Inside the Green Room and NBA Draft Week with Lottery Pick Zach LaVine

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Inside the Green Room and NBA Draft Week with Lottery Pick Zach LaVine
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There was arguably no more intriguing prospect outside of the top NBA draft picks than hyper-athletic combo guard Zach LaVine.

LaVine caused quite a stir in the weeks leading up to the draft with his ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap during a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers. Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho told LaVine's agent, Nima Namakian, after the 6'6" guard worked out for them, "He's the biggest freak I've ever seen."

Prior to his selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 13th overall pick in the draft, LaVine granted Bleacher Report exclusive access to follow him in New York City as he prepared for the next chapter of his basketball life. LaVine's story—through a conversation with B/R's Jared Zwerling—is presented here from his perspective. It has been edited for clarity and length.

 

The day before the draft

Wednesday, June 25 at 11:45 a.m. ET.: Zach and his BDA Sports Management business team sit down for lunch at Chevys Fresh Mex inside the Westin hotel, before his media-day appearance.

Leading up to the draft, I've been asking Nima questions about my workouts, what teams are thinking—stuff like that. He's told me there's interest from a number of teams, but that there are so many moving parts it's unpredictable. My range is No. 9 to 14, but we're not going for the highest situation, but the best situation. Maybe it will be the Hornets who have the ninth pick.

I feel like it's going to work out for me either way. Even if I'm the last pick in the draft, I'm going to be just as happy because it's been my lifelong dream. I think, what, 0.02 percent of the world gets to do this job and you're one in a million, so it's definitely something that you can cherish.

Jared Zwerling
LaVine during media day at the Westin, the official NBA draft hotel.

I remember when I was in third grade, I was in a classroom and the teacher said, "What do you want to do when you get older?" We were going around the room. I said, "I want to be a professional basketball player." She's like, "That's not realistic." I thought to myself, OK, watch. I want to go back to her and say, "What do you have to say now?"

For now I'm just waiting for my family to get here. I owe a lot to them. My dad, Paul, is like my best friend. He used to be a professional football player, so he's been through it. He gets on my butt a lot, but he pushes me. My mom, Cheryl, worked two jobs to support me. She really helped the family stay together. And my little sister, Camryn, had to take a backseat at times, traveling to all my AAU games and watching me for hours at a time.

In the meantime, I've been checking Twitter on my phone. Every fan from each city probably has said something at least once. They say that I'm a sleeper. A lot of people also want me in the NBA dunk contest, and I'm going to be in one. I've got so many dunks I can win it.

People say, "Hey Zach, jump from here and try this." I'm like, "Alright." If I get close, I can do it. I also feel I'm one of the fastest players, so I definitely like the open space. In the NBA it's get it and go, so it definitely fits my game perfectly.

Because there's a lot of intrigue over my athleticism and potential, a lot of sneaker brands are contacting Nima. What's most important is the sneaker's look and comfort. It will be definitely bold, confident—a loud shoe. For a commercial, I'd want to be dunking with my favorite rapper Chief Keef.

Jared Zwerling
LaVine (right) checks in on the latest draft news on ESPN, while his agent, Nima Namakian (left), and best friend, Perrion Callandret, provide support in his hotel room.

 

Draft day

Thursday, June 26 at 2:30 p.m. ET: While Zach is blasting Chief Keef in hotel room 2338, with a few orders of chicken fingers and pot stickers having just arrived for him and his business team, his stylist Courtney Perucho fits him for his suit.

I couldn't sleep until 4 a.m. last night, but I'm pretty relaxed right now. It's been surreal getting dressed up and everything, watching different NBA clips knowing that you're going to be drafted.

Nima told me he's been in contact with the teams that like me, but that no decisions are made until a team is actually on the clock. I'm just trying to live this moment out right now, and I'm having a great time. I went to a players-only meeting with Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston yesterday and they said, "Enjoy it. Be in the moment. It's only going to happen one time."

Putting on my custom-made forest green suit made by the stylists for many of the green room invites, Jhoanna Alba and Courtney Perucho, has been real fun. Green is my favorite color. I like the professional look now; it's swaggy. I just have to work on putting on a tie.

Every green room invite has his own special design inside his sports jacket. Mine is a quote: "I never told you it was going to be easy. I said it would be worth it." That's something my dad always told me.

I feel like everyone is excited. My UCLA teammate Kyle Anderson texted me, "You ready?" I said, "We're all getting nervous." He said, "We are, too. We're going to be watching tonight. I wish you the best of luck." I said, "The same back to you." It's a brotherhood.

Jared Zwerling
LaVine shows off his draft-night suit with his inspirational quote inside the sports jacket.

 

Inside the green room

Thursday, June 26 at 10:45 p.m.: After posing for photos with his family and friends, Zach recaps draft night before leaving the Barclays Center to an awaiting car that will take them to Carmine's in Times Square for a celebration dinner.

Once the draft started I was asking Nima where I was finally going to land, but he didn't know exactly where I'd go. Even Bobcats GM Rich Cho, a pretty reserved guy from what Nima told me, didn't share a lot of information. While Nima was calling and texting different GMs the whole time, he also kept me in high spirits throughout.

You're also watching the ESPN camera and Chrysa Chin, the "NBA hat lady," the whole night, because they move throughout the green room in the direction of the table for the next pick, like 30 seconds before it's called. Right before each pick happened, my heart would drop when Adam Silver said, "The team selects..." You think you're going everywhere until your name is called, so after the 12th pick, I was just like, "OK, this might be me."

When I was available at No. 13, Nima had a number of teams calling him saying they would take me. It was crazy. At that time, because we knew Timberwolves coach and president Flip Saunders was a big fan of me, Nima called him directly. That's when Flip told Nima, "Yeah, I'm going to take him." Nima turned to me and said, "Zach, I'm proud of you. Are you ready to go? We're about to go to Minnesota." Nima wanted to tell me a little bit in advance so I was prepared for it before the ESPN camera came to our table. So when Adam Silver said, "Zach LaVine," I just lost it.

Courtesy of Zach LaVine
LaVine's table inside the green room (left to right): His father, Paul; mother, Cheryl; younger sister, Camryn; and godfather, Marvin Carter.

I remember I had a really good workout and interview with the Timberwolves, and I knew they liked my playing style. Flip told Nima after the workout, "Zach can be a very special player and we can bring out some big potential in him. We're still putting together our identity, so Zach can step in and be a part of the core, and eventually become a franchise-changing player."

The Timberwolves workout was the toughest one I did. Flip is known for really challenging players in workouts to see who's mentally strong, tough and can fight through. Even the warm-up was hard; stretching out got me tired. They made the gym hotter, so we had to work even harder. Flip put us all through these drills—3-on-3, 2-on-2, 1-on-1, running a lot of different sets, getting up and down to show your athleticism—and we only had one quick water break.

I went at it as hard as I could. I knew I was going to be tired, so I said to myself, You might as well be tired. Just sleep on the plane afterwards. I felt I had a really good workout, so I'm glad everything happened the way it was planned.

 

After the pick

Thursday, June 26 at 11 p.m.: Zach continues to recap draft night while signing autographs and taking pictures with fans outside of the arena.

When Nima told me I had been picked, I was in shock. I said, "Are you for real?" He said, "Yeah, man." And then Adam Silver called my name, and I just put my head down and thanked God. When I got up to put the Timberwolves hat on, I said "F---, man." I didn't say, "F--- me," as everyone thought I did; people and social media took it the wrong way.

Jared Zwerling
LaVine takes selfies with fans outside of the Barclays Center after the draft.

I'm so grateful and happy to be a Timberwolves player. After all the hours, and the blood, sweat and tears, no one could know about the emotions going through me at that time. I was in disbelief. It might not have been the best reaction, but it's what happened. I'm still happy.

As I was walking up to the stage, I couldn't really breathe. My hands were cold and I was nervous. I was so stunned, like I was out of it. I even told the commissioner, "I can't believe this is happening." He said, "You're alright, Zach. Good job." I thought I was going to lose it and have some sniffles.

When I went backstage after the pick, Andrew Wiggins and I caught eyes. We're cool with each other from training together at P3 in Santa Barbara, and he gave me a great big hug. It was just the best thing in the world for me, so I was very happy.

I also talked to Flip over the phone and he said, "We drafted you for a reason. We love your game and your personality." I was really relieved after I talked to him. I was completely happy. All I could say was, "Thank you. I can't wait to work my butt off and try to help you guys win."

 

Destination: Minneapolis

Sunday, June 29 at 3 p.m. ET: Zach reflects, from his hometown near Seattle, on arriving in his new city.

David Sherman/Getty Images
LaVine and his new teammate, Glenn Robinson III.

The morning after the draft, a car service picked us up at 5 a.m. and took us to JFK airport, where we hopped on a Delta flight to Minneapolis, where we were greeted by the team. It's a really cool city. There are a lot of different buildings that are connected. They've got this crazy walkway, so when it gets icy and cold outside, you can just stay in the buildings and walk around. You don't even have to get your car sometimes.

At the Target Center, I met with the media, had a photo and autograph session and received my jersey, No. 8, for the first time. My new teammate Nikola Pekovic has No. 14, my longtime number, but that dude is like the biggest dude in the NBA. So I'm not trying to ask him for my jersey. I've always liked No. 8. Kobe Bryant has always been my favorite player, and he was drafted No. 13, too, in 1996.

After all that, I went to lunch with Nima, Flip and the team's GM Milt Newton. They stressed their excitement about working with me because of my unique athletic ability and gym-rat mentality. Flip also talked about two former star players he coached, Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett, and how he developed them when they entered the NBA at a young age like me. He said he saw two similarities in me: confidence and competitiveness.

I didn't watch the Timberwolves a lot last season, but I know they get up and down. Flip said I'll be playing a little bit of the 1 and 2. I'll be playing a lot at the 1 in summer league. With me and Glenn Robinson III coming in, we're really athletic and we're versatile. And if Kevin Love stays, there are going to be four UCLA Bruins on the team.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
LaVine greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

Flip and Milt also recommended places to live. They told me you never know if it's going to snow, so they really want everybody to be close to the arena, within a seven-to-10-mile radius so you can get there on time. I'm from Seattle and it gets cold, but it's not Minnesota cold. But I'll get used to it. I'll put a big winter jacket on and get to work.

While Nima and my business team will help me find an apartment and personal chef—I've already got a car—I'm focused on training. When I got back home on Saturday, near Seattle, I already started to work out again. I was up until 2 o'clock early Sunday morning. I think I took 500 shots, and I lifted and ran.

I've also got to get mentally prepared, just like I did getting ready for college—it's just on a bigger scale. I'm just going to work my butt off, try to get better and better before the season, and then go at it full steam once the season starts.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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