From the archives: Postgame with the NBA G League Champion Austin Spurs
Originally posted April 16,2018
The game was intense.
Actually being in the building to witness all the sights and sounds was thrilling.
The celebration has come and gone.
Looking back, my favourite moment of the whole thing is the postgame celebration in the bowels of the Hersey Centre. Talking to players and staff, and witnessing the joy and satisfaction of all the hard work they put in, was a once and a lifetime opportunity.
Here is a behind the scenes look - postgame with the NBA G League Champion Austin Spurs!
It’s a testament to the Spurs Organization.
There were a couple of themes that kept emerging postgame. The first was unusual number of references to various things being a testament to the Spurs organization. The other was family and how you are more than just a basketball player if you are part of the Spurs organization:
Coach Blake Ahearn: “We’re not reinventing anything. That precedent is set from Pop to RC - the whole Spurs organization - all the way through Austin. The biggest thing is we’re not San Antonio and Austin, they do not treat it like that, we’re the Spurs, we’re a whole group - we get tonnes of support from them. It’s a testament to how they do they do things and we are fortunate enough to be here and be part of it.”
Jeff Ledbetter: “Before I came here you hear about it but until you experience it, it’s real, they care about you as a human first, they are worried about you when stuff happens to certain people. It’s so family oriented, they are worried about you as a human. So it’s true the Spurs really embody that.”
Derrick White: “The same thing they talk about in San Antonio is what they talk about here in Austin. Everybody just sticks together. The results speak for themselves. We have such a close group and that makes it fun.”
Nick Johnson: “I have heard a few guys say that this team feels more like a college team. We all live in the same apartments, we are always around each other and we genuinely like each other and that’s a tribute to the Spurs organization. They put together, we probably could have get a few better players or, you know, more highly touted players but we kept the guys that worked and it’s proven.”
Jaron Blossomgame: “All these guys in the locked room are my brothers, I love each and every one of them. I built a lot of great memories this year with all those guys and I couldn’t be more happier for these guys. They’re great people, they’re great teammates and it makes it easy to play with guys like that.”
There are two things you can control
When asked about how proud he was of the team, Ahearn repeated a phrase I first heard from him earlier in this season following the Spurs loss to the 905 on New Years Eve: “We tell them there are two things you can control, attitude and effort”.
This time, Ahearn mentioned the phrase when talking about how proud he was of the team: “You go from, I mean we have been on twenty day road trips with no bags for six days and we have been through a lot, as every G League team has been, the ups and the downs, and I tell them all the time there are two things you can control: your attitude and your effort - and those from start to finish have been absolutely awesome, fantastic, so it’s a privileged to coach them.”
Attitude and effort - this has really resonated with me and I have now incorporated this saying into my own life!
Prior to game 1, I did a quest Q&A as part of the series preview on Raptors Republic, I mentioned Ledbetter as a potential dark house to swing a game in the Spurs’ favour. I love being right.
When I asked Jeff about his scorching 13 points on 5-5 shooting in the first half, he credited the Spurs team approach: “It was just one of those things, staying ready not a lot of minutes last game and stuff. That’s just the nature of our team - is just every time a different guy steps up, someone’s struggling, someone different each night and I happened to get some open looks and was fortunate to knock them down. It’s such a good team, our defence was ridiculous in the first half and it was just a full team effort.”
Responding to a question on how the Spurs seemed to get better in increments as the seasons went along, Ledbetter again praised the team approach: “It’s tough in this league with guys getting called up, heading back and forth, two ways and all that, it’s a new thing this year. Luckily the group of guys Andy, Blake and them put together are guys that - it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter - one night you would be starting and the next night you might be playing 15 minutes because we have assignment guys. No one held their head, when they got those 15 minutes they put in their work. The team they built, just high character guys and that’s what the Spurs thrive on and, like you said, we just kept getting better and hit our stride at the right time and it was a fun ride, it was a lot of fun to play with these guys.”
After a great run in the G League Playoffs, everyone is clamouring to get a look at Derrick White in the NBA. While he admittedly has a lot of work to do, his potentially is intriguing and I look forward to hopefully seeing him be a focal point of the Spurs team in Las Vegas at Summer League this year (I am intentionally staying out of the discussion about the playing time in the playoffs).
Slowed by injuries this season, including a fracture wrist in his first G League game, White has kept everything in perspective: “When it happened I was kind of disappointed but I tried to keep my mind on straight and find other ways to get get better, mentally I had a cast on but I could still do a lot of things. I could still run and work on my left hand and do a bunch a stuff. It wasn’t wear I wanted to start but I learned a lot from it and it is what it is.”
Reflecting on a crazy March and April, White sated: “It’s been a crazy year actually, back and forth and not know where I am going to be. Just to have a group of guys like we do in that locker room and the coaching staff that we have here make it a lot easier and just thankful.”
In terms of White’s future plans, he is focused on the playoffs and continuing to improve: “I am going to go back to San Antonio and finish the year off strong. I’m going to continue to work and hopefully we go far in San Antonio and from there I just have to continue to get better.”
Based on the opinion of his teammates, Spurs fans should be expecting to see more of White in the future: “He’s been great, he has grown so much over the year. Where the first game he played with us compared to now, I mean he is going to be special player, definitely at the next level” Johnson observed after the game. Blossomgame could not agree more: “Derrick is a dynamic scorer, he is an underrated passer - found me on a lot of looks - a lot of cuts going to the rim. I think we built a lot of chemistry me and him together but he has been an awesome asset for our team. He’s very coachable when he comes down here. He’s all about the team and that’s a tribute to the Spurs and the type of guys they bring in and he’s a great guy.”
I am officially a member of the Nick Johnson fan club. His energy, effort and, perhaps most impressively, his presence of the court has won me over. You need a player like Johnson on your team. While the Spurs have a glut of small combo guards in their system, I hope he makes his way onto the Spurs Summer League team and gets a shot at one of the final roster spots in the fall. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a shot at the NBA, with the Spurs or otherwise, at some point next season.
What comes next for Johnson? “Only god knows” said Johnson. “I’m going to continue to build on myself, I think I’m a very different player from when I got drafted a few years ago. After this will be my fifth year as a pro - which I mean is crazy. I mean I like to think I am much more complete player from when I came out of the draft. Only god knows, we’’ll see.”
While Johnson rightful deserved the spotlight to be on him given his performance on both sides on the ball, he echoed the importance of the Spurs team approach: “That’s been the whole year, one threw thirdteen guys. Derrick and Darrun where gone, Jordan Green steps up. Jules been big for us, JV has been big for us, O had a great first half and it continued in the second half. I mean, it’s every single night, every game we play it could be any person that steps up, whether it’s defensively or offensively. That’s been the story all year and I think that is why although we had the best record in the West and we really we should have had the best record in the league until the last few games, we didn’t get the accolades because we do it by committee and that’s how it is and that is how the big team is. “
Reflecting on the Spurs season, Johnson also noted that the Spurs defence was key: “Toronto was confident coming into this series, they put a good smacking on us on the New Years even game. Jeff got kicked out 10 minutes into the game, we missed some shots but I think they were pretty confident. We knew this coming into this series that it starts with our defence. I say it over and over and over and over again but when you can hold a team like that to 66 points when the game was pretty much over and, like you said it has built from month to month, I would say from about February we knew - end of January, early February, we went on that long road trip - we were here, we were at the Showcase - eighteen days, it was a long road trip. We fought threw that and it is a tribute to all these guys, we fought threw a lot over the year. We got better.”
Finally, I couldn’t let Johnson go without asking him about his alley-op dunk. His response made me laugh: “Man, it felt so good. It was with the left, it was my off hand, I just had to go with it. It was funny because coach has yelled at them all year, I mean, I have kind of been knowing for jumping a lot in my career and he’s yelled at them all year, don’t throw Nick lobs, don’t throw Nick lobs - because the first 5 or 10 we probably didn’t convert on any of them. But O trusted me again and he threw it up there.”
During the first half, Ahearn was having a heated conversation with one of the referees following a whistle when a security guard from behind Austin’s bench came out and, presumably having mistaken Ahearn for a fan sitting court side, told Ahearn to sit down. The look on Ahearn’s face was priceless (read - who the f— is this guy). Postgame, Ahearn laughed at the whole situation: “That was a first, I think he was just sticking up for one of the refs. I like those guys, those guys are good refs and everything. Sometimes you just gotta give them a little nudge here and there, but that was a first for me.”
The Mayor of Cedar Park
Asked about Ledbetter’ shooting, Nick Johnson shared that I was speaking to the Mayor of Cedar Park: “Oh amazing, about time he made a shot right? This is the Mayor of Cedar Park. It’s where we live in Austin, a little suburb Cedar Park. So this guy right here, from the start… every ball is going in.”
Everyone is a comedian
“You will not get any one word answers here, I am not that good.” - Coach Ahearn in response to hearing Greg Popvich’s name .
Thanks for the great seasons, Austin Spurs, it’s been a blast. Go Spurs Go!!!