Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who Let the Huskies Out? Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are NBA-Ready to Rock

By Adam Maher

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This post was originally written for SLAMonline.com. It was supposed to go up the day of the draft, but it was pulled last minute. It has some good interview action so I thought I'd post the content here on SBz. Enjoy.


2012 was a disappointing season for Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, and the UCONN Huskies, especially after that immaculate 2011 NCAA Championship run. Kemba Walker, the 2011 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, was off to Charlotte as a lottery pick, leaving Lamb, who most thought was draft-ready last season, and Drummond, who openly admitted during our interview that he would have declared straight out of high school if not for the 2005 CBA, to meet the highest expectations UCONN had in years.

So is it crazy to think that even after having the untoward year they had at UCONN, that phrases like Rising Stars and future All-Stars type all too easy off the keys? Surely you would be shocked to see both Andre and Jeremy get selected higher than Kemba, who went 9th last year, no? And it should be noted right off the tip that this article is anything but one for the godding-up. But by now, everyone in the country with a self-respecting NBA acumen knows that when combined this NBA Draft-declared pair of Huskies has the best stock since Emeka Okafur and Ben Gordon, who went two, three in the Draft in 2004.

Lamb, who is signed with Excel Sports in New York (the same agency as Kemba), has what the kids are calling swag for days from an offensive standpoint – which might have something to do with his NBA-combine confirmed freakish 6-11 wingspan that spreads out from his 6-7, 190 pound frame. But the Georgia-born sharp-shooter knows his Ferrari-paint-job-smooth stock from 2011 suffered a few minor dents during his sophomore season, and that he will have to run his offensive skillset concomitant with a stronger body, better defense and increased basketball IQ in order to achieve rookie-year success in the League.

“I’ve been working out with Jay Hernandez,” Lamb said. “Working with Truck Bryant from West Virginia, a few other guys, you know, getting stronger.”

When asked if he should have declared for the Draft after his NCAA Title run freshman season, he said he loved his sophomore year at UCONN, but yeah, he’s ready for life in the NBA.

“Whether I average 10 points or five points my rookie year, I know one thing I’ll bring to any NBA team is the ability to space the floor, cause deflections, rebound. I’m excited to do whatever I can do to help my team.”

As far as his weaknesses go, Lamb admits he picked up a tendency to shun away from the action for multiple minutes at a time this past season, when he should have taken the reigns from Kemba Walker.

He still thinks there is room to “increase my strength, and my mindset. You know, being more aggressive, getting to the basket, being more involved.”

Basically, it sounds like he’s still trying to recapture the glory of 2011. And I don’t blame him. When I asked Jeremy about what it was like to play with Kemba, it sounded like the Big East Championship post-game interview with Doris Burke all over again – one of the all-time greatest Doris moments, I might add.

“It was a great opportunity to play with Kemba my freshman year,” J recalled. “I would say he really, really helped me through my first year. He’s a great leader on and off the court. He’s a great player, so clutch…he was just unbelievable to play with.”

Kemba had similar words for Jeremy earlier that day.

“They had a rough year, but Jeremy is still a great player,” Under Armour’s golden boy explained. “And he’s a good kid also. I think Jeremy made a great decision to stay an extra year and to come out this year. I think he’ll be a high pick. I think he can definitely contribute to any team he goes to. I’m happy for him.”

And since we were talking Draft, I couldn’t help but to digress and ask Kemba what it was like to have the greatest basketball player in NBA history, Michael Jordan, decide to draft him.

“Everyone idolized him as a kid. It’s pretty cool to have him as a boss now. Just to be around him a lot. Just to…whenever I have a question about anything basketball I can go to him to...find out from The Greatest.”

Newsflash Kemba, everyone idolizes you now. Don’t worry about this year in Charlotte - what you did in 2011 was perhaps the most impetuous and fearless shredding of tournament basketball ever witnessed on National Television. It was like LeBron James in Game 5 in 2007 against the Pistons when he dropped the Cavs’ last 29 points to keep their season alive. Only difference was that the King worked that magic for two quarters and a session of OT…you worked it for 11 straight games over a period of three weeks...and won two championships during that time.

So it’s no wonder Kemba holds his NCAA Tournament MOP award in a higher regard than getting drafted top-10 at last year’s draft by Michael Jordan. And, it’s no wonder that with the powerhouse/bulldozer of a player, Andre Drummond, coming to UCONN to play with the returning Jeremy Lamb that Huskies nation had one word on their mind coming into this past season: repeat.

But we all know what happened March 15, 2012: Enter Iowa State.

This might be a stretch, and I might get in trouble for asking this question, but, is it safe to say that UCONN played a weak season because both of their star players looked past the season to the NBA Draft from the start? Should they take the blame? Or, was the Championship hangover of a lifetime too much to handle? After all, like I mentioned up top: most people thought Jeremy should have declared after his Freshman year, and according to Andre, he would have gone straight to the League if not for the CBA. So maybe the NBA is to blame for UCONN’s woeful attempt at a repeat. And so what if Chris Allen, Royce White and Scott Christopherson got the better of them, Jeremy and Andre were going to be multi-millionaires within three months.

Either way, that’s all in the past. And now, Andre Drummond is ready to show the world why he was put on this earth to play in the NBA straight out of high school.

“I don’t compare my game to anyone in the League right now,” Dre divulged through the telly in the middle of June. “I just really try to create my own version of Andre and do my own thing. Not trying to be the next anybody.”

And while this writer is sure nobody is trying to be the next UCONN Huskie to shoot 29% from the free throw line in the Big East tournament, score just two points and grab only three rebounds in his last game -- it’s not a dis song, just a real song -- the entire basketball nation has full faith in Andre’s NBA potential. Even the SLAM Fam picked the big homie to go sixth to the Blazers.

“Right away, I’m going to run the floor, grab rebounds, block shots…just to be in the right position to score all the time. Of course, over the years I’ll improve offensively and defensively, but right away, I’m bringing those things.”

Sounds like money might be a bit more motivating than playing his heart out for Calhoun. So, say Andre goes top 10, top five, top three in the Draft…is he jumping into the starting five and averaging 10, 15 points a game his rookie year?

“Honestly, wherever I play, whether I’m a starter, sixth man, whatever, I’m going to go out there and when I have the opportunity to do my thing, I’m going to play to the best of my abilities and play hard.”

Jeremy Lamb seems to think Dre’ll do just fine based on what he told me two weeks back.

“He’s going to be a great player. He has unbelievable bounce. I remember one day everybody was cold and we had to practice. And Andre just came out and did a windmill. I’ve got a good relationship with him, you know, we laugh, we always have a good time.”

But when Jeremy told that same story to reporters at Blazers camp Monday morning, things were taken a bit further when he was asked if Dre was ready to rise up through the NBA ranks.

“It depends on if he wants to work,” Rotoworld quoted Jeremy.

Of course, the quote found itself at the top of SBNation within 24 hours, with SBNation writer Brian Floyd saying in his aggregation, “friendly fire … Jeremy Lamb threw former UConn teammate Andre Drummond right under the bus with a quote that just isn't a good look for either of the two.”

Which is funny to me, because just a week ago when I asked Jeremy the same question, J seemed fully confident. I also was not surprised to hear Dre reciprocate the feeing.

“That’s one of my guys, he’s a real cool dude and has great abilities,” Drummond said. “I’ve never seen somebody play the way he does. His whole game is smooth – everything just flows for him, like gold.”

Except for post-practice interviews with meat-eating reporters.

Granted, the interviews in this article all were conducted prior to that misconstrued fragment piece of journalism, in separate phone calls, in a controlled environment with both of their agents on the call. But I did not for one second get the feeling that Jeremy wasn’t a firm believer in Andre’s ability to succeed. Jeremy came across as more serious and focused in his statements about Andre, while Drum was more willing to let loose, yes, but both seemed to be each other’s #1 fan.

If I was trying to undermine Jeremy and Andre from the desktop, like so many reporters will over the next few days and years, or, in Brian Floyd’s case, earlier today, I might write a story saying the recent speculated “angst” could stem from the fact that Andre is signed to the same Agent as Kobe Bryant, Lamb’s idol, out in LA, Landmark Sports with Rob Pelinka. Or, perhaps it’s because while Jeremy spent his time working out in Long Island with other college guys his size prepping for NBA workouts, Andre was “working out in a private gym near his apartment in Times Square with Wes Johnson and Carmelo Anthony.” Or, maybe Jeremy truly does feel bad about having such an atrocious year at UCONN, not following in Kemba’s MOP footsteps. If you YouTube the Doris Burke interview I mentioned, you can tell Jeremy looked up to Kemba beyond their single year spent together.

Maybe Jeremy resents Andre for seeing his one year at UCONN as a stepping-stone into NBA life, while Jeremy’s freshman year prowess literally catapulted him into NBA-bound limelight, which he might not have enjoyed had Kemba not played so well. Andre’s and Jeremy’s freshman years at UCONN could not have been more different, and that had to account for the lack of team chemistry -- and perhaps Jeremy’s off-guard statement is evidence of that.

But, seriously, no. I could never write that. Because I’ve recently spoken with Jeremy and Andre, and I can honestly say that they’re each other’s biggest fans, and once this pair of Huskies gets unleashed in the NBA, both of them are about to gain a helleva lot more.

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