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Sharing the ball with a 1st Round Draft Pick – Geoff Gray’s Holy Land Hoopster Diary: Week #5

Dov Halickman Photography

Finally out of lockdown. While non-essential stores and venues remain closed for a little while longer, travel restrictions have been eased and our first game is right around the corner. Practice has been getting intense lately, and if there’s anything I can say that can speak for myself as well as my teammates, it’s this: we’re itching to lace ‘em up for real. Our captain, Roee Natsia, has some weights at his apartment complex, so I’ve been able to return to lifting to some extent. A few of us took a trip up north to see the Sea of Galilee the other day, but other than that I don’t have much else to add, so I’ll talk about the impact one of my teammates in Eilat had on me during the last three weeks of the season before the pandemic sent us home.

When we returned to Israel after the national team break in late February, we had signed a new American Shooting Guard, John Jenkins. After an All-American three-year career at Vanderbilt University, John was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He then went on to play for the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Washington Wizards, and is about to begin his ninth season as a pro. My college coach, Bill Curley, was also a first round NBA draft pick, so I know how valuable it is to learn from someone like that.

As a player, there’s one thing that I’ve always tried to do, no matter what the situation was, and that’s outwork my peers. That was hard to do when John got to Eilat. This dude was just wired differently. I remember on one of our off days before the league officially came to a pause, John and I got in a great shooting workout. We were on the court for around two hours, and probably got up close to 500 shots each, enough for both of us to be drenched in sweat after. After the workout, I figured I could lift later since it was still early and I was starving. As I showered and headed to lunch with the other guys, I noticed John wasn’t with us. As I’m walking out the door, I see him in the weight room doing step-ups in a hoodie while holding 25 KG dumbbells. It was the first time in awhile I thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t working hard enough. Those are the types of people you want to be around.

Later on, we were walking around the beach and I was curious what his offseason workout regimen is like. “So what does an offseason day typically look like… one of those shooting workouts we did, a lift, and then maybe some pickup at night or something,?” I asked. “That? Nah. That was just in-season shooting. The stuff I do in the offseason makes me want to throw up,” he said. I’m thinking to myself… he doesn’t mess around. “When was the last time you took the full day off, like… didn’t work at all,?” I wondered. “At all? Years… Gotta get out of your comfort zone if you want to get better,” he said. I knew I needed to pick his brain some more.

As our short stint as teammates went on, he told me some good stories from his career, mainly regarding his shooting contests with Dirk Nowitzki and Kyle Korver. I asked him what his career high was in the NBA and he said 23. I was like “Damn, against who?” “It was actually on Kawhi Leonard… he probably thought he had the night off.” We both laughed. But my first reaction was like… here I am matched up everyday in practice with a dude who was giving buckets to one of the greatest to ever do it on the biggest stage just a few years before. I knew I had to get some work in with him and his trainer, Abe Millsap, in Atlanta in the summer. Since my agent, Matan, was already down there for some NBA pre-draft workouts and my roommate, Elijah, is from there as well, I made it down there at the end of August before I flew off to Israel.

I’ve seen a lot of hard workers through the years, but this guy takes the cake. Ever since I met him in February, he’s helped every step of the way. Working with guys that have reached the pinnacle of success but still love the process is what makes this experience so valuable. One night out to dinner, he told me he wants to try and play until he’s 40 (another 11 years). I don’t doubt it one bit. Whatever team he signs with next will be getting a true professional. Oh, and I almost forgot… Before my flight, I texted him and asked what time we’re working out the next day. “6 am,” he said. I didn’t expect anything different.

#ShotsForBreakfast

Geoff

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