Thursday, amid the commercial bustle of Dublin, Andrew Bogut and I stopped in Starbucks. The barista behind the counter marveled at the height of Golden State’s 7-foot, 245-pound center.
“How tall are you?” she asked.
“Woooow,” she said, continuing to stare in amazement. “You’re like two of me.”
Over comes another barista, also enamored by Bogut’s size. He offers up the cliche small talk directed at tall humans.
“You should play basketball,” he said. “I know you’ve heard that before. … You ever play? You any good?”
“Naahh, not really,” Bogut responded.
Bogut is not at all above a joke or two. Another thing I learned from lunch with Golden State’s franchise center: he shoots it straight, he really knows basketball and he is not lacking in confidence. In between chomps at a burrito, he talked about defense, abusing then-Knick David Lee and getting dunked on by Blake Griffin.
Where do you rank?
I think Dwight’s No. 1. I think Bynum’s obviously taken over No. 2. For a while, it was me and Bynym, but I think Bynum’s solidified the NO. 2.
Feeling the pressure to be the savior?
I’ve been in the league long enough tyo know its not one guy or two guys. It’s very rare teams these days are built around one guy. You can name them all on one hand. It just doesn’t happen. Look at Miami.
But people see you as an answered prayer for a center
There’s some truth to that. Obviously, there hasn’t been a center who can play here for a while. Who’s the last guy? Back in the 70s and 80s? I think that’s definitely a reason for the excitement. There’s pressure there because I’ve got to bring it. But it’s a different situation than in Milwaukee.
Basically, in Milwaukee, if I didn’t put up 15 and 10, we’d lose. Here, it’s a little bit different offensively. It will come and go. But I know I’ll strengthen up that defense ten-fold. I’ll help D-Lee out down there. Get some offensive rebounds. Taking charges. Blocking shots.
You’ll need 15 and 10 here to win, too
Here is a little easier to get. Much easier to get. In the Eastern Conference, especially playing for the coaches we had, we won in the 80s. Look at Monta’s numbers right now. He ain’t scoring like he was scoring here. It ain’t easy going to the Eastern Conference and trying to put up those numbers. It doesn’t work like that.
I’m going to score. We play a fast-pace style. The Western Conference is a fast-pace style. I’ve probably got to get accustomed to running a little more than I have the last several years. Probably focus a little bit more on the conditioning aspect of things than the strength. But I don’t see scoring being a problem. We get up so many shots per game.
Who seemed to be the most excited about your arrival?
Everybody seemed excited. Maybe David Lee was. … He knows what I can do. I’ve given it to him a couple of games when he was inNew York.
He said when he played center, you were the hardest for him to play against
He told me a story about when they had the Walt Frazier Heritage night (Feb. 22, 2010), I gave him like 24 and 20 and we won. … He was telling me that the other day. He was like ‘Man you know we had that heritage night and everyone was excited and you got 24 and 20. I was like what the hell. You totally messed up their night, man. They was killing me.’
He’s improved a lot, too. He couldn’t shoot it at all when he came into the league. Now he’s shooting the 18-footer consistently, can put it on the floor. We have a very similar game in that sense. Passing. IQ.
You impressed with David Lee playing out the string?
That’s just his character. We’re still getting paid to play, so we should play. It would be different if he had a lingering injury right now.
After my (elbow injury), the next year, I was playing in immense pain that whole season. I was just counting down the days. I was looking forward to surgery. That tells you how much (it) was hurting. No one looks forward to surgery. I was like, ‘I cannot wait to have surgery.’ We got eliminated with six games left and I shut it down and went and had surgery right away. D-Lee is toughening it out. He’s playing sore. He’s playing the most minutes on the team. Guys respect him for it.
You want to bring toughness to West or you looking forward to playing West style?
If we find a good mix, we’ll be good. Offensively, I think we need to keep playing the way we’re playing. Free and open, if you’re open shoot it. You know, with NBA, teams don’t want to bog down guys too much offensively because confidence then becomes the issue. Do I shoot it? Don’t I shoot? I’ve seen that too many times. But defensively, you want to make sure guys are held accountable.
Weren’t you considered a finesse player coming out of college?
Yep. I was supposed to be a terrible defender coming out. Can’t block shots. You know, I just got better and better at it. I knew I’d be a decent defender. I knew it. … Those labels are usually made by people who haven’t played the game or don’t know the game that well.
How did you develop your basketball IQ?
I stopped growing at like 12-13, I moved to like a 2-3. I told the coaches in high school I wanted to bring the ball up. I wanted to learn the different skills in the game. That’s what helped me man. I think I’m the best ball-handling big in the league, as far as putting the ball on the floor. I can cross people over and I’m a 7-footer. I’ve got confidence doing that, putting it between my legs. That all started because of that.
The high IQ thing, I always studied the game, watching it on TV. I saw certain rotations of the defense, knowing where people are supposed to be. It just came naturally to me.
Why are you watching that stuff instead of dunks?
I actually liked better passes. I liked when Penny (Hardaway) used to the jump into a defender and throw it behind his head. I used to like that better than a dunk because I think it’s so cool to fool a defender. It’s more of a feel pass than actually seeing the guys there. Just something that always appealed to me.
Who do you credit for showing you the ropes defensively?
Scott definitely helped me out. He’s one of the best defensive minds in the NBA, I think. He’s a very good defensive coach. He demanded the best out of me defensively and I kind of found my niche. He let me kind of lead the defense from the back line because being the center I see everything. He had confidence in me controlling the paint. It was a work in progress but he definitely got me better.
Did he tell you he saw that in you from the beginning.
No. I give him a little bit of credit. He definitely helped me, but he didn’t tell me that. We didn’t have many communications. He’s not that type of coach. Not just me, but anybody.
What about at Utah, what did you learn there?
Majerus was there my first year for a half a season. Also a very good defensive coach. Offensively, not a good offensive coach because he makes you scared to make a mistake. You can’t play basketball like that. Coaches that make guys play scared offensively, that’s, not a good thing for anybody.
How did you get better at defense?
There’s not a drill you can do. The weight room helps. I was always there to take charges. I would always be in good position to take charges. Guys learned I would try to take charges, then they’d try to Euro step me and lay-it up. So I started blocking shots. Now I mix it up. It’s like anything, it’s understanding when people figure you out you’ve got to find another way. Defensively, I think strength helps. But it all comes down to basketball IQ. You see a play develop and you get there early, in this league, you’re good. You get there late, Blake Griffin is jumping over you and smashing on you. That’s the reality of this league. They said that to me as a rookie – you get there late, you’re going to get your feelings hurt. So I always keep that in the back of my mind. Make sure you get there early, see things before they happen.
When did you start watching hoop?
Since I was old enough to know what it was about, since about 6 or 7 or 8 years old
What did you watch?
They had NBA on once a week, every Saturday morning. Then they had NBA Action on after that. I taped NBA action and I’d watch it every day for that whole week until the next one. Then I’d go outside and try to copy.
Any local stars you like growing up?
There is one actually. He played in New York City. His name is Darryl McDonald. He was like MVP of the National (Basketball) League in 1994-95. He still lives in Australia. He was the guy that I liked because he played for my favorite team, North Melbourne Giants. He came to my school and he signed my jersey. I was in the 5th grade. That was the guy I really liked. Point guard. Old school. He wasn’t quicker than anybody. He was just smart.
I liked more like point-forward guys. Like a Toni Kukoc. Guys who could grab the rebound and bring it up, didn’t have to (crap) themselves and throw it to a guard.
Any local stars you like growing up?
As a big man you know where you’re doing all your work, five or six feet (away from basket), you need to get it up quick. You catch it on the left side, what are you going to do? Go all the way to the right? That’s easy to guard. If you can go to both shoulders, it’s a nightmare for guys to guard. … I was told as a young kid, I was probably going to be a 7-footer, learn how to use your other hand. Majerus was big on that, too. Majerus used to say ‘Wipe with your left hand. Eat with your fork in your left hand. Brush your teeth with your left hand.’