Rudy Gay instructs a player at the 2011 Nike All-Asia Camp in DongGuan, Guangdong province, China. (Photo: Jon Pastuszek, NiuBBall.com)
It’s a question that, no matter how successful the Memphis Grizzlies’ Playoff run ultimately was, Grizzlies and NBA fans will be asking this summer and possibly beyond, if a lockout prevents the regular season from tipping off at its familiar late October start date. Because even though the Grizz turned the Western Conference upside down by becoming the fourth eighth seed in League history to upset a one seed in the first round, they could have kicked the typically all-to-predictable NBA completely off its axis if arguably their best player hadn’t been injured for the team’s entire Playoff run.
Which makes any suggestion that the Grizzlies’ terrifying six game destruction of the San Antonio Spurs was the product of addition by subtraction sound positively ludicrous. Even all the way in Beijing, we were never buying into any of that after watching the Grizzlies’ bench fail to come up with a consistent scoring punch throughout the against the Oklahoma City Thunder after O.J. Mayo was forced into the starting lineup as a replacement for Gay. Nor was anyone else who watched the team struggle time and time again to create good shots without their most talented wing scorer in the many crunch times of Game Four’s three overtimes.
So for us, there’s no doubt: Had Gay, who before his injury was averaging 19.8 points per game alongside career highs in minutes, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the first year of a five-year $82 million contract extension, been healthy, there’s no doubt those fatal issues would have been at least somewhat resolved. Then, maybe it would have been the upstart Grizz taking the Thunder’s spot as the League’s most promising young team going forward.
Thus, the what if.
Down in DongGuan, Guangdong province, however, where Gay and DeMar DeRozan were getting to work inside the newly constructed DongGuan New Century Basketball Academy as player-coaches at the 2011 Nike All-Asia Camp, there weren’t any hypotheticals when it came to instructing some of the continent’s best high-school aged talent. Out of his sling, but unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder, Gay never used the injury to duck out of his responsibility to the camp’s 60 players as he willingly and actively helped to instruct stations in the morning and afternoon stations.
He also didn’t duck out of an interview request, which he kindly accepted after NiuBBall approached him about hooking up with the number one English-language blog about China and basketball. Sitting within the comforts of air conditioning one floor below the main courts, we caught up with the 24 year-old on Day Three of the Nike All-Asia Camp for a chat.
NiuBBall: How was the flight?
Rudy Gay: From what I remember of it, it was alright [laughing].
NiuBBall: Is it a longer flight from the U.S. to Beijing or from the U.S. to Istanbul, where you were for the World Championships last summer.
RG: Actually, we flew [to China] from Chicago. When we went to Istanbul, we stopped for a couple of weeks in Greece and in Spain, so it was a little different.
NiuBBall: Before your injury, you were having a career year. It’s a topic that’s been talked about a lot, but I wanted to get your comments on it. What do you think is so special about the Team U.S.A. experience and why do players improve so much as a result?
RG: It was a great experience as far as just learning. We had great coaches. And just playing with great players, you can just take your level up to an all-time high.
NiuBBall: Aside from a few small moves in the off-season, the Grizzlies essentially brought back the same core from last year. Why do you think the team was able to make such a big leap this year with essentially the same personnel?
RG: We had more of a seriousness about us. We went out there and we played hard together. We knew that when we were out there, we were out there for a reason and that was to win games.
NiuBBall: Was that a product of a collective mentality before the season? Did you guys talk about that during the summer? Was it spurred by coaching?
RG: When we came into camp it was just different. It was a different atmosphere than before, we weren’t trying to play around. We were basically just trying to become a better team.
NiuBBall: What was it like to watch your team’s playoff run from the sidelines?
RG: It was tough, it was tough. It was one of the toughest times in my career, or really ever.
NiuBBall: How is the recovery coming along?
RG: It’s getting there. I started a little rehab, but you know it’s just slow. I’d like to go out there and do more, but it’s just slow. It’s been a slow process.
NiuBBall: Is there a timetable for when you’re going to be back?
RG: No, I just take it a little bit by a little bit. Every time I go back [to the doctor] to check it up, they tell me what more I can do.
NiuBBall: Is there less of a rush to come back with a lockout looming? Would you be on a stricter timetable if there wasn’t the possibility of a shortened season?
RG: No, you know I don’t think it’s that kind of an injury. You have to let it heal, or else it could affect the rest of your career. I definitely want to be at my maximum potential, so I’m gonna wait it out and see what I have to do.
NiuBBall: As a result of the team’s success mixed with your injury, your name has popped up in a lot of trade rumors the last few weeks. Your owner came out in the press a couple of weeks ago and basically squashed all those. How have you reacted to your name being thrown around in trade scenarios?
RG: This is my fifth year in the league. I’ve pretty much seen everything. If it happens, then I’m prepared to to take whatever team that is to the next level. But, you know our if owner said [a trade] was gonna happen soon, then I have to really think about my future with the Memphis Grizzlies.
NiuBall: Do you want to be with the Grizzlies going forward?
RG: Yeah. Contractually I’m still a Memphis Grizzly. If I’m there, I wanna win. As long as I’m there, I’m going to try and do my best to make the team win.
NiuBBall: Where do you think this team is going in the future?
RG: We’re definitely moving in the right direction. Every year we’ve made strides to get better as a team. Last year I think we won 40 games, this year we won a little bit more than we won before. But, we’re definitely getting on a level to where its somewhere we can be a contender.
NiuBBall: Zach Randolph turned into an absolute beast for you guys, particularly in the second half of the year and in the playoffs. Did you notice any changes from him this season?
RG: To be honest, it’s nothing that we knew he couldn’t do. He’s been doing it his whole career. But, the only difference was we were winning [this year]. You know, it’s easy to be a 20 and 10 player when you’re losing. This year, we were winning and he was obviously one of the reasons why we were where we were. It shows his commitment to the game.
NiuBBall: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about this trip to China. This is your first time being here, what are your initial impressions of the country and what are your feelings towards the trip so far?
RG: Well, it’s different. It’s not a bad different, it’s just different. I’m a little out of my element, I don’t really know what to expect. But, it’s been great just to soak up their culture and really getting a chance to understand different things. Those are the things I really like to do in my life.
NiuBBall: How busy has your schedule been since arriving here?
RG: Really busy. Of course there’s jet lag and all that stuff. But, I’m getting onto China time so I’ll have more time to enjoy the city and the country.
NiuBBall: What have you thought about the camp so far?
RG: There’s a lot of good players.
NiuBBall: What are some of the differences you’ve noticed already in the way the game is played here in China than in the States?
RG: Of course we have more people who can coach and more people who know the game in America. There’s a lot more skilled players over there, but there’s a lot of raw talent over here. The more people that go and play over in the League, you know the Yi’s and the Yao’s, then there’ll be more people to come back over here to teach [the Chinese] a little bit of what we [Americans] know.
NiuBBall: I think everybody in the NBA knows the potential of the Chinese market. How much is that talked about amongst players either in the locker room or off the court?
RG: Yeah, we have certain guys who wear Chinese shoes, you know the Li Ning’s and the PEAK’s, so it’s talked about a little bit. But, maybe not as much as some people think. They’re just shoe companies, we talk about them as much as we do about Nike or adidas.
NiuBBall: You have a teammate, Shane Battier, who wears one of the Chinese shoes you just mentioned, PEAK. He’s so famous in China that he can’t even walk out of his hotel because he gets mobbed the second somebody sees him. Have you ever heard him talk about his profile in China? Did he have any advice to you before you flew out here?
RG: Not really. He just told me what China has to offer and that it’s a great country. The people are really dedicated to the sport of basketball, more than what you may think.
NiuBBall: How do you see yourself in China in the future? Do you have any ideas for trying to enter this market a little bit?
RG: No… you know, it’s just about basketball. The better you play, the more people will notice, so it just motivates me to do even more out on the court.
NiuBBall: Is there anything specifically, either by Nike or by your agent, to help Rudy Gay do something here?
RG: Well, I mean, it’s my first time over here, so it’s something that could be done in the future. My agency has an office out in Beijing, so I don’t think it would be as tough to do as people may think.
NiuBBall: Have you eaten any Chinese food yet?
RG: [Asking his friend] Have we? No? Nothing authentic, I guess.
NiuBBall: Are you looking to eat anything local?
RG: [Laughing] I’ll try some things… as long as it doesn’t talk to me [laughing].
NiuBBall: Anything else on your mind that you want to say?
RG: To all the people in China, thank you for welcoming me to the country and hopefully I’ll be back here doing different things in the future.
NiuBBall: Rudy, thanks again for your time.
RG: No problem, man.
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