NEW YORK — An hour before tip-off on New Years Day, prior to his first game at Madison Square Garden, Damian Lillard sat relaxing on the empty Portland Trail Blazers bench and taking in the historic aura that The Garden exudes.
With the NBA Finals in the rearview and an exciting new crop of prospects hours away from officially entering the NBA, we thought it would be interesting for you to hear their lasting impressions from the showdown between the Thunder and Heat.
What did these prospects learn from the championship series? Are they happy for LeBron James, or upset the Kevin Durant didn’t seize the throne?
Below we have short responses from 11 of the players invited to the NBA draft’s green room tonight.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky: “I didn’t expect the last game – Game 5 – to be that type of game. The Thunder played well but Miami was just eager to have that ring. It showed me what it takes to get to that level. Two great teams, two great coaches and it’s going to be a lot of hard work to get there. It’s not gonna take one year. It’s going to take multiple years.”
Thomas Robinson, Kansas: ”That those guys care. A lot of people bash ‘em (players) and say that once you get to the league nothing matters no more, they don’t care about basketball anymore. They play hard. That had to be one of the best series that I witnessed. I mean, I’m not that old, but I watched every minute, every second of this series.”
Andre Drummond, Connecticut: ”They were out there to the death. They wanted to win so bad. I was a little upset because I wanted Oklahoma City to win because I’m good friends with Kevin Durant, but I’m happy for LeBron too because he definitely deserves this ring. He battled and he fought – not only basketball, but people outside of basketball as well, too. He’s the best player in the world, obviously.”
Austin Rivers, Duke: ”It was amazing. I think it was really special to watch LeBron the way he played. I think he really showed how great of a player he truly is and I’m actually happy for him because he’s a good guy, a nice guy. Just to see him get that ring – which he deserved, because he works so hard – is pretty cool.”
Brad Beal, Florida: ”LeBron is a great player. I mean it’s real competitive, everything is really competitive. It’s like a whole different style of basketball. Just playing as a team, more than anything. Taking every game one game at a time, each possession by possession, not looking too far ahead because teams always come back, so don’t be content with a lead or too confident. Really just give it your all every night.”
Damian Lillard, Weber State: ”I was happy. I’m a big fan of LeBron and I really couldn’t stand how much problems people gave him for not having a championship. Especially with all the success he’s had as a player and the type of guy he is, it bothered me a lot. I was at peace with him winning a championship.”
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: ”I was happy for LeBron. I mean, I think there’s a lot of people who are very critical of him – he may be the most criticized player in sports. It was nice for him to finally get an NBA championship because there were so many people on his back about it. He seems a lot more relaxed now. He seems happy and he can just enjoy it.”
Dion Waiters, Syracuse: “I loved it. It was great – just the atmosphere. Just seeing those guys win, like it’s unbelievable. It makes me want to go out there and try to win 10 championships. Hard work. You have to consistently be on top of your game every game of the championship and you can’t take anything for granted. ”
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina: ”Just how quick and explosive everybody is. You have Kevin Durant, who can play the 2, 3 or 4 with how versatile he is. You’ve just got to be able to play a lot of different positions and you’ve got to be able to adapt. Every possession counts toward something. You’ve got to make sure you continue to fight through every possession and make the big plays at the end.”
Michal Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: ”It was just hard work on the court I think, period. From Bron, Wade, Bosh. It’s going to take the same the same thing for me to get there – and to be humble.”
John Henson, North Carolina: “Athletes, man. There are athletes out there and a lot of tough defense being played and I think that’s why the Heat won – they were tougher and they made it tougher on OKC’s scorers. Switching, all of that stuff defensively. Shane Battier was locked in, and you can’t necessarily stop Kevin Durant from scoring, but they made it difficult.”