Washington Wizards forward Drew Gooden is in his 13th NBA season. During the past month, Kris Humphries’ injury opened up minutes for Gooden, and he has delivered. The Washington Times recently spoke with Gooden about offensive rebounding, how to handle fluctuating playing time, bad dreams and where he might be without basketball.
How would you explain the ebb and flow of this season for the Wizards?
Gooden: A specific analogy for our season is a roller coaster of highs and a couple lows, which is still a fun ride. We’re still enjoying where we’re at. Last year, our biggest goal — and me coming to the team late — guys were talking about, ‘Hey, man, just making the playoffs. Let’s get to the playoffs.’ And, this year, even though we did that, we still want more. We’re still looking for more. Whatever that is, we’re going to find out here shortly. This team has a higher goal this year.
Last year, you had that ambition to get into the playoffs. This year, for a long time, it was pretty obvious you were going to get there. Do you think that influenced mentalities at all coming down the stretch?
Gooden: Yeah. It’s almost human nature — I think it’s for a lot of teams, not just us, in the East that are, you would say struggling, losing two games, winning one game, however you want to do it in combination. There’s really only one team that’s really turned it up, and that’s been Cleveland. Even Atlanta has fallen off a little bit with a couple injuries. Cleveland, with a slow start toward the beginning of the year, then turning it up at the end of the year. Toronto, Chicago, I feel like they have been in the same boat as us. The good thing about the playoffs, is no matter who you play first round, you got to win. No matter who you play second round, you got to win. No matter who you play in the conference finals, you got to win. You’ve got to see them at some point. We’re not worrying about who we’re playing or how many games we’re behind Toronto, Chicago or how many games we’re ahead of Charlotte, Milwaukee. We’re just going to finish out this season trying to prepare for something bigger, and that’s playoffs and to see where we’re at.
How would you explain the stay-ready mentality a player needs to have when his minutes fluctuate?
Gooden: I would say you’re talking to the right person to have to explain that because I’ve been a starter most of my career up until the last three seasons. I went one season not playing at all, where I was in a suit or I dressed out, having to cheer for my teammates and knowing that I wasn’t getting in, to last year, not playing the whole year and at the house on my own schedule and then kind of getting thrown in the fire, back out there late in the season. Then, this year, in and out. Some games active, some games inactive with a suit. And now, a guy goes down and I’m back playing again. The preparedness of staying ready. You have to prepare to stay ready. Which kind of sounds weird, but it actually makes sense. You have to do the extra work outside of this arena, outside of the practice facility. You got to prepare mentally. You’ve got to be on pins and needles on that bench, even if you know it might be a 99.8 percent chance you’re not getting into that game, but you have to be on the pins and needles for the 0.2 percent that’s out there of a chance of you being in this ball game. The mentality of it is just as big as the physical part of staying ready.
What’s better: Getting to the high school state title game, reaching the Final Four or being drafted?
Gooden: (Laughs) Being drafted, I would say as a personal goal. Team-oriented goal, of course, reaching those pinnacles of each level. College, high school, NBA. Winning … I can’t tell you that feeling because I lost in every championship at each level. I lost in high school state championship, I lost in the Final Four and I lost in the NBA Finals. I’ve gotten there, but just no cigar (laughs).
Does that bug you?
Gooden: You know what? I’ve had more dreams about, in those the situations, whether it’s high school, whether it’s college, whether it’s the NBA, that I’m back in the championship game and the dreams haunt me because I’m trying to do everything right in that game while I’m playing. And I have one recurring nightmare: We’re down one point, and it’s Game 7, we’re on the road and I keep getting the ball underneath the basket. I keep going up with it, I keep missing the shot and I keep getting the offensive rebound. I go up again, I miss it. I get the offensive rebound, somebody fouls me, and I miss it. I go get the ball again, I shoot, I miss it. It’s like five or six attempts to the rim and I keep missing and missing. I don’t even think the shot clock was going off. It was just an ongoing thing. It’s a nightmare to me and I have this dream … I think it’s the only thing that haunts me from not winning a championship, is that dream. It’s a pretty weird dream for me. I have that at least a couple times a year, that dream.
Speaking of offensive rebounds, that’s one of your strengths. What are some of your offensive rebounding tricks?
Gooden: The first thing is the want to. That’s the first thing. I know sometimes, a shot goes up, guys are watching the flight of the ball instead of running towards it. I think that’s the first step, is giving yourself a chance to even get a hand on the ball. The second thing is positioning, beating your man whether it is foot speed or anticipation. Then, the last thing is making a play on the ball if it comes off. Being able to at least touch it, grab it, tap it, tip it, you know? After that, you can figure it out. Maybe you can make a play on the ball and grab it. Maybe you can tip it out to a teammate. Maybe you can tip it toward the rim and go get it again. Those are the three key things I try to focus on.
If a guy shoots a baseline jumper, are you guessing it’s coming off the other side? Playing angles?
Gooden: My junior high school coach had a saying that 75 percent of all missed shots from the baseline go to the weak side. And, I’ve been wedging the hell out of my guy, thinking they’re coming weak side, and I haven’t been seeing them weak side as much as I used to. I don’t know if the guys are that much better in the NBA or what. But, there is some truth to that. You want to play those percentages. So, if I see a baseline shot go up, nine out of 10 times I’m trying to wedge my man under the basket and get to the weakside.
What’s your hidden talent?
Gooden: A lot of people know I can play the piano. I can golf. A lot of people don’t think I can golf because I’m a 6-10, 260-pound basketball player. But, I actually can swing the clubs.
When did you start playing golf?
Gooden: I’ve been playing since fifth grade. I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old.
Who taught you?
Gooden: My parents. My stepfather and mother play every day. They live on a golf course in Orlando. They live on Lake Nona. Ever since I was in high school, they were retired and lived in these golf communities. When I went to visit them in the summer or on the weekends, I’d be out there golfing and picking it up. I became pretty good at a young age.
What’s more frustrating, golf or basketball?
Gooden: (Laughs) Golf. I’m a professional basketball player, not a professional golfer.
Are you a club tosser?
Gooden: No, I’m not. Mine are custom made. It’s so hard to find my size, so if I toss that club I know it’s going to take at least two months to get that back.
When you were young and thought about how your adult life would play out what did you envision and how does reality match up with that?
Gooden: When I was growing up, when it came to sports period — baseball, basketball, football — I always stood out more than other kids. It was something special I felt inside of me that was just different around my peers. They could shoot 10, 13 shots and probably won’t even hit the rim. I could shoot 10, 13 shots and make eight of them. They knew I had a special talent with basketball, baseball. I played baseball, too. That was really my first love. I just always wondered how that would be, making it to the NBA or making it to Major League Baseball. Deep down inside — it’s funny I say this — I always had a feeling I was going to play in the NBA. It’s weird. It’s something I never talked about, but I remember [early in] high school and my dad was with me in the guidance counselor’s office, picking classes to prepare me for college and making sure I had the curriculum right to graduate and go to college. The counselor asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you finish school?’ I said, “I’m going to be a professional basketball player.’ And then my dad was like, ‘Aw, he’s just saying that because I played overseas. But he doesn’t know how hard it is to become a professional basketball player.’ They just laughed and stuff. I was like, ‘I’m really serious. I really want to be a professional basketball player.’ Then they were like, ‘Well, if you’re not going to be a basketball player, what do you want to be?’ ‘A construction worker.’ (laughs) Because that was what my dad did. They were like, ‘We don’t have any classes here for basketball nor construction work. Wood shop is the closest thing.’ I just knew at 13 years old that was something I really wanted to do and that I had a chance of doing it. From then on, I just worked at it and it happened for me.”
• Todd Dybas can be reached at email@example.com.
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