I sat down with Kelenna Azubuike for 9 minutes and 41 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.
Mike Kurylo: How are you feeling? Donnie Walsh said that you weren’t running yet, but that you were running on the Alter-G, and the next step is to start running on grass. Is that true?
Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. I’ll be running grass soon, and then on the court. I’ll be back soon. It’s getting better. I’m trusting it more and more, and the strength is getting better and better.
Mike Kurylo: Given that you’re injured now, what do you feel you have to do to get into the rotation or to be a starter?
Kelenna Azubuike: Whenever I come back to just play the way I’ve been playing. Play aggressive and hard nosed. I only know how to play one way, and that’s all out, 110%. I’m really confident what I can do and what I can bring to this team. Whenever I’m out for a period of time, I’m not really worried about jumping back in, because I come in and go as hard as I can and stay ready.
Mike Kurylo: Do you feel you’ll have an uphill battle to win the starting spot or get in the rotation?
Kelenna Azubuike: You know, whatever happens, I try not to get too concerned with that. I try to worry about what I can do to stay ready and whenever I come in to just go as hard as I can. My play will speak for itself. As far as the minutes and getting playing time, I’ll leave that up to the coach. I’m confident in what I can do so I expect to be out there.
Mike Kurylo: What strengths do you bring to the team?
Kelenna Azubuike: I’m a good shooter, driver, and slasher. I feel like I can get to the hole and make plays. I play defense too. I take pride in stopping people and defending, so I play on both sides. And I love to run. So I fit the way D’Antoni likes to play. I think I bring a lot to the team.
Mike Kurylo: Recently New York hasn’t had a good defense, so is this something you feel like you can bring to the team?
Kelenna Azubuike: Definitely. I love playing defense. I think that once you get on the defensive end, you can get back on offense with turnovers and force bad shots. (Off those turnovers) you can get fast breaks where you can easy buckets. The more of those that you get the better your offense will flow. The better the game will be for us. Playing defense is fun. You take the challenge to try and stop people and see if you can do it. I enjoy it.
Mike Kurylo: How do you feel joining a team that doesn’t really have a core of established players?
Kelenna Azubuike: I think it’s exciting to see what we can do together. As our chemistry grows in training camp it’ll be fun to see what we can accomplish this year. I know we’re going to win games. I’m excited to see how good we can be together. I think we can be a great team. There are a lot of great players in here, and everybody has a lot to bring to the table. So I think we’ll be good.
Mike Kurylo: How do you feel about the Golden State guys fitting in, given your familiarity?
Kelenna Azubuike: We know each other pretty well. We all do different things. I think we’re going to fit in really well. Ronnie is a real tough guy, he kinda does the dirty work. He was really good for us in Golden State and I think he’s going to be even better here in D’Antoni’s system. He’ll know what his role is. And the same thing with Randolph, he’s getting better and better. He’s a young guy, and he’s really athletic so he’s real exciting to watch.
Mike Kurylo: You came from the Warriors which were an offensive minded team, much like New York. What are some of the differences between what you were doing in Golden State and D’Antoni’s philosophy here in New York?
Kelenna Azubuike: I think it’ll be more consistent here with the way we play, and it’ll be more structured. They’re both running styles. I think we’re definitely going to try to incorporate the defense in a lot this year. Not to say that we didn’t try that in Golden State, just a lot more so here. I think a lot of players here will complement the way D’Antoni likes to play. It’ll be exciting to se.
Mike Kurylo: How is it being on the East Coast, compared to the West Coast?
Kelenna Azubuike: It’s cool. Especially being in New York. That’s the best place to be on the East Coast.
Mike Kurylo: (laughter) I’m a native New Yorker, so that’s good to hear.
Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. If you’re going to be on the East coast you want to be in New York. So I’m excited to be here. The East Coast is exciting to play in and I’m looking forward to it.
Mike Kurylo: What in particular do you like about New York?
Kelenna Azubuike: Of course playing in Madison Square Garden! New York is the basketball mecca. If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. And it’s the same in basketball. The high school guys from here are probably the most well known ones. If you’re killin’ in New York, you’re pretty much known worldwide. Where I came from, Tulsa Oklahoma, if you do well there you don’t really get national recognition or anything. No one really cares. What can you say about New York that hasn’t already been said? I’m glad to be hear.
Mike Kurylo: You came through the D-League, so what was that like?
Kelenna Azubuike: It was an experience. If you go down there with a good attitude it can be good. But it’s tough. It’s not for the faint hearted. I went down there with the attitude that I want to get better and to get ready for this league.
Mike Kurylo: I had an idea for the NBA All Star Game where they have the freshmen or freshmen/sophmores play the D-League All Stars.
Kelenna Azubuike: So you’re saying that instead of the rookie-sophomore game?
Mike Kurylo: Either just the rookies, or combine the first and second year players into one team and let them play the best of the D-League.
Kelenna Azubuike: That’s not a bad idea. Of course the D-League would love that, the exposure. It would be their All Star Game.
Mike Kurylo: It would pit guys that are hungry to get into the league…
Kelenna Azubuike: … and it would probably be a (competitive) game. And those guys are trying to win. If they can do well against NBA players, that’ll be huge for them. There are good players like there, it’s not like they’re a bunch of bums.
Mike Kurylo: Do you feel like there are a lot of guys down there that could contribute in the NBA?
Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. A lot of it is about timing, and whether someone will give you an opportunity. Sometimes it’s politics or whatever. But I think the guys that are good enough they get looks.