“Everyone has a vet.” That statement from Kevin Garnett has stuck with me. Sam Mitchell was his. He was Rajon Rondo’s. It’s the circle of NBA life. You would be hard-pressed to find a player whose career was not set on its course by a veteran in his first locker room. Those who become vets themselves pass those lessons along. These are their stories.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft, Dennis Scott shot 40 percent from 3-point range over a 10-year career, which included a trip to the Finals alongside Shaquille O’Neal in 1995. He has been a staple of the Turners Sports coverage of the NBA in recent years, and he took time from his work with the Rookie Transition Program to speak with Yahoo Sports about his NBA experience and influences.
Who is your vet, and how did that relationship develop?
Scott: The first person who comes to mind for me is Otis Smith. He was the guy who I called the voice of reason, because on every team you have a group of guys who are trying to do the right thing — eating right, being on time, getting their rest, things like that — and you always have two or three teammates who like to have fun and may hang out a little bit. It’s not that that’s wrong, but when you’re a rookie, you’re trying to find your path and which veteran is going to give you the right information for you to be successful.
So, for me, I noticed that Otis Smith was always early. He was always getting up shots, he was getting his ice treatment on his legs, he was stretching — things that I kind of took for granted when I was 21 or 22 years old, because when you’re young and vibrant, you think you can run and jump forever. But then I noticed that those other guys who weren’t doing those things weren’t performing as well, because they weren’t preparing themselves properly.
So, that’s what Kevin Garnett means when he talks about the importance of having a good vet. They’re showing you the ropes on how to be professional and how it applies to your game.
Was joining a fledgling franchise in Orlando an added challenge for you?
Scott: I didn’t really look at it that way. It was the Orlando Magic’s second year, and Nick Anderson was the inaugural pick, but I thought Pat Williams and John Gabriel — the general manager and assistant general manager at the time — brought in the right vets, with Sam Vincent, Greg Kite and Jeff Turner. Those guys were solid, solid veterans who had been on good teams. They knew how to win.
So, my rookie year, I won 31 games. It wasn’t like other guys who won 15 or 20 games. It wasn’t that bad. For me, it was like, Hey, I was the fourth pick, I’m learning, I know I can play. Once I can figure out how my game applies nightly, then I can go out and have fun. And that’s pretty much what happened for me.
What off-court lessons did you learn from them?
Scott: The biggest thing is getting your rest. I cannot stress that enough. For Otis Smith, and even for Scott Skiles, who at that time would love to have a good time and party, but he knew when to get his rest and when to hang out. That old phrase that we heard from our grandma or maybe your favorite uncle or aunt: There’s a time and place for everything.
With this new generation, these guys being 18 and 19 years old with all this money, guys understand have to understand the time and situation. There’s a time for going out and enjoying yourself, having a party and getting your family involved. There’s also a time to shut your phone off, cut your social media off, put Fortnite away and get ready to hoop.
What were your rookie duties?
Scott: The two things for me: I had to bring Terry Catledge his coffee every day on the road, and I had to bring Otis, Jerry Reynolds and Sam Vincent doughnuts. Only on the road. Home practices or shootaround, they may kick one ball up to the 300 row of the arena and make you go get it. But the stuff on the road bothered you the most, because you’re traveling, you might land in a city where you have some family, and you want to go hang out with your family. “Naw, rook, go get my coffee first, get my doughnuts, and then you can go have your fun.”
What was your ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment?
Scott: My favorite “welcome to the NBA” story would be playing Larry Bird in the Boston Garden. Jump ball. He comes over, gives me a little fist pound. “What’s up, rook?”
I’m like, Wow, Larry Legend just spoke to me.
He said, “You’re going to be sitting down in a few minutes.”
I gave him kind of a puzzled look. “What do you mean I’m going to be sitting down in a few minutes?”
First play of the game, he catches the ball and shows it to me. I reach in and try to smack it. He pulls it back, I foul him — and one. He said, “That’s one foul, rook. The next foul, you’ll be sitting down, and I’ll see you at the start of the second quarter.”
I said, “OK. You’re not going to get me again.” I come off a screen, knock down a 3. I started to talk trash to him, but I didn’t. I just gave a look like, You know I was the No. 4 pick, right? I know what I’m doing out here.
He comes back down, gets the ball again, makes a move, fadeaway. I foul him, and he’s like, “Hey, rook, I’ll see you in the second quarter.”
I was like, “C’mon, man. I thought this was a man’s game,” and everyone said, “That’s Larry Legend.” That’s 1990, after he hurt his back, but he was still Larry.
What was your ‘I’m here to stay’ moment?
Scott: Paul Westhead was the head coach for Denver, and they had a crazy up-and-down style. That’s when I got my career high. In my second year, I had 41 points, and it wasn’t so much me making shots. It was the pace of the game, how I got my shots, playing with veterans who knew how to share.
It was one of the first times I thought in my career where, when people saw the hot hand, they fed the hot hand all game long. I had games in high school and college sometimes when I got hot, and my teammates my get jealous like, “Oh, you’re hot, now let me see if I can get mine going.” In the NBA, one thing I like seeing is when a teammate is on fire, most people see that and they feed that guy.
Are there guys who you formed a bond with once you became a veteran?
Scott: It was a guy named Royal Ivey. We never really played together. It was one of those things where I met him through a friend of a friend. He was coming into Atlanta. I was doing radio at the time, and I remember one day him sitting there just real upset and puzzled. I went over to him and grabbed him and said, “Young fella, if you want to have a long career, pick your head up, keep working, keep fighting, don’t ever show that you’re ready to give up.”
Now, he’s coaching, and every time I see him, he says, “Man, that conversation you had with me my rookie year saved me. It helped me have a 10-year career and helped me with my transition into coaching.”
What’s your best young Shaquille O’Neal story?
Scott: This is going to sound really crazy. Can you imagine Shaq being not as confident as he is right now? You can’t imagine that, right? So, we’re playing an exhibition game at Anaheim against the Clippers, and Shaq’s going back and forth with me on the back of the bus. He pulled me to the side and said, “Hey, man, I think I might get $100 million? Is that going to be possible?”
I looked at him and said, “Are you really that naive? There’s no way you’re that humble.”
He said, “If I get $100 million, I’m not going to be able to go anywhere.”
Excuse my French, but I said, “You big son of a bitch, you can’t go anywhere now.”
Next thing you know: “Are you sure?”
I said, “Dude, trust me. Alonzo Mourning got $105 million.”
He goes, “Oh, hell no. I know I’m worth $100 million.” Then, he gets $115 million, and then it goes to $121 million and he leaves and goes to L.A. He wasn’t even thinking L.A. He was loving Orlando. It was the perfect place for him and his personality as he was trying to figure out himself, so by the time he got to L.A. and by the time he got to Miami he was “Shaquille O’Neal.”
What lessons are you passing along now at the rookie transition program?
Scott: What I’ve been trying to tell this new group is to change the narrative: RTP should be called RTP No Damn Excuses. That’s what it really needs to be, because with the players’ association and the NBA coming together, we’re talking about every topic you can think of — financial, domestic abuse, social, activism. You name it, the NBA and the players’ association have done a hell of a job thinking of everything possible, taking bad situations and turning them into good situations.
They’re finding old players who can come in and say, “Hey, guys, when I sat here 15 years ago, I thought I knew it all and didn’t listen. I blew $100 million.” “Hey, guys, I sat here and didn’t listen, and I got in a fight with my wife.” “I didn’t listen, and I tweeted something stupid.”
There are plenty of examples, so that’s why I’ve been telling guys from Day 1, “Guys, if you get in trouble, we’re still going to love you, but there’s no damn excuses, because we’re giving you all the information these four days to be successful.
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