Q: Why does giving back to your community mean so much to you?
A: I think it’s because of my upbringing, just not having everything that I always wanted. I had everything I needed but as human beings we have a natural instinct to just want things and I never had that growing up. I never had somebody to come in my town every year and give back to us and give us a vision as far as where we could go. I think that’s big not only in the city of Atlanta but most definitely in the city that I grew up in, San Antonio.
Q: Growing up, I know you moved around a lot, and at times were homeless. How did that experience shape who you are today?
I go by staying forever humble. Only the strong survive, and that’s not just with situations like being homeless, that’s in life, that’s in class, that’s in sports, whichever one you may play, and it’s just striving through all obstacles. They’re gonna come, no life is an easy life, so if you can get over every roadblock that’s thrown your way, I think it only makes you a stronger person.
Q: In your post on the Player’s Tribune, you said that your dad is a very optimistic person even when faced with hardships. How has that attitude rubbed off on you in your life?
A: It’s big. Just take everything as it comes. I look forward to the future, but I always focus on the present. Staying true to the people around you, staying true to myself, and just being genuine.
Q: One of the most noticeable things about your game is how hard you work. You go after every loose ball, things like that. Where do you think you get that great work ethic from?
A: I think that just comes from wanting to be very good at what I do as far as being a professional athlete. I feel like a lot of people waste their time when it comes to working out or playing in a game. I feel like you never know when it could all be taken from you. My best friend is Isaiah Austin, that’s one of the guys that you can really attest to where he thought he was gonna be in the NBA. Fortunately he’s overseas right now playing, but it’s like he had everything one day and lost it the next, so I never want that to happen to me. I’ve worn his number my last two years of college. It’s flipped now to 12 only because of Dominique Wilkins, but that still lives in me.
Q: Was there a specific moment when you were a kid that you realized that you had the potential to make a career out of basketball?
To be honest, not. Just playing it for leisure purposes, and I really didn’t feel like I had a big chance until I went to college, seeing those coaches come in and out from the league, the scouts coming to watch Rico Gathers, Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Pierre Jackson, all those guys, and I wanted them to be there for me. I always told myself that they were there for me, so I practiced and played as if they were, and next thing you know I was on the draft board my junior year, and just kept it going.
Q: What was the college recruitment process like for you when you were in high school?
A: It wasn’t very flooded, to be honest. I had a lot of D2 offers, some D1. Wichita State. Long Island University was a mid-major D1, which is who I actually signed to. My head coach left, so I ended up getting my eligibility back as far as being able to be recruited again and Baylor called, and I think I signed like three days later, it being three hours from where I grew up.
Q: After you guys lost to Yale in 2016, you had that quote about the rebounds. When you said that, did you realize that it would go viral like it did?
A: Not at all. I was just really mad. People don’t realize that that was literally probably less than about ten minutes from the time we lost. They didn’t really give us much time to do anything. They didn’t give us time to go to the locker to calm down or anything, so it was a genuine answer. It just so happened to be one of the most sarcastic answers I’ve given.
Q: Describe what you felt the moment you got drafted by Atlanta.
A: Sigh of relief. A milestone that I put my mind to and I actually reached, and when you do things like that, when you put your mind to something and it takes years to reach, and you know it takes years to reach, but you steady push every single day in order to get it, I think that takes real focus. It doesn’t have to be basketball. Again, this is graduating, being a sophomore in college, or sophomore in high school, or knowing you can get a promotion at your job in three years if you stay on the right track. Just things like that, having that type of focus, and ability to maintain, stay out of trouble, and continue to push and do the right things in your profession. I think that takes real leadership, real guts, and real focus. Patience to get things like that done.
Q: Obviously the team has changed a lot since your rookie year in terms of roster, and you’re now one of the guys on the team with the most experience here in Atlanta. So what kind of a leadership role do you think you’ll take on this season with the younger guys?
A: A big one. I was a senior in college two years ago, so I have leadership qualities. I was looked at as a leader, I was called upon as a leader. I’ve been a leader, I’ve been a leader of my college the last two years, and now it’s all about really just figuring out who can take certain things, as far as coaching, as far as being led. You can’t talk with everybody the same. You have to approach guys different depending on their personality or what type of person they are. You can yell at certain guys but you probably have to come at whoever it may be a little more cautious, say it in a different manner, so that’s all a part of being a leader. Just knowing how to come at the guys who look up to you and the guys that are trying to follow you, trying to get to follow you. Also working hard. I think that’s a big thing because I’m not a fan of guys trying to be leaders that don’t work hard and gain the respect of their peers. One of the most important things for me is gaining the respect of my peers, and I think that makes it easier…I wouldn’t say easier. That makes the task less difficult to lead. These are guys who are damn near 30, or 25, or 18. It varies, so getting guys to look at you a certain way and being 24, there might be guys 32 years old that you’re the leader of, you know what I mean? Or there may be guys that are 18 that you’re the leader of. You’re just finding different ways to do it.
Q: As a pro athlete, obviously some negative things might get written about you on social media or in the press, so how do you deal with that kind of distraction?
A: To be honest, I don’t look. And I know that’s so cliche to say, but I literally turn my comments off, unless it’s a promotional video for IG or something that I’m doing as far as building my brand, I turn the comments off on IG, so nobody can comment on my pictures. In order for me to see something, I have to go look for it. I follow seven people, so it’s not like I’m gonna see anything. I barely get on Twitter, so as far as social media goes, it doesn’t really have that much of an effect.
Q: What area of your game are you looking to improve the most this upcoming season?
A: Consistency. Just being consistent. Doing whatever it is that I do at a high level every single night, eighty-two times. And yeah, just consistency.
Q: How have you enjoyed living in Atlanta?
A: I’ve loved Atlanta. The people here are amazing, they show love. Great eating spots. You really can’t beat the southern hospitality. I kinda got that feel as if I’m back home, you know what I mean, so they’ve embraced me, and I’ve embraced them. I’ll continue to give back to the city of San Antonio along with Atlanta, and I honestly feel like this will be my second home, as far as where I may be able to stay after I’m done playing.