“I already know. They’re going to come back harder. We’ve got to come back harder at them.” – Erie BayHawks forward Ivan Johnson on how he expects the New Mexico Thunderbirds to respond Saturday after losing 125-100 to the BayHawks on Thursday night at Tullio Arena.
Head coach Darvin Ham sure hopes his Thunderbirds will come out harder than they did Thursday night.
Ham is largely known for having shattered a backboard on a dunk while at Texas Tech, but he was an undersized power forward (6-7, 220) who played eight NBA seasons and was with the Detroit Pistons when they won the 2004 NBA title.
“I had a big chip on my shoulder which I still have to this day,” he said. “People tell me I’m not going to be an NBA player. OK. I was an NBA player. You’re not going to be successful. I won a championship. You’re not going to be able to do analysis work on TV. I did that. You’re not going to become a head coach. I became that. I just love the challenges. That feeds me. The naysayers feed me.”
Now he’s trying to get New Mexico to play with that same ferocity. The Thunderbirds will carry a four-game losing skid into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Tullio Arena. Here’s what a disappointed Ham had to say after having a 30-plus minute talk with his team in the visitor’s locker room at Tullio Arena after Thursday night’s 25-point loss.
What was the main message you wanted to get across to them after the game? “Just the fact that we need to come out and play for something. I mean, the D-League is a volatile as far as changes. We saw Erie earlier in the year (swept the BayHawks in a two-game series in Albuquerque) and our teams have changed our dynamics, but at the same time, you can only play one way. And the principles we put in place, obviously they weren’t followed tonight. Be defensive minded (Erie shot 58.1 percent from the field, 7-of-11 from the 3-point line), be a good rebounding team, a running team, a team that shares the ball, a team that plays in the bonus and try to win the free-throw line. We didn’t do any of those. Just trying to get these guys to wake up, man. It’s called the Developmental League for a reason. A lot of times, you have to develop not a person’s skills per se, but their approach. Their mental focus. The way they approach the game. These NBA teams, especially in this ecomony, they’re not going to waste money. Not going to waste money calling up some bull. They’re going to be efficient in the way they go about selecting certain players. Another thing these guys don’t understand is even if they don’t get called up, all it takes is for one scout to like them. And these NBA scouts and GMs have influence over in international markets. ‘Well, we can’t use him, but hey, this guy would be great for you guys.’ Just like that, you got a six-figure salary. So I’m just trying to get these guys to just play hard and understand. Why did you come here? Professionalism. Understand why they are here.”
With that being said, how do you expect them to come out Saturday? “Well, we’ll see. We had what I thought was a good week of practice. We dropped a tough game against Texas. Another tough one against Rio Grande. The second game we played Rio Grande at home, they pretty much dominated us. We had a day off and we had two good days of practice. Traveled all day yesterday. Had a great shoot around. What I thought was a really good shoot around this morning and came out. Started the game well, but fizzled off. So now we have to work on our focus. We’ll watch film tomorrow, get on the practice floor and try to clean up some stuff and hopefully Saturday and Sunday, we’ll come out and compete.”
Got JR Giddens for his first game with you (Thursday). What did you see in him that you got to use more of. (Giddens was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2008. Had 12 points in his debut Thursday)? “First of all, he’s a great kid. NBA experience. That always helps having that on a D-League roster. Has leadership. Says all the right things and tries to do everything he says. Very productive mentally and physically. He’s going to fit in well. He’s multifaceted. He can play multiple positions on the floor. I’m going to play him from the 1 to the 4. Just move him around. Probably tighten up my rotation a little bit. At the same time, (Erie head coach Jay Larranaga and assistant Ben McDonald) do a great job. The BayHawks are a very well-coached team. Jay and Ben do a great job with these guys. I know they’re disciplined in what they do. They’re consistent and efficient in what they do. My hats off to those guys. We’re going to have a battle on our hands. My thing is, just come out and compete. I just want to give them a game. Just to come out and be down by 30 points at certain points of the game, that’s just not competing in my book.”
Looking at Ivan Johnson’s numbers against you guys before (33 points total in two games on 8-of-29 shooting from the field). They weren’t anywhere near what he had tonight (37 points on 15-of-25 shooting Thursday). “Right. Well, we got guys in there. Walter Sharpe has played in the NBA. Shane Edwards played NBA Summer League and has been in an NBA training camp. Marcus Hubbard was in training camp with the Atlanta Hawks. Kevin Lyde was in training camp with the Utah Jazz. The thing they’ve got to understand is you have to play one way night in and night out. If it’s me playing against Ivan Johnson, I’m taking it as a challenge. Ivan Johnson is one of the top tier players in this league. It should go without being said that I got to step my game up. Step my game doesn’t always equate to making shots. It’s getting defensive stops. Making it tough on him. Making him uncomfortable. Showing him I can guard this guy. Maybe I’m from a different era.”
You were undersized, but you went after it. Is that’s what’s bothering you the most about all this? “That kills me. I just got finished talked with them for damn near a hour about that. I was told no. I wasn’t drafted. Lasted 10 years (in the NBA), eight years of active playing. I don’t understand it. I had a big chip on my shoulder which I still have to this day. People tell me I’m not going to be an NBA player. OK. I was an NBA player. You’re not going to be successful. I won a championship. You’re not going to be able to do analysis work on TV. I did that. You’re not going to become a head coach. I became that. I just love the challenges. That feeds me. The naysayers feed me. I’m trying to transfer that over to my team. Guys don’t play angry enough anymore in my opinion.”
You had to have that chip. “Yeah.”
Everybody else had it. “Exactly. Michael Jordan had a chip on his shoulder. You know.”