AOL Exclusive: Dominique Wilkins reveals his NBA mentor and sheds light on the coming NBA season
By JOHN DORN
NBA Hall-of-Famer, nine-time All-Star and current Atlanta Hawks broadcaster Dominique Wilkins spoke with AOL Sports Thursday before presenting recipients of the 2015 Champions for Good award. Wilkins has always made volunteering a priority, and he's giving back in Atlanta with Allstate at the Books for Africa warehouse, where they be sorting and packing books to donate both overseas and to a local Atlanta library.
Wilkins revealed some anecdotes from his playing career including his NBA mentor's most helpful tip and the toughest defender he ever faced, while also offering some insight on this coming season for the Hawks. You can read our conversation with the NBA legend below.
You're here with Allstate and the Champions for Good program. How did you get started with the program and what do you like most about it?
Well, it's a great program because it's doing good for people in their neighborhoods. The recipients of this award -- this just sheds light on the work that they've done in their lives in those communities, in helping people help themselves. And a lot of times, you hear all the negative stuff around the world... all the bad things.
I think All-State has done a great job at putting together programs that recognize and spotlight those great stories that people can be excited about now, like the Books for Africa campaign, where a lot of these books right here in Atlanta are being donated right to the local libraries. This is an exciting, exciting program. And I'm always a person who's willing to give my time and efforts giving back to people.
This past year was a historic one for the Hawks, but one of the most memorable events was seeing the team unveil a bronze statue of you outside the arena in March. When you were first approached about the statue, what was your initial reaction?
Well, I was approached nine years ago. And the sculptor said he woke up one day, and he had a vision. He said "I wanna do a Dominique Wilkins statue." And he said "I promise you, one way or the other we're gonna get a statue of you done." And nine years later we're here now.
It's just an amazing feeling for me. And still I'm in awe of it. It still hasn't totally sunk in. I find myself sometimes driving by it, and seeing the Dominique Wilkins Way street, that is surreal. That immortalizes you.
The TNT crew was talking about it right around that time, and one thing that stood out was something that Shaquille O'Neal said. He said when he was a younger player, he pointed you out as one of his mentors. He cited something you said about not exerting himself too early in the game, and plotting his points out by quarter. When you were a young player, were there any moments like that?
I passed that story on to Shaq because when I was a player, I had a legendary player that played here in Atlanta named Lou Hudson. Lou Hudson used to tell me "You're working so hard at scoring. Just look at it like this. If you can get three buckets a quarter, how many points is that? Just three buckets each quarter." I said it's 24 points, he said "Right, and you haven't spent so much energy. And you haven't shot free throws yet."
Just imagine you make three buckets a quarter, you shoot seven to 10 free throws a night, you've put together a pretty great game. Anything after that is a bonus. So I started thinking that way. And if I got four or five buckets a quarter, those two extra buckets were a bonus. And that's what I learned from Lou Hudson. So I pass that on to younger players.
It's a great situation to be a young player on the Hawks right now considering how often you're around the team. Have any players on the Hawks or other teams approached you for tips like that?
Yeah, we got great guys. We've got guys like Al Horford, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll -- unfortunately he's gone now -- and Jeff Teague. Guys all ask you for advice, different tips on how they can make their game better. And it really speaks to the respect that these guys give me -- and I love being around our guys.
You spent so many great years with the Hawks, and you did it a time that was much more physical defensively. Over your 15 years in the league, who was the toughest defender you ever had to deal with?
I faced a lot of tough defenders at that small forward position, but I will say the toughest defender was Dennis Rodman. Dennis Rodman focused on two things: rebounding and defense. Now, I still got my points against him, but they were a little harder to get. He made you work for everything you got.
The game has changed so much today, not only with the physicality, but also with a heavy reliance on three-pointers -- and the Hawks are right at the center of that. Do you think the way the game is evolving is for the better, and makes for a better game to watch?
Well, Golden State was along with us at mastering that, as far as perimeter shooting. But when your perimeter shooting is a little cold, you've gotta get to the free throw line. And the things that I really pride myself on, when I wasn't hitting my shot from the outside, my thing was to attack. And if I didn't get eight to 10 free throws a night, I was upset. Because my whole thing was to try to get my opponent off balance.
I felt like, [against] another great player, if I could get two fouls on him early, I create a major advantage for myself. But if I'm out there shooting jumpshots all night, I don't make him work. My whole thing was to take them inside, low post, post up, mid-range game, off the dribble, and get to the free-throw line.
This past year for the Hawks was historic, but they lost a really big piece in DeMarre Carroll, who did so many little things that are hard to replace in one player. He brought so many different skills, but which area are they going to miss the most from him?
Defensively he brought a toughness. He's one of those glue guys defensively that work well within the system, and he could knock down open shots. So we're gonna miss that, no question about it. He developed a part of his game on this team that gave us stability.
But we were able to put together some great pieces of our own to move forward this coming season. You've got Tiago Splitter, hopefully Thabo Sefolosha will be healthy coming back, and you've got Tim Hardaway Jr. So we helped ourselves.
Atlanta traded their first-round pick, Jerian Grant, and they got back Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Knicks, who struggled in his sophomore year. How do you feel about the trade? Do you think a change of scenery could help him out?
It happens all the time. Sometimes a better situation, a change of scenery, or just a different system works for a player. You've got a lot of players who go through that. I think it'll be a great system for him.
Aside from Carroll, the Hawks are returning the rest of their starting five. Cleveland restocked their pieces and their Big Three is still in tact. In your opinion, can Atlanta still challenge Cleveland for the top spot in the East?
I do. I do think that. Because, again, we have a team that -- first of all -- they have no fear of everybody in the East. And they know that they can play with everybody in the East. So, yeah, I think we have a team that can compete with anyone.
Do you see Cleveland and Atlanta in those top two spots again?
Well the East has gotten stronger -- overnight, basically. Milwaukee has gotten stronger with Monroe coming over, and Jabari Parker coming back. Cleveland [has] all their pieces coming back. Chicago's gonna be a good team. Washington and Toronto have improved. It's gonna be a tougher league next year, there's no question about that.
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