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NBA PM: Players Recall Their Go-To Veteran From Rookie Season

From Rasual Butler to Kyle O’Quinn, NBA players recall their veteran go-tos when they entered the league as a rookie.

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Every season a new class of rookies enter the NBA with talent, potential and also a lot to learn. It is the role of a veteran to provide leadership to their younger teammates, and sometimes that results in both a bond and a learning experience. Basketball Insiders spoke to players around the NBA about their rookie year and which veteran teammates became their go-to.

Paul Millsap (Utah Jazz, 2006-07)

“I had a few: Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Derek Fisher. They taught me the ropes, how to be professional, how to deal with the NBA lifestyle. I’m very thankful for those guys showing me the way. They did too many nice things to name them all. Actually, Derek gave me a watch that I have to this day. He’s someone I definitely looked up to.”

Robin Lopez (Phoenix Suns, 2008-09)

“When I got drafted by Phoenix, we had a very veteran team — Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Shaq, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson. I had a lot of guys I would go to. Obviously for big man stuff, I’d go to Shaq. He told me to focus on going hard when you’re on the floor, do the right thing, appease the basketball gods and everything will work out. Grant Hill was really great for focus to keep me in the right place.”

Thiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs, 2010-11)

“Manu Ginobili for sure. I got to San Antonio knowing very little English and we both speak Spanish, so he was the closest one and helped me a lot with everything, inside and outside of the court. I didn’t know him before. Every day he told me small things that helped me in my career. If I got subbed, should I run to the bench or walk? Should I look to the coach? Going into the playoffs (as a rookie), I don’t remember him saying anything but after (being eliminated) he said just keep working. Sometimes — especially if you lose in the first round — the summer can be long and you have to keep working, stay in shape, get ready for the next season because you’re going to have another shot next year.”

Rasual Butler (Miami Heat, 2002-03)

“Eddie Jones. He was my locker-mate. He told me to study the game, know what your opponents do, their tendencies, how to take their game. My first car was an Escalade. Eddie, Brian Grant, LaPhonso Ellis and Alonzo Mourning all chipped in and bought my me first pair of rims, which were popular back then, and tires. They all bought me some suits and I got a really cool watch and chain from Eddie as well. It let me know I had veterans looking out for me and they appreciated me doing the things they asked me to do without asking questions. That was their way of saying thank you.”

Donald Sloan (Atlanta Hawks, 2011-12)

“Mine was Josh Smith. A lot of people don’t see him as a guy like that, but he’s a good guy. It started in training camp. I guess we were kind of similar, just a little bit. I took a liking to him and vice versa. Ever since then there’s been a connection as far as, I don’t want to say big brother-little brother, but something similar. When practice wasn’t going where I needed it to go to get on the court, he’d pull me aside and say, ‘You got this, you’re good.’ Coming into the league that year, it was a crazy schedule because of the lockout. I didn’t have a suit because I figured I was going to be dressing. It was in New Jersey and they told me I wasn’t going to dress so I had to go find a suit. He went and bought it for me, shoes and all. I think we went to Bloomingdale’s. He did a lot for me. Although my time was short there, even after we still kept in touch. I’d see him for warmups, we’d talk at halftime. It’s been the same love since day one. Opposed to what a lot of people think, he’s actually a good leader. He really looks out for people and cares. No matter how he may come off in some situations, he really has the best interest for those who need help.”

Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors, 2012-13)

“I had Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray. I had a lot of questions back in the day so they were my go-to guys to answer questions, give opinions. They would come to me and tell me what I needed to do to be better. Amir was always positive. That was the best thing I learned from him.”

David West (New Orleans Hornets, 2003-04)

“P.J. Brown, he and I are still good friends. He always gives me good advice to this day. We played the same position so I was sort of in there to be his backup and eventually replace him. He taught me about the importance of having a 15-foot jumpshot. He was the main one, but I had the best rookie experience I think out of anybody. I was on the oldest team in the NBA; they were just so mature. They gave you tangible advice, not fluff. They paid for a whole lot. There was no hazing, I didn’t have to carry bags. They were beyond that, they were a bunch of dads (laughs). They said, ‘Young fella, make sure you’re working, take care of your family.’”

Wayne Ellington (Minnesota Timberwolves, 2009-10)

“My veteran was Al Jefferson. That’s my guy, he looked out for me. My rookie year we only won 15 games. I came in the league after winning a national championship and we didn’t do much losing at all, so it was a totally different situation for me. He always told me to stay positive, keep my head up, and it gets better. All I really had to do for Al was bring him a five-hour energy to every game. That’s all he wanted from me, I didn’t have many rookie duties. Our relationship is still really nice. We aren’t the best of friends but whenever I see him, it’s still like I was a rookie just the other day in Minnesota. It’s always love.”

Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors, 2005-06)

“Darrick Martin. More than anything, the first day he arrived he said, ‘Look, I’m not here to take your minutes. I want to help you.’ He was always the guy that told me about the NBA, took care of me. There were days with bad games, we would go and grab a bite somewhere. He told me, ‘Don’t get in that room in that hotel and just stay there.’ We played together for a while and we stay in contact. We still have a great relationship.”

Kyle O’Quinn (Orlando Magic, 2012-13)

“Jameer Nelson, Al Harrington and Big Baby (Glen Davis), those were my three guys. Big Baby, we sat next to each other a lot. He shows you how hard you need to play. When he’s locked in, he plays hard, he shows you the level you have to play at. He also shows second round picks you can make a way out of your situation. Me and Big Baby had conversations about, ‘Don’t believe that you can’t play. I know it’s your first year, don’t believe that the things you do aren’t valuable to the team. At some point, we’re going to need it.’ Jameer and Al helped me a lot off the court — family situations, how to manage myself, the way to dress, overall trying to help me be a better man. Christmas I was at Jameer’s home with his family. I just left Al’s house in L.A. this summer. The connection is there. They bring you around family, let you know basketball is a portion of your life but having good friends and good family means a lot as well.”

Jared Dudley (Charlotte Bobcats, 2007-08)

“My veteran go-to at that time was Derek Anderson. He’d won a championship. He wasn’t playing that much — he wore the suits a lot — but he understood the game. I also say Jason Richardson. He was close to being an All-Star, a Dunk Champion, and you saw how they carried themselves. That was big. Derek bought me jewelry, Jason bought me a watch. But I got my true, true veteran experience the next year going to Phoenix with Grant Hill and Steve Nash.”

Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs, 2011-12)

“I kind of knew T.J. Ford before because of (the University of) Texas. He was huge for my game. He was hurt and trying to get healthy. He would teach me about the NBA game, what to look for as a point guard. When he decided he couldn’t go anymore, when I went to the D-League he went down and coached for a while. He’s a great guy. He helped me out a lot.”

Dahntay Jones (Memphis Grizzlies, 2003-04)

“Pau Gasol was good to me. [Gasol played professionally in Spain prior to the NBA.] He helped me out more on a basketball level. He would take me to dinner every now and then. He told me to keep working and not get frustrated. He said to put my head down, be the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He was awesome.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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