as evidence of the coach’s sneaky recruiting tactics. “Come on. I didn’t know who he was,” Cal says now. “Found out on a fluke who he was and when I watched him, it was like, Wait a minute, this is the kid you’re telling me about? He wanted to be a guard.” Following three straight state titles, KAT was off to Lexington, where he was a member of a stacked Kentucky team that platooned two groups of five guys in shifts throughout each game. Cal claims he was only able to coach like that—a method that worked, as the team went undefeated during the regular season, eventually falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four—because KAT bought in. “Think about it: Should Karl have played 35 minutes a game?” Cal asks. “Yeah. He played 20, 21, so Dakari [Johnson] could get 18-19 minutes. If I couldn’t get through to Karl and couldn’t coach him hard, how was I gonna get anyone else to do it? We had to be able to coach him.” KAT’s college coach had a markedly different strategy for helping him get ready for the L than his high school one, though: “I did not let him shoot three-point shots,” Cal says. “You gotta understand, he led his high school team in three-point shooting attempts. [At UK], he was gonna get

“EVERY TIME I’m with KG, it FEELS LIKE, in MY OPINION, like I’m looking at MYSELF in a mirror. We have that SAME DRIVE, passion, determination— that SAME FIRE.” SL AMONLINE .COM 43


“I’ve ALWAYS SAID that I WANT to leave the game on MY OWN TERMS, finish as the BEST PLAYER that’s ever lived, and do it MY OWN WAY— never a version two of SOMEONE ELSE, but the first version of MYSELF.”

Jacket by Greg Lauren


Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

next to that basket and every day he was gonna get better.” Timberwolves president Flip Saunders—who passed away shortly before the 2015-16 NBA season— selected Karl-Anthony No. 1 in the ’15 Draft, pairing him with veteran Kevin Garnett, as decorated an NBA big man as there is, to learn the ins and outs of the League. They set up a group text with Flip, KG and the rest of the team to help Karl-Anthony become familiar with his surroundings and make him feel comfortable, and to this day KAT says he plays to make Flip proud that he drafted him and entrusted the future of the organization in him. KG remains KAT’s primary mentor. “Every time I’m with KG, it feels like, in my opinion, like I’m looking at myself in a mirror,” Towns says. “We have that same drive, passion, determination—that same fire.” Though KG was always more of a forward (especially early in his career) than a true center, the two share a common, if broad, on-court trait: versatility. When Garnett entered the League and made a splash during those first few seasons, it was because of his ability to do…well, everything. And now KAT is doing the same. He can score both inside the paint and outside toward—and beyond—the three-point line. (That Turco-Calipari combo prepped him well.) He can defend both inside and out, too—he holds his own against big men in the paint and is quick enough to help on pick-and-roll switches. The analytics heads love him; his true shooting percentage (59.0) and effective fieldgoal percentage (55.5) stack up well. He passes every eye test, too. He provides literally everything you could possibly ask for in an NBA big man. “I try to be the best in the League at every single aspect, whether it may be three-point shooting like Stephen Curry, rebounding like Andre Drummond or blocking shots like Hassan Whiteside,” he says. “I’m trying to strive to be at the head of those categories—in all of them.” Off the court, Garnett isn’t really a fair comparison. Towns is a little

more…let’s say...personable. Kinda like a class president. Wait, no: an actual class president. KAT held that title throughout his entire high school tenure, which, if you know him whatsoever, is probably the least surprising thing you could ever learn. Last May, SLAM held a video shoot with UK point guard Tyler Ulis as he readied for the 2016 Draft in Lexington. Towns, back in Kentucky for an autograph signing, stopped by the practice facility to say what’s up to Coach Cal, Ulis and some UK staffers. On the way out, he approached Ulis and let him know to holler at him if he needs anything at all as he prepared for the next step. Altogether a pretty casual move, but a notable one coming from a 20-year-old speaking to another 20-year-old. (Ulis had stayed in college an extra year.) “You think he’s fake, because you

“YOU THINK he’s FAKE, because you CAN’T BE that NICE a guy. Then after BEING AROUND him you’re just like, ‘Holy Jesus, THIS IS WHO this kid is.’” —Coach Cal

can’t be that nice a guy,” Cal says. “I know when you first meet him and you’re around him and you’re with him for a few days, [you think] this isn’t real stuff, like, He’s the best BSer I’ve ever seen. Then after being around him you’re just like, ‘Holy Jesus, this is who this kid is.’” The best possible news for Wolves fans is there’s zero reason to believe the franchise isn’t going to continue to build on its Towns-based foundation. Also on the roster are 21-year-old swingman Andrew Wiggins (2015’s Rookie of the Year), 21-year-old highflying guard Zach LaVine and newly drafted 22-year-old PG Kris Dunn, who very well could give Minnesota its third consecutive ROY. “We’re all just doing it together,” Wiggins tells us. “We’re all around the same age, with the same goals, and we like similar stuff. We all want to score, we all want to win and we all take pride in what we do. We know we’re in it together—we know what the future can hold if we stay together and stay on top of our game.” Towns spent the summer doing exactly the types of things he should be doing—hanging at the ESPYs, rooting on his teammates at Summer League, making appearances on children’s TV shows, attending Cal’s celebrity softball game—all while working out in L.A. and elsewhere. Right before training camp, he’ll perform his annual ritual of unplugging from the internet for a few days as he holes up in Agoura Hills, CA, clearing his mind before the season tips. “I always think that if I’m not doing

something that somebody else is, that they’re trying to take my spot, or take my job, or just get better than me,” he says. “I can’t let that happen, so I look at every single minute, second, hour, day, as an opportunity to be better than the person that’s chasing me. I’ve always said that I want to leave the game on my own terms, finish as the best player that’s ever lived, and do it my own way—never a version two of someone else, but the first version of myself, and I strive every day and continue to work on my game so I can be the best player possible, so I can leave my legacy as that. I’m not gonna stop until I’ve accomplished that goal, until I have absolutely nothing to give to the game of basketball.” Cal tells a story that he thinks sums up Towns’ rise pretty well. When KAT first got to Kentucky in the summer of 2014, former UK big men DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis were hanging around campus. Cal asked them what they thought of Towns’ talent, the obvious context being that this kid was set to be the next iteration of gifted UK-produced centers like DMC and AD. “‘Man, that kid? He ain’t shit,’” Cal says the guys told him. “I said, guys, he’s really good. They said, ‘What? Coach, man, stop.’ “I saw them at the end of this year and I looked at both of them: ‘What you think?’ “‘He’s way better than I thought.’” Leave it to Karl-Anthony Towns to turn two of the best centers in the NBA into those same kids in Piscataway who didn’t realize the lanky seventh grader could really play. S

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 47

DIANA TAUR ASI Team USA Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

CARMELO ANTHONY Team USA Elsa/Getty Images


Traditional powerhouses Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and UNC are once again loaded, but the defending NCAA champions reside in Philly. BY PET ER WAL SH

Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks

Darryl Reynolds, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins


VILLANOVA Jay Wright is 95-13 over the past three seasons and the Wildcats finally shed their choke-artist label in a big way last season. The defending champions will miss the veteran presence of steady point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and big man Daniel Ochefu, but with March Madness hero Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, transfer Eric Paschall and incoming freshman Omari Spellman all on campus, the toast of the Big East is deep, talented and experienced. [See page 52 for more.—Ed.]


DUKE Coach K has always been a dominant force on the recruiting trail, and he once again outdid himself with the haul of Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier.


Tatum and Giles have a shot at going 1-2 in the ’17 Draft, while Bolden and Jackson will see their stock rise as the season goes along. And let’s not forget the Blue Devils are bringing back Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter.


KENTUCKY Coach Cal never rebuilds, he only reloads—and this season is no different. A top-ranked recruiting class is the norm in Lexington, and between big men Bam Adebayo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel and guards Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, Cal has plenty of future pros to work with. The ’Cats will miss 2016 SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Ulis, but UK does return promising guard Isaiah Briscoe, who will anchor one of the best backcourts in the nation.


KANSAS Hotshot freshmen have been hit-or-miss in Lawrence, KS, during coach Bill Self’s tenure. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Ben McLemore all went on to be top picks, while JR Giddens, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry never really lived up to the hype. In Josh Jackson, Self has another superstar freshman on his hands, and we think he’ll be more like the former than the latter. Now if only Self can convince Jackson to stick around as a sophomore to run with ’17-eligible transfer Malik Newman...



VIRGINIA Coach Tony Bennett has transformed Virginia from an ACC punching bag into a perennial top-10 team. Since 2013, Bennett has gone 89-19, but is still chasing an elusive Final Four berth. Could this be the year he gets the Wahoos over the hump? With a top-10 recruiting class coming in, and a few holdovers from last season’s Elite Eight squad, the Cavaliers will be right back in the mix for a Final Four berth.

Left to right: Isaiah Briscoe, London Perrantes

NORTH CAROLINA The 2016 runner-up is coming back strong with much of last year’s roster intact and a strong recruiting class. The Heels are set in the frontcourt with Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Theo Pinson and ILLUSTR ATIONS BURN & BROAD

This spread, clockwise from top left: Andy Lyons/Getty Images; Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Rob Foldy/Getty Images; Grant Halverson/Getty Images; Andy Lyons/Getty Images

five-star recruit Tony Bradley, but there’s a big question mark at the point guard position now that Marcus Paige is gone. Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will see their roles increase, and incoming freshman Seventh Woods has a chance to make an immediate impact, likely off the bench.

Grayson Allen

Trevon Bluiett


OREGON Quiet as kept, Dana Altman has built one of the West Coast’s top programs. Coming off a 31-7 season and an Elite Eight appearance, the Ducks are returning loaded in ’16-17. Dillon Brooks’ off-season foot surgery is concerning, but with Tyler Dorseyy ngth, and Chris Boucher at full streng Altman has a squad primed to make m Four a run at the school’s first Final F appearance since 1939.

9 10

ARIZONA Terrance Ferguson’s decision to head overseas sucks for Arizona and coach Sean Miller is losing a ton of experience, but between returning guard Allonzo Trier and incoming freshman guards Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, these ’Cats will have plenty of firepower. MICHIGAN ST. A rare first-round exit ended what many thought would be a championship year for Michigan State in 2016. This season, Tom Izzo & Co. will be right back in the mix, having put together one of the school’s best recruiting classes in a minute— including five-star players Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford.

Tyler Dorsey

Tom Izzo


Jarrett Allen, Fr., F/C TEXAS A highly touted recruit, Allen will try to follow in the footsteps of LaMarcus Aldridge, Myles Turner and Tristan Thompson as big men who spent time in Austin before becoming a top Draft pick. Lonzo Ball, Fr., G UCLA One of three Ball brothers committed to UCLA, you’ll see very soon why Lonzo is as fun a player as there is in the college game. Dwayne Bacon, So., G, and Jonathan Isaac, Fr., F FLORIDA ST. A talented scorer, Bacon averaged just under 16 ppg during his freshman season and hopes a big sophomore campaign will result in a first-round selection in next year’s Drafft. Isaac is a 6-11 small forward who is oozing with potential and will likelyy be a Lottery pick in ’17. VJ B Beachem, Sr., F NOT NOTRE DAME Beac chem blew up in the ’16 NCAA Tournament, averaging 17.5 points and d 4.0 boards and became a social media sensation when he banged on Caro olina’s Nate Britt in the Elite Eight.

Markelle Fultz, Fr., G WASHINGTON A potential top-3 pick in the 2017 Draft, Fultz went from not even playing varsity as a sophomore to one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Marcus LoVett, RS Fr., G and Shamorie Ponds, Fr., G ST. JOHN’S Save for a W over Syracuse, Head Coach Chris Mullin’s first year in Queens was a disaster. The Red Storm will be better in ’16-17 and a lot of that has to do with the talented, fun guard combo of Chicago’s LoVett and BK’s Ponds. Ivan Raab

Jaro on Blossomgame, Sr., F CLE CLEMSON Blosssomgame averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 boards per game last season and flirted with entering the Draft. With h another strong season, he could be a top-20 pick in 2017.

Charlie Moore, Fr., G and Ivan Raab, So., F CALIFORNIA The top prep player from Chicago, Moore decommitted from Memphis and decided to head west this past May. Raab came in to Cal with a ton of hype and is looking to play with more consistency in his second year with the Bears.

Thomas Bryant, So., F IND INDIANA This big man likely would have been n a first-round pick in the ’16 Drafft. In Bryant and OG Anunoby, the eH Hoosiers have two of the best forw wards in the country.

Dennis Smith Fr., G NC STATE An absolute freak athlete and a highlight waiting to happen, Smith will make an otherwise uninteresting Wolfpack team worth watching before he goes to the L.

Clockwise from top left: Duane Burleson/Getty Images; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Jamie Squire/Getty Images


XAVIER Overshadowed by Villanova in the Big East last year, Xavier had themselves a helluva season, going 28-6. The Musketeers have a stacked backcourt with Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, top-100 recruit Quentin Goodin and 2015-16 Big East Sixth Man of the Year JP Macura. The big question for head coach Chris Mack is if he’ll have enough talent in the frontcourt to challenge Nova in the Big East.


Despite four straight national titles and an undefeated season last year, UConn is no longer the top dog coming into 2016-17. So who’s No. 1? BY C LAY KALL AM


NOTRE DAME Key players: Lindsay Allen, Brianna Turner, Arike Ogunbowale The skinny: Last year, the Irish lost twice: to UConn by 10 and an NCAA Tournament upset at the hands of hot-shooting Stanford. But Coach Muffet McGraw returns three starters and adds two elite recruits, so the train will keep rolling. The fact that Lindsay Allen is a senior point guard who averaged 5.8 assists per game last season gives Notre Dame an edge that other title contenders can’t match.

Mike Carlson/Getty Images (2)


BAYLOR Key players: Nina Davis, Alexis Jones The skinny: The Bears have four starters back, but the missing piece is current WNBA player and former Baylor PG Niya Johnson. Alexis Jones will likely slide over from the 2, but even with Nina Davis’ scoring and rebounding, and plenty of elite talent, it’s unlikely the offense will run as smoothly as it did last year. Then again, if one (or more) of Baylor’s top-shelf recruits blossoms, Kim Mulkey may simply have too many weapons for even Notre Dame to handle


Lindsay Allen

OHIO STATE Key players: Kelsey Mitchell, Shayla Cooper, Alexa Hart The skinny: To paraphrase Geno Auriemma, Ohio State has Kelsey Mitchell and you don’t. The spectacular Mitchell averaged a B1G-best 26.1 ppg as a sophomore on 45.2 percent shooting (39.7 percent from beyond the arc), and though she is turnover-prone, she’s the most dynamic player in the country. Two other starters return, plus some big-time transfers, so look for Kevin McGuff’s team to make a serious run at the Final Four.


MARYLAND Key players: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Brionna Jones The skinny: At the start of this season, Coach Brenda Frese’s suffering on the sidelines will be hard to miss. But by the time this crop of five-star recruits figures things out—February, say—smiles will outnumber frowns by a significant margin. And with seniors Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones on hand from day one, even a flood of freshman mistakes can be dealt with.





LOUISVILLE Key players: Myisha HinesAllen, Mariya Moore The skinny: Five of The Ville’s eight losses last year came before December 11, and the other three were by a total of 11 points, so down the stretch, the Cardinals were as good as anyone. And with Hines-Allen and Moore to go along with plenty of returning firepower and some solid recruits, look for Louisville to resemble the team that went 23-3 to finish last season a lot more than the one that stumbled to a 3-5 start. CONNECTICUT Key players: Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson The skinny: Hey, the Huskies’ cupboard isn’t exactly bare—and Auriemma is still the best coach in the game. But for the first time in four years, there’s uncertainty in Storrs. Unfamiliar faces will have to quickly establish themselves as high-caliber players and household names. UConn can count on Samuelson and Nurse, but after that, there are more questions than answers. A’ja Wilson

SOUTH CAROLINA Key players: A’ja Wilson, Alaina Coates The skinny: Everyone knows three-pointers rule, and South Carolina lost almost all its firepower. Coach Dawn Staley, one of the steadiest PGs in women’s history, is going to have to mold Bianca Cuevas-Moore (who had more turnovers than assists as a junior) into a floor general. It could happen, but a step back is more likely.

MISSISSIPPI ST. Key players: Victoria Vivians, Chinwe Okorie The skinny: First, forget the 98-38 tourney hammering by UConn, replace it with the name Victoria Vivians and recall that Mississippi State’s top seven players are returning. Vivians is a 6-1 scorer with Olympic dreams, but the Bulldogs have to cut down on TOs if they want to leap into the top five.


STANFORD Key players: Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson The skinny: Lili Thompson’s decision not to play her senior year was a blow, and perimeter defense and uncertainty at the point could be issues all season. But if forward Erica McCall continues improving and threepointers continue to fall, Stanford will be the class of the Pac-12.


SOUTH DAKOTA ST. Key players: Macy Miller, Ellie Thompson The skinny: South Dakota State has been knocking on the door the past few years, and with five starters back and the superb coaching of Aaron Johnston, they are a team few Power Five conference schools would even consider playing.

S L A M O N L I N E . C O M 51



After taking the 2016 NCAA Championship game in thrilling fashion, coach Jay Wright and the VILLANOVA WILDCATS are trying to repeat as champs by putting last year’s success in the rearview. BY DAVID CASSILO

THOSE WHO don’t know Jay Wright well might mistake him for George Clooney. His finely tailored game day suits, salt-and-pepper hair and tan skin have earned him the nickname GQ Jay. “You walk into his office and he’s dressed nice and has his legs crossed,” says Villanova senior Josh Hart. “He looks smooth.” Wright swears he’s most comfortable in track pants and a polo shirt, but his “respect for the game” forces him to wear a suit. On Villanova’s campus, there’s no mistaking Wright. He’s been the head coach for the last 15 seasons, but his history with the school dates back to 1987, when Massimino says he hired him as an assistant because “the clock didn’t mean anything to him—he worked from early morning


to late at night.” Wright’s a local celebrity, born 40 minutes from Villanova, and can often be seen driving around campus in a golf cart with his sunglasses on, waving at the students who shout his name. Those who do know Wright well talk about how much he cares. As much as his time is in demand, he gives students and alumni his full attention when he interacts with them. “He’s a fantastic ambassador for Villanova on every front,” says Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson (not that one). He cares deeply about the school, and that’s why he was so shook when the Big East Conference realigned in 2013, shuffling schools like Syracuse and UConn out, and leaving Villanova in uncharted waters. “I was crushed,” Wright says. “Even in the first year of the Big East, it just didn’t feel right to me. It’s

like a long marriage—you don’t just forget about it. It was still deep in my soul the first year.” Much of Villanova’s identity comes from its basketball program. It’s a private Catholic school less than 15 miles west of Philadelphia that has an enrollment about one-third the size of basketball powers North Carolina and Kansas. It doesn’t have an FBS football team and gained most of its national recognition when it won its first title in 1985. “I come across people who always tell me where they were in 1985 when we won,” says Ed Pinckney, the star of that ’85 team. Wright and Villanova have become the models of success in the new 10-team, non-football Big East. They’ve won the regular-season title in each of the league’s first three seasons since the realignment and brought the new-look conference

its first NCAA men’s basketball title. Meanwhile, Wright has been voted Coach of the Year every year of the new league. “Jay, given the kind of guy he is, how long he’s been in the conference, and what he just accomplished, is like the dean among [the Big East coaches],” says Big East commissioner Val Ackerman. While he’s enjoyed the last few months, Wright has officially flipped the page to the 2016-17 season. It’s shaping up to be another good one, as Villanova returns three starters and six rotation players. The Wildcats figure to be one of a handful of pre-season national title favorites, but the odds are still against them. Only two teams have won back-toback titles since 1973—Duke in ’91 and ’92 and Florida in ’06-07. “We used the analogy of climbing the mountaintop,” says Donnie Jones, a Florida assistant on those

Previous spread: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images This spread from left: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


A buzzer-beater to win a National Championship. That’s something you don’t easily forget. It’s hard to erase from your memory moments like Kris Jenkins sinking a three-pointer to give Villanova its first NCAA title since 1985. But it’s even harder to forget about it when you’re part of the moment. Like Villanova coach Jay Wright, who after not even flinching when Jenkins’ shot fell, shared emotional hugs with his coaches, his family and Rollie Massimino, the 1985 Villanova coach and Wright’s former boss. Or his players, who joined him for celebrations that included a parade in Philadelphia, a trip to the ESPYs in Los Angeles and a visit to the White House to meet the president. But as difficult as it may seem, forgetting about all of that is exactly what Villanova is trying to do. It’s the only way, the Wildcats believe, they can do it again. “In order to win a second one, you can’t really think about the first one,” Jenkins says. “We’re pretty much starting from ground zero, and we have to build it back up.”

Jay Wright

teams. “The path was going to be different. The second year was going to be like climbing Mount Everest.” Villanova is the first title team since Florida to return its top two scorers (Hart and Jenkins), which makes the Wildcats the biggest threat in a decade to repeat as champs. But Florida brought back all five starters—not three like Villanova, and didn’t have to place young players and freshmen in new roles. So while Wright reached out to coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Bill Self for advice on life after a title, he avoided consulting longtime friend and former Florida coach Billy Donovan about how to prepare for the season ahead. “I don’t want to compare our team to that team,” Wright says. “I purposely did not ask him about that because I don’t want that to be our thought process. I want it to be a result of being the best team that we can be, and that’s something we’ve focused on.” A new team starts with new leaders. While Villanova’s two leading scorers return, last season’s two senior leaders, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, have graduated. Both were instrumental in last year’s NCAA Tournament run, but Archie’s voice in particular will be missed—the guard was a team captain since his freshman year. Wright said the first summer meeting without those players was “eerie,” but he’s looking to Hart, Jenkins and senior Darryl Reynolds to fill the void. Of those three, Jenkins—he of the hero three-pointer to beat UNC in the 2016 title game—will likely have the toughest time forgetting about last season. Jenkins, who when he was a kid used to say all he wanted to be in life was a good person, has become an overnight celebrity. Wright says the extra attention worries him.


Kris Jenkins

Jenkins was already the team’s most active player on social media (something Wright asked about when they recruited him), and the senior forward says, “celebrities now know who I am.” So, Wright’s advice to Jenkins, whom he calls the team’s most natural leader? “It’s going to be a part of you for life, but don’t make it the greatest part of your basketball career. Do other great things.” Jenkins is a typical Villanova success story—an under-recruited player who has evolved into a star. The 6-6 senior was 280 pounds when he showed up on campus. He’s down to 240 now. As a junior last season, the man they call “Big Smoove” because of his size and style of play more than doubled his scoring average from the previous year (6.3 to 13.6 ppg) and hit 100 three-pointers. He’s evolved into one of college basketball’s best and most fearless long-range shooters, which is something he credits his mom, Felicia, a former college basketball coach herself, with developing. “She didn’t allow me to shoot deep shots until I was strong enough and didn’t have to wind up or push the ball,” Jenkins says. “That transitioned into always having a good base. When you have a good base you can shoot from anywhere.” The other guy expected to do much of the heavy lifting is Hart. The 6-5 wing is the team’s top returning scorer (15.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg) and was one of the last players in the country to remove his name from NBA Draft consideration. He’s a potential first-round pick that some are pegging to be this year’s Buddy Hield. “I would love to call Buddy right now and see what he ate last year to make that happen,” Hart says. Off the court, he’s a funny dude who plays pranks on his teammates and seems to laugh his way through

conversations. On the court, Hart plays with plenty of his last name, as he’s “the hardest playing guy on the floor,” according to Jenkins. And forgetting last season shouldn’t be too difficult for Hart, who already had to forget how much he hated Villanova growing up. “I was a Georgetown guy,” Hart admits. “I didn’t know too much about Villanova, but I didn’t like them at all. It’s a little bit of a difference now.” While Hart and Jenkins will get most of the hype, it’s sophomore Jalen Brunson who could be the key to his team’s success. A former McDonald’s All-American and the son of ex-NBA journeyman Rick Brunson, the Illinois native is set to become the next great Villanova guard. He’s also one of the reasons that this Villanova team is different than last year’s. Although he started as a freshman, Brunson was the team’s fifth option on offense (9.6 ppg). Now he’s one of the Wildcats’ go-to guys. “He sacrificed a lot to fit his game into everyone else’s,” Wright says. “This year we need him to be a little more dynamic and a leader on the floor, and that comes a little more natural to him.” Jenkins, Hart and Brunson give Villanova some consistency in the

starting lineup, but that only tells part of the story. The Wildcats’ depth is the main reason the team enters 2016-17 with such high expectations. Reynolds is a senior leader who is tough to move off the low block. Junior Phil Booth had a teamhigh 20 points in the NCAA title game. Sophomore Mikal Bridges is the team’s top on-ball defender and a developing scorer. Newcomers Eric Paschall (a transfer from Fordham) and Omari Spellman (a freshman from Ohio) are projected to have an instant impact. Redshirt freshmen Tim Delaney and Donte DiVincenzo are capable role players if opportunity arises. The pieces are in place for this team. A different team, but one with the same goals and the same process as last season. Nova has a chance to win it all again, and talk of a repeat will follow the program all season. But the Wildcats won’t be starting any of that conversation. Last year, and all the joys that came with it, is over for Villanova. “We’re not playing like defending National Champions,” Wright says. “We have to build this team to be the best team it can be by the end of the year, and we have to be satisfied with what that is.” S

“In order to WIN a SECOND ONE, you CAN’T really THINK about the FIRST ONE.” —Jenkins

From left: Robert Deutsch-Pool/Getty Images; Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Josh Hart

I EVERYTHING Milwaukee Bucks forward JABARI PARKER showed flashes of brilliance last season that indicate an All-Star selection in ’16-17 is within reach. More importantly, the 21-year-old has become one of the most outspoken players in the League when it comes to social issues and giving back to the community, especially in his home city of Chicago. BY F RANKLY N CALLE




this house for his parents after becoming the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft. The kids? They’re just two of the eight campers who stopped by the house with their guardians after the culmination of Parker’s two-day summer basketball camp. They’re here for a family meal put together by the former Duke star’s parents. And the man offering those words of wisdom? That’s Parker’s father, Sonny, a fomer NBAer who played six years with the Warriors from 1976-1982. The scene at the Parkers’ home on this Friday in August is just another reflection of what the camp aims to enforce. Dubbed the “Family Jabari Parker Camp” instead of the more grammatically correct “Jabari Parker Family Camp,” the emphasis was on the importance of placing family first— by doing so literally in the camp’s title. Family, that is, beyond the blood definition. Old friends from back in Chicago and staffers from the Sonny

Parker Youth Foundation are among those breaking bread with Jabari and company on this particular day. At a time in American history when racial tension dominates the news, the camp decided to strategically choose its participants. Three buses brought kids up from the Boys & Girls Club in inner-city Milwaukee. Joining them were kids from the suburbs of Grafton. And a handful more came up from Chicago—just a two-hour drive up I-94. “It’s really important that we integrate these kids, because without us trying to force it, they’re pretty much not going to ever get that whole experience,” says Jabari of his camp, which hosted 190 kids that week across two sessions. “It’s key that they get out of their neighborhoods and see a new environment because a lot of those kids, they just stay in their neighborhood for the summer.” The camp actually took place less than a week after Milwaukee became

Previous: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images This page: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images


ow, this house is big!” After spending some time taking in the extensive outdoor space, a young boy, about 7 or 8, walks through sliding glass doors and stops in his tracks, causing a traffic jam as a few others behind him take their shoes off and wait outside. This kid, though, is busy gasping as he looks up toward the balcony above the living room, eventually commenting on its impressive size. “Yeah, I want to live here!” responds another grinning youngster. An older gentleman sitting on a couch smiles and nods softly. “Yeah, but you know what? It’s the people inside the house that matters—that’s what makes the home,” he tells them. This house is big. About 5,000 square feet. And the outrageous ceiling height here in the living room makes it look even more spacious than it already is. We’re in Grafton, an affluent suburb north of Milwaukee. Bucks forward Jabari Parker bought

“I feel like this is MY YEAR to really show what I can do and be a MAIN GUY on the TEAM.”

the center of national news when riots broke out in the city following the fatal police shooting of an African-American man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith. Gun violence, both from police shootings and within inner-city communities, was a topic Jabari openly discussed over the summer. A week after his camp, he appeared in an ESPN town hall discussion that focused on athlete activism, racial profiling and gun violence. The next day he hosted a “Pick Up for Peace” exhibition game in Chicago to advocate for peace in a city that’s riddled with violence, especially in the summer. To a certain extent, Parker seems the voice most equipped for such matters. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago—often referred to as the murder capital of America, and sometimes as “Chiraq”—and now plays ball in Milwaukee, known as one of the most segregated cities in America. At 21, he’s already lived and experienced the

cities that represent arguably the two biggest social issues in the country. The free camp, which included lunches and some Jordan Brand/ Bucks giveaways, was the second one Jabari hosted within a three-week period after holding one in Chicago earlier in the month. While hoops is what brought everyone together, it was the message of inclusion and understanding that he really hoped everyone would take away from it. “What I told them is really to find these relationships and cherish them, because we have more similarities as humans that we don’t even think about,” says the third-year Buck. “But today they see the color of your skin and so they already portray each other as different. I wanted them to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from—you’re the same. It’s all about the enjoyment and excitement we bring together in life. To build these skills are important for kids this early.”

Experiencing the dire social issues first-hand in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee is only a fraction of what has driven Jabari to engage in the community so actively. He watched his father run the aforementioned Sonny Parker Youth Foundation in Chicago, a program that utilizes basketball to also provide life skills development and educational resources for kids and which is now in its 26th year. “I wanted to make sure my kids felt the things I felt growing up, so they can get a feel for how it is,” says Sonny, a Chi-Town native himself, of raising his family on the South Side after his NBA career ended. “I didn’t want to overprotect my kids. I wanted to give them the sense of where I’m from. That’s why we stayed.” So the baton and family legacy of community outreach has now simply been passed to the next generation. And with Milwaukee and Chicago just a couple of hours away by car, the Parkers don’t foresee any changes in their devotion to the Windy City. “We still have our home there, we still continue to do our programs in the city,” says Jabari’s mother, Lola. “We want the kids to see that we’re visible. You can’t just start something and then all of a sudden say, ‘I’m not doing it anymore,’ because then how will the kids believe what you’re trying to preach? It’s not, ‘Oh, they already got money. They already left us and moved.’ We’ll never leave or stop what we’re doing. We know the impact and we’ve seen kids’ lives changed for the better. But basketball was always the hook to get them in.” Jabari’s basketball career has blossomed with that foundation and support. Following a decorated HS and collegiate career in which he claimed multiple national POY accolades, his first two seasons in the League have seen their ups and downs. After being selected as the October/November Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, Jabari suffered a seasonending torn ACL that cut his inaugural season short. A long rehab process lingered into last season, when his minutes were restricted during the first two months of the year. Slowly working his way back into the flow of things and looking to find his touch individually as well as his role within the team, he went into the All-Star break averaging just 11.3 ppg. As a participant in the Rising Stars

Game in Toronto, Jabari could have enjoyed all the fun All-Star Weekend brings. Except once Rising Stars was over, he was out. “He left right after the game,” recalls Sonny. “We were all still there. But he ended up leaving early to Chicago to go back to our house. Wherever it started, he had to go back to that. I think he needed some me time, some personal time. He was able to refocus. That helped him reflect and set his goals. I think it made him get back to all the things that helped him along this journey and process.” So when the Parkers say they’ll remain and always be a part of Chicago’s South Side, they literally mean pulling up mid-season, just ’cause. The results? Jabari was the Bucks’ leading scorer after All-Star, averaging 18.9 points and 6.1 rebounds to close out the season. He looked like the prospect many expected him to be coming into the Draft. He carried that progress into the summer, too, showing some explosiveness at the Chi-League Classic Pro-Am. “I feel like this is my year to really show what I can do and be a main guy on the team,” says Jabari of the coming season. “I want to be able to step up as a leader this year. “I feel good. [This season] is really something I look forward to. I feel like the challenge itself is just the game-by-game process because it’s all about remaining consistent. That’s the challenge I want to take up—individually and for my team. Last year, we didn’t really get into a streak of winning games—so we have to take it game by game and just take advantage of the health I have now.” With the pressure of living up to expectations in 2014 and having to battle back from injury all in the rearview, his third NBA season offers a lot to be excited about. He’s been here before, having fought his way back from a broken foot his final year of high school, as doubts emerged, quickly making them evaporate with a record-breaking season at Duke. “Back then the game was so much more difficult for me because I made it that way,” says Jabari of his early play as a rookie in the League. “I was doing a lot that took a lot of energy out. Right now, by just taking the time to learn the game, it has slowed down so much for me. I think that’s going to help me this year.” S

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Strength & Guıdance In collaboration with NBA stars like Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan and Chauncey Billups, SPALDING continued its renewed commitment to the grassroots hoops scene with its inaugural series of BASKETBALL IQ CAMPS across the country this summer. BY RY N E N E L S ON

magine a grassroots basketball camp that features an NBA chef, a professional trainer and a complete line of new Spalding Training Aids. Welcome to the Spalding Basketball IQ Camp, which took place this summer in Winston-Salem, Los Angeles and Denver. At the camps, a select group of elite high school athletes were invited to experience a “day in the life” of a professional basketball player—an NBA All-Star, to be precise. The idea of the camp was born out of Spalding wanting to provide more than a typical showcase of games for the high school athletes. Instead, they wanted to provide players with the on- and off-court knowledge—the total Basketball IQ— that could really make an impact on players’ careers. Known primarily in the basketball community as the provider of the official NBA game ball, Spalding introduced players to an array of soonto-be-available on-court products. From the ever-popular on-ball handle sleeve to the shot contester, shot arc or dribble goggles, the young athletes had all the tools the pros use and more. Spalding contacted trainer Nick Graham of D1 Sports Training to direct the camps. As a former Washington State point guard and son of a college coach, Graham is well aware of the manipulative practices that have become too prevalent in grassroots basketball. But he was immediately impressed with the camp’s directive “to inspire and reinforce the inner confidence within every baller,” and he signed on right away. “My first thought was to applaud Spalding for using their reputation, resources and platform to be a positive contributor to grassroots basketball,” Graham recalls. Players used the training aids— sometimes two or three at the same

Courtesy of Spalding


time—as Graham directed them through drills designed around the camp’s four training pillars: shooting and ballhandling, speed and strength, defense and agility, and jumping and rebounding. At the Denver stop, local celebrity chef Daniel “Chef D” Young provided a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner for the athletes to keep them fueled properly throughout the day. They had the training aids, the drills and the food that the pros have. It was time to learn more about the mentality of a professional basketball player. Cue Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and DeMar DeRozan. The NBA All-Stars closed their camps with advice on how to achieve success in the game of basketball. “They talked about knowing that you can always take your game to the next level,” says Kenyatta Bynoe, VP of Marketing for Spalding. “They really stressed work ethic, and how important it is to stay in the gym and constantly work on improving yourself.” The players left the camp knowing that hard work isn’t the only variable. Off-the-court practices like nutrition, injury prevention and cultivating inner confidence are just as crucial. That’s having the total Basketball IQ. That’s how Chauncey, DeMar and CP reached the pinnacle of the sport, and what continues to drive them. They stressed to the campers that they’ve only been given a taste of a pro’s lifestyle. But it doesn’t end after camp ends. A lifestyle is ongoing. It’s a message that points to the center of Spalding’s True Believers movement, which focuses on building a player’s inner confidence as much as his skills on the court. “You definitely have to have the skill level,” says Bynoe, “but confidence is what enables you to deliver on that skill set.” Take the journeys of 2016 NBA Draft picks Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn

and Tyler Ulis, for example. All overcame extraordinary circumstances in their lives by believing in their talents and putting in the work. A mini-documentary featuring all three is available on Spalding’s True Believers website (, along with a ton of resources for those who stay true to the game. To make sure True Believers are working efficiently in the gym, Spalding recently added a series of training videos, featuring three levels of drills for each of the four pillars. Graham demonstrates the drills in the videos, but he also does a great job of explaining why each element is necessary. In a ballhandling drill, Graham has on the dribble goggles as he low-dribbles a basketball with a handle sleeve. He explains, “With the dribble goggles on, I can’t see the ball. It’s forcing me to rely on that fingertip feel. “You want your training to be as difficult as possible, which is why I always do my ballhandling with the handle sleeve. It’s going to make this drill that much more difficult.” Between the Basketball IQ camp, the True Believers movement and a slew of training aids about to hit the market, Spalding is poised to make significant waves in the grassroots community in the coming years. According to Bynoe, the camp may expand to five-to-seven cities across America by next summer. And it’s not difficult to envision it growing beyond that in ensuing years. For campers, it’s an experience that builds confidence and character—a welcome change of pace from the never-ending circuit of summer camps and tournaments. And it’s a worthwhile investment for the pros like CP3, DeRozan and Billups, who can take part in a camp that they believe in. “I think it’s an amazing concept,” Graham says. “What NBA player wouldn’t want this in his hometown?” S


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“It was just crazy,” adds thensophomore AJ Bramlett. “The dynamics, when Miles came back, obviously there was an adjustment period. Mike [Dickerson] had to change his game a little bit, and Miles re-establishing himself with the team—that’s when we went on a little bit of a rocky ride through the Pac-10. We lost a lot of games in the Pac-10, but the conference was rough.” Miles’ return also meant taking time away from Terry. “I knew someone had to sacrifice and I knew my game was versatile,” JET says now. “I knew I could start, but I welcomed the challenge to come off the bench. Lute told me my minutes wouldn’t go down, so when he asked if it was something I was willing to do for the sake of the team, I told him yes.” The unsung hero of the 1997 championship team was a walk-on freshman named Josh Pastner. After graduating high school, Pastner wrote over 1,000 hand-written letters to college coaches of all levels to say he could help their program by watching film with players and working them out. Only one wrote back: Olson. As Bramlett explains, “Josh would open the gym at midnight or 1:30 in the morning. He was willing to do anything we needed to do to improve. He was always our positive, emotional leader. He believed in us from day one and when we were struggling, he picked us up. He was dedicated to our squad and was learning from Coach Olson. That was the start of his coaching career.” Pastner, of course, later became an assistant at Arizona before getting a head coaching job at Memphis. He’s now the head coach at Georgia Tech. “We were playing pickup ball late at night and I brought the guys together and said, We’re going to win the National Championship this year,” says Pastner. “We had all these great players and I really believed we’d win the Championship. I was a walk-on. I had no clue—I just believed it.” Despite having a super talented roster that season, Arizona would finish with just an 11-7 conference record, good for fifth place in a stacked Pac-10. UCLA, Stanford, USC and Cal all finished with a better record than the Wildcats in conference play. (Save for USC, all of the aforementioned teams made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament that season.) The ’Cats entered the 1997 NCAA Tournament as a 4-seed in a tough Southeast region. Their first game would be against 13-seed South Alabama, where they escaped with just an 8-point victory, 65-57. In the round of 32, they’d face the 12-seed College of Charleston, a school that came in riding a 23game winning streak. Led by senior Anthony Johnson, who would go

on to play 15 seasons in the NBA, the Cougars had just upset the Gary Williams-coached Maryland Terrapins. Simon stepped up, dropping 20 points, while Bibby added 18 and Arizona narrowly escaped an upset, winning 73-69. With that victory, Arizona advanced to the Sweet 16 to face the No. 1 overall seed, Kansas. The Jayhawks had only lost one game all season, to Missouri, and had a roster littered with future NBA players, including All-American Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn and Scot Pollard. Against Kansas, Arizona’s stars shined. Bibby poured in 21, Dickerson had 20, Simon finished with 17 and Bramlett added 12 points and 12 boards en route to an 85-82 upset that shocked the college basketball world, sending the Wildcats to an Elite Eight matchup with Providence. The 10-seed Friars, despite having future NBAers Austin Croshere and God Shammgod, were considered a Cinderella story after beating No. 2-seed Duke. Providence pushed Arizona to overtime, but without an answer for Simon (30 points) or anyone else (five other ’Cats scored in double figures), the clock struck midnight. All of a sudden, these unexpected Wildcats had reached the Final Four. There, they were met with a rematch of the season opener against the No. 1 seed from the East: North Carolina. UNC had its same chock-fullof-talent team. They’d just spanked legendary coach Denny Crum’s No. 6-seed Louisville Cardinals by 23 in the Elite Eight, and the Tar Heels were led by one of the greatest coaches ever in Dean Smith. Carolina studs Carter and Jamison combined for 37 points, but even that performance couldn’t overcome a poor shooting night by the rest of the team, as Bibby and Simon again led the ’Cats to victory, 66-58, knocking off their second No. 1 seed in the tourney to advance to the title game. Their opponent? Another No. 1seed. This time, the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats, coached by Rick Pitino. Heading into the Championship game, there was a ton of buzz around Arizona’s run, but Kentucky was still the favorite, looking to repeat. UK had won it all the year before with Antoine Walker, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty. Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach in his own right, was one game away from his second ring behind the likes of future NBA talent Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Scott Padgett, Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire. Prior to 1997, the last five NCAA champions had been No. 1 seeds, and Kentucky looked poised to take it again, rolling into the title game with a 35-4 overall record. No

Previous spread: Arizona Athletics; This page: Brian Bahr/Allsport; Opposite page, clockwise from top left: Arizona Athletics; Brian Bahr/Allsport; Brian Bahr/Allsport; Brian Bahr/Allsport


When it comes to the 1996-97 Arizona Wildcats, most fans remember individuals, like legendary coach Lute Olson, scoring machine Miles Simon or freshman phenom Mike Bibby. But for that Arizona group, as with many college basketball champions, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. They accomplished something that no other team in the history of college basketball had ever done before or since, and they were defined as much by how they were assembled, how they came together as a team and how they defied the odds. Heading into the ’96-97 season, the Arizona program had big shoes to fill. They’d lost four upperclassmen from the previous season, including the team’s leading scorer, big man Joseph Blair. Transfer Ben Davis, the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder, was gone, too. Point guard Reggie Geary, a former high school team-

mate of Simon, had led the team in assists, blocks and steals—he and Davis were First-Team All-Pac 10 players. In the ’96 Draft, thought by some to be the best class ever, Blair went 35th overall to the Sonics, Davis went 43rd to the Suns and Geary went 56th to the Cavs. The Wildcats were a young, inexperienced team from the start. But Olson’s strategy of recruiting solid team players who’d won a lot of games in high school would prove successful. He added Bibby, a McDonald’s All-American fresh off a state title, to the combo of Simon (junior team captain) and sophomore Jason Terry—both of whom also won state titles in high school. When Bibby arrived on campus, he oozed confidence and brought a fearless demeanor to the locker room that was instantly contagious. “Mike Bibby brought that swag to our team because when he came in, he got the standard issued team shoe and right away he was like, ‘Ahh, nah. I ain’t wearin’ these,’” remembers Terry of his introduction to the brash freshman. “He immediately went to the store on campus and bought a pair of Jordans. Then everybody followed and wanted the hottest shoe out. Mike Bibby spearheaded that shoe movement.” Arizona began the season with two-year starter and co-captain Simon on academic suspension, and its first opponent was the highly ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Without Miles, the Wildcats beat UNC, 83-74. “The win against North Carolina was a big win,” Bibby recalls. “They had Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ed Cota and Shammond Williams. Coming in, we just wanted to do good and no one expected us to beat North Carolina, but we took care of business in that first game and that catapulted us all.”

Led by Mike Bibby (bottom left) and Miles Simon (above right), the ’96-97 Arizona Wildcats ran through the ’97 Tourney.

one had given them much of a test in the Tournament, either. The title game between Kentucky and Arizona, played on March 31, 1997 in Indianapolis, lived up to its epic expectations. It was 18-leadchanges-in-the-game type good. Two teams peaking at the same time in the biggest game of the players’ lives. A heavyweight fight to crown a champion. After 40 minutes of battling, the teams were square at 74. In the overtime period, Arizona outscored Kentucky 10-5. Curiously, all 10 of the Wildcats’ points came on free throws. Simon had a huge title game, again dropping 30 points, and was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The cutting of the nets at the National Championship capped off Arizona’s incredible NCAA Tournament run, which included wins over three powerhouse teams

stacked with future pros. With a rare chemistry, toughness, fearlessness and resilience, Coach Olson’s team embraced the role of the underdog during that ’97 Tournament, becoming the only team in NCAA history to beat three No. 1 seeds en route to a chip. “One guy called us the Cardiac ’Cats because we were always trailing in the second half,” Terry says of

the ’97 title team. “But we were able to withstand that and come away with victories when our backs were against the wall. We were together as a group. We’re brothers.” “Our chemistry was the biggest thing,” Bibby says. “Everybody got along. There were no riffs. Everybody’s goal on the team was to win. That overruled everything. We got hot at the right time and

“Everybody’s goal on the team was to Win. That overruled Everything.” - Bibby

everyone complemented each other so well on the court.” In the post-game press conference after the final game, Olson said, “I’m very proud of the toughness of this group that no one thought should be here, no one thought could do it. Three No. 1 seeds went down. This is one tough, young group of ’Cats.” Says Pastner, “I love those guys. Those guys are my best friends. That whole team, I just love those guys. I would do anything for them.” “It was so special to do it for Lute Olson. It solidified his legacy, because he’s an all-time great,” says Simon. “It’s still unimaginable because it was such an amazing run. It was so much fun to do it with great people, coaches, teammates and some of the best college basketball fans. For how much of an underdog we were the whole tournament, it’s amazing and we take so much pride in it.” S




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Thanks to some outside-the-box thinking, first-round NFL Draft pick RONNIE STANLEY bucked the traditional sneaker endorsement system and signed a deal with Zappos, which means he can rock whatever brand he wants.

WITH A PLETHORA of free gear and even customized shoes and apparel, what could

athletes not love about endorsement deals, right? Well, there’s always the fact that because of contractual obligations, they’re not allowed to switch it up and rock any competing sports brands—not publicly, at least. Traditionally, that’s been the norm. Until this past spring, when, with three weeks to go before the NFL Draft, Baltimore Ravens first-round-pick-to-be Ronnie Stanley inked an unprecedented endorsement deal with online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos. Under the sponsorship agreement, Stanley can wear any brand under Zappos’ online catalog. Which means he can switch up his kicks—on and off the field—whenever he wants. “I’ve already been practicing in different brands just to get that comfort,” says the former Notre Dame offensive tackle. “And I’ve already seen the reaction from my teammates— they’re kind of in awe that I’m able to wear anything I want. So I’m definitely going to take advantage of that.” The endorsement opportunity was made possible by a unique program operated through Stanley’s representation agency, Roc Nation Sports. The CEO of the Jay Z-owned company, Michael Yormark, runs a CEO Connect program, which matches clients with CEOs at various companies for mentorship opportunities for their young athletes. Stanley, a native of Las Vegas (where Zappos is headquartered), was linked up with the company’s CEO Tony Hsieh, and the rest is history. “The CEO program played a huge role—definitely the main reason that this deal even happened,” adds Stanley, who says there are plans for him to also work with non-sports lifestyle brands and even a potential signature dress shoe. “And then also just being open to new ideas and thinking differently.” −Franklyn Calle


From top: Ivan Quiroz/Zappos; Rajah Allarey

Whether he’s breaking down film or recording his podcast, former NFL quarterback CHRIS SIMMS is committed to a life of lacing up hot sneakers. Only one rule: They have to be Nike. CHRIS SIMMS is a diehard Nike fanatic. Seriously, the former NFL quarterback and current NFL analyst for Bleacher Report has been loyal to the Swoosh for life. Need proof? How about this little nugget: When Simms was being recruited as one of the top high school QB prospects in the nation, he told University of Texas coach Mack Brown he’d only come to Austin if the Longhorns made the switch from Reebok to Nike. Brown, a Nike guy himself, made it happen— and Simms starred at UT. Yep, Simms’ devotion to Nike runs deep. Like many sneakerheads, he can

pinpoint the moment he fell in love with the brand. It was around 1988, when he recalls watching Michael Jordan dominating in the Air Jordan III. He was instantly hooked. His father, legendary New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, had a deal with Nike at the time, although that didn’t mean the younger Simms always had it made. “My dad’s a good guy and I had friends over to the house one day, so he ordered us all Nike sneakers and Jordans. [When the shipment came in] all of my friends got them except for me. They didn’t have my size in stock. I put on a good face and tried to act like

I was cool, but I was so heartbroken.” In the years since, the 36-year-old has more than made up for that disappointment. He says at its peak, his sneaker collection was over 100 pairs, which he picked up over seven NFL seasons. As a Nike athlete himself, he was afforded all the benefits and swag that comes with being signed to the Swoosh, and recalls copping Bo Jacksons, Griffeys and Air Maxes. Nowadays, Simms sticks primarily to Nike basketball releases. He’s since trimmed his collection down to 40 pairs, highlighted by LeBrons, Kyries, KDs and Air Jordans. At 6-5, 225 pounds, Simms enjoys the Brons for the comfort, rocks KDs to support fellow Longhorn great Kevin Durant and wears Kyries to show love for their shared home state of New Jersey (and the fact that Irving also rocks No. 2, Simms’ number during his playing days). When asked if he’s ever been

tempted to wear another brand, the co-host of B/R’s Simms and Lefkoe Podcast insists, “I’m a Nike brat. Nike technology is always top notch to me, and I like the look, of course, of the Nike symbol. There’s just something nostalgic about it with me.” −Rajah Allarey

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Georgia big man WENDELL CARTER JR is a prized recruit because he’s one of the most dedicated players in the Class of 2017, both on the court and off it.


ake a quick look at Wendell Carter Jr’s final eight schools and a couple of programs clearly stick out from the rest. First you have the usual basketball powerhouses that every top recruit rightfully considers: Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, UNC. Then there are the local in-state programs: Georgia and Georgia Tech. And then there’s Harvard and CalBerkeley—two of the top academic schools in the nation, but not ones known for basketball dominance. “I had to get at least an A in every class since elementary school,” says Carter of how academics ended up playing a role in his recruitment. “My grades were always up to par, but just in case I ever lost focus, my mom established that rule as a reminder.” What happened if he didn’t reach the minimum? “I wasn’t allowed to play basketball unless my grades were up to par,” he admits. “As I got older, it got a little more lenient. But that kind of ingrained it in my head that I have to be just as good in the classroom as I am on the court.” The 6-9 power forward out of Atlanta is regarded as a top-5 prospect in the Class of 2017, thus making the possibility of him even


considering an Ivy League school big news in recruiting circles. That Carter takes school so seriously comes as no surprise to those who closely followed the youth travel circuit this spring/summer, though. After all, he did choose to miss the very first Nike EYBL session in April in order to be in school. “This acting class in my school— it was really something I fell in love with after the first try,” says Carter. “They asked me if I could be in a play and I said, Of course I can. “Once I found out it was at the same time as the EYBL session in Brooklyn, I simply had to make a choice. Do I want to try something new or go back to playing basketball? I decided to try something new.” He ultimately played the role of a handyman in the Pulitzer-Prize winning play, You Can’t Take It With You, which premiered on Broadway in 1936. After attending Fulton Leadership Academy as a freshman, a local public charter school, Carter transferred to Pace Academy for his sophomore year. Pace, a prestigious private school whose campus sits on 37 acres of land in the suburban ATL district of Buckhead, offers a much more rigorous curriculum. “It was more of a challenging


I SIMPLY JUST WANT TO WIN ANOTHER STATE TITLE BEFORE GOING OFF TO COLLEGE.” transition socially than academically,” says Carter of switching schools. “I went from a predominantly black school to now a predominantly white school. So it was just a different experience for me. But I think I adjusted pretty well.” He’s led Pace into previously uncharted territory in the world of sports. Last season, the school claimed its first ever state basketball title after Carter posted a massive

30-point, 20-rebound performance in the Georgia Class AA championship game. He averaged 21.6 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game on the year. Highly touted for his prowess in the paint—whether it’s on the low block, crashing the glass or contesting shots—Carter says he likes to watch and model his game after DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Having claimed his second gold medal with Team USA’s U17 squad at the FIBA World Championships in Spain, where he led the team in rebounds and blocks, the focus now shifts to finishing this final year as strong as when it was required of him in elementary school. “I simply just want to win another state title before going off to college,” says Carter. “And I want to finish with at least a 3.8 GPA. But I’ll be aiming for that 4.0.” S

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WILE OUT AUSTIN WILEY Orlando (FL) 6-10, C AS THE DOG DAYS of summer

merged into early fall, high school hoops watchers waited on an announcement from one of the nation’s top prospects. They already knew where Austin Wiley was going to college, of course. This was about where the 2017 big man was going to spend his senior year. At press time, an unnamed Florida prep school was expected to secure Wiley’s services, giving the 6-10, 250-pound big man the chance to test himself against elite competition during his final high school season. Wiley had mixed feelings about leaving hometown Spain Park (AL) High, but felt he had to do it for the sake of his basketball future. “Everybody around here had the same response: ‘We hate that you’re leaving, but we know it’s good for you,’” he says.

“They wished me the best.” The summer offered plenty of reminders that, for however much he might still improve, Wiley is already awfully good. In July, he helped the US defend its title at the U17 World Championships in Spain, then traveled to Brooklyn in August and posted a double-double at Under Armour’s Elite 24. They were his first trips out of the country and to the Big Apple, respectively. Soon, this oldschool big man (DeMarcus Cousins is his favorite player) will go wherever he wants. For now, he’ll spend a year in Florida, then move on to Auburn, where both his mom and dad starred for the Tigers during their playing days. “I pretty much grew up on campus,” the Birmingham native says. “I feel like I can’t fail there.” −Ryan Jones

UP NEXT LINDELL WIGGINTON Mouth of Wilson (VA) Oak Hill 6-1, G THERE’S NO DENYING the influx of impressive Canadian hoopers that have

made their way to the US over the last decade. And as the number of prospects has increased exponentially over the last decade, where they hail from has progressively expanded throughout the years, too. With the Toronto-area commonly recognized as the hotbed for Canadian talent—and rightfully so with guys like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis all calling T-Dot home—we’re now seeing other cities and provinces produce top talent as well. Take Class of 2017 guard Lindell Wigginton, for example. A top-50 prospect in the senior class, he hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, an Atlantic Ocean port on the southeastern corner of the country. Wigginton arrived in the US as a sophomore in 2014 and enrolled at national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. “I was the youngest on the team so I was much smaller than everyone,” he recalls. “It was hard at times being away from home and basically living on my own because I’m a big family person.” Last season, though, he led the Warriors to their first ever DICK’S National Championship and a 45-1 record, averaging a team-best 16.4 points per game. “It feels great just knowing all the good players that came here from Canada and seeing what they’re doing now. Actually, Tristan [Thompson] and I talk sometimes,” says Wigginton, who played for the same Grassroots Canada AAU team back home that Thompson did years earlier. “That’s like my big brother. He just keeps telling me to keep working and that I’m the next one up.” −Franklyn Calle

78 S L A M O N L I N E . C O M



NICK WEATHERSPOON Camden (MS) Velma Jackson 6-2, G

Wiley, Wigginton, Weatherspoon: Kelly Kline; Littleton: USA Basketball; Bamba: Chris Razoyk

NICK WEATHERSPOON’S college recruitment process hit a snag that most prep hoopers only dream about. “Every time I want to cut my list down, a new school calls,” says Weatherspoon, who at press time said he was going to wait to make a decision during his senior year. Scholarship offers from UNC, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville and many more have come in droves since guarding Weatherspoon has proven to be one of the most unenviable tasks for opposing defenders. Prior to letting loose on the 2016 spring and summer circuit, the electrifying Velma Jackson (MS) point guard only sported an offer from Mississippi State, where his older brother Quinndary is a standout. “[The offers] mean a lot to me because it lets me know I was good, and it gave me more confidence to go even harder,” Weatherspoon says. “I want to get an education but I also want to take it to the next level so I can take care of my family—that’s why I’ve been working so hard.” Once a quarterback, he put the pads down to take hoops seriously as a freshman. Weatherspoon stays in constant attack with the rock in his hands, and the recent addition of a consistent jumper has thrust him into the conversation as one of the best point guard prospects in the Class of 2017. The continual courtship by the college bluebloods is another result of his hard work, but it won’t be the last. −Danny Hazan

IT WAS WRITTEN DESTINY LITTLETON La Jolla (CA) The Bishop’s School 5-9, G


around basketball, and true to her first name, the high school senior is on track to break records. The star currently has her eyes locked on a specific one for her upcoming final season: become California’s new scoring record holder. “I’m 903 points away,” she says. “For the average person, it is a lot to do. But the way I’ve been averaging my seasons—I’ve averaged a thousand plus—I’m very confident I can do it.”

Littleton posted stellar numbers her junior year: 35.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. With that kind of track record, why shouldn’t she look forward to her name surpassing Charde Houston’s in the history books? The San Diego native picked up basketball six years ago and was soon on her way to becoming a top player. In eighth grade, colleges started reaching out. “I didn’t know what I was looking for when I was that young,” Littleton says. Now, with her senior season quickly approaching, Littleton has narrowed the once very long list to four: USC, UCLA, Michigan and Louisville. She expects to make her decision after visiting campuses this fall and consulting her mentor and coach, Marlon Wells. Wherever she ends up, Littleton is certainly taking basketball along, with her recently fine-tuned three-point shot, pull-up game and everything in between. “I don’t really do much besides basketball,” says Littleton. “It’s a priority in my life, and everything else comes second.” −Habeeba Husain

SLAM (ISSN:1072-625X) November 2016, Vol. 23, No. 9 is published monthly except January and October by TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC, 261 Madison Avenue, 6th floor, New York, NY 10016-2303. Copyright @ 2016 by TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved. Periodicals postage is paid at New York, NY, and additional mailing offices. Single copy price is $7.99. Subscriptions: Subscription rates for one year (10 issues) U.S., APO, FPO and U.S. Possessions is $19.97. Canadian orders add $10.00 per year, all other countries add $20.00 per year (for surface mail postage). Payment in advance, U.S. funds only. For subscription, address changes and adjustments, write to SLAM, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL, 32142-0235. SLAM is a registered trademark of TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. Manuscripts, photos, and other materials submitted must be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope; SLAM assumes no responsibility for unsolicited material. Printed in U.S.A. Postmaster: Send all UAA to CFS. (See DMM 707.4.12.5); NON-POSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: send address corrections to SLAM, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235.



hat’s up #SLAMfam! I traveled a lot this summer, from Nike Peach Jam in South Carolina to Chile for the U18 FIBA World Championships. We were in a city called Valdivia. I learned a lot about myself being around different people. I played in front of the wildest crowd I’m probably going to ever play in front of. After one of the games, the crowd began chanting my name. The fans there were very engaging. So, funny story: After they chanted my name, I got gassed so I gave away my sneakers to fans. Inside the sneakers were my specialized soles, which I didn’t notice I left in until I got back to the hotel. I went through heaven and earth to get those back. I was able to get a hold of one of the kids through Instagram and was able to get one sole back since he was in the same town. He DM’ed me, “Hey, thanks, I’m a huge supporter of yours!” And I was like, Thank you... However, do you have my sole?! He came to the hotel, and I was putting together a bag with a bunch of gear to give to him in gratitude for bringing back my sole. When I opened the door, like, 30 people rolled into my room. The kid brought his whole community. But the other shoe was with a grown man, who I literally saw fight a kid for it, which was pretty funny. So this guy happened to be on the bus with Max Lorca, who’s from Chile and plays with my AAU team. Max sends me a Snapchat of the sneaker. I called and texted a million times but he was asleep. When he finally woke up, the guy was off the bus already. So I think FIBA put something on Twitter and I was able to get my sole back two weeks later when they mailed it. I also went to L.A. and then to the Bahamas with the Nike EYBL Select Team in August. But before we went to the Bahamas, Nike actually got us a visit to the White House. We didn’t meet Obama, but from a historical standpoint, it was great. We went to the basketball courts, the front lawn and I think the treasury room.




Courtesy of @karltowns

Let this be a lesson to all NBA players: That seemingly harmless high school kid lingering around who politely asks to snap a quick pic for his ’Gram? He’s coming for your lunch.















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Slam Magazine no 202 (Nov 2016)