LIFE as a pro basketball player just keeps getting weirder and wilder for North Vancouver's Robert Sacré.
In June the former Handsworth secondary star was chosen with the final pick of the 2012 NBA draft by the fabled Los Angeles Lakers. At the time Sacré said he was blessed to be joining a team that boasted the likes of superstar Kobe Bryant and talented big man Pau Gasol.
Sacré then watched as the Lakers went through a massive makeover, first signing two-time MVP and fellow B.C. boy Steve Nash as a free agent and then trading for Dwight Howard, the most dominant centre in the game.
By the time Sacré rolled Into training camp the hype surrounding the Lakers was in full-blown circus mode with superstars left and right along with other colourful characters like Metta World Peace, the man formerly known as Ron Artest.
Onto this stage stepped Sacré, a seven-foot Gonzaga grad hoping his high basketball IQ and even higher energy level would land him a spot on the team. With Howard rehabbing a back injury suffered last season, Lakers head coach Mike Brown needed a body to throw in at centre for the first preseason game last Sunday against the Golden State Warriors. The lineups were announced - starting for the Los Angeles Lakers: Bryant, Nash, World Peace, Gasol and . . . Sacré.
"It was a surreal feeling, no question," Sacré told reporters after the game. "When I was in college I was watching all those guys playing so to actually be on the court with them kind of put it in perspective where I'm at right now. It's a great feeling and great opportunity."
Sacré played nearly 18 minutes in the game, going 2-3 from the field and 2-4 from the line while collecting six points and two rebounds. He also picked up some high praise for his play from a well-connected source.
"I think he did fantastic," said Bryant after the game. "I think he played extremely, extremely well. He's a hard worker. He came out and learned the offense and learned the defense. He got the start tonight. He answered the bell. He came out and played exceptionally well."
Nash also said he liked what he saw from his fellow Canadian.
"I was really impressed with Robbie," he told reporters after the game. "I thought he played well. He's well coached and he played hard. He was generally in the right spots. That's a challenge for a rookie. But I was impressed with him."
The coaching staff must have been decently impressed as well because they gave Sacré the start in Game 2 as well, Wednesday against Portland. Sacré played almost 21 minutes in that one, going 2-5 from the field and 4-4 from the line to score eight points while adding one assist, three rebounds, one steal and one block.
The Lakers expect Howard to be back soon and playing big minutes so Sacré is in a battle just to stick with the team and he's hoping to earn the role of backup centre as the preseason progresses. To do that he's vowed to focus on crashing the boards and playing with a lot of energy. The experience of playing with such great players has already forced him to up his game, he said.
"There's a calmness on the floor with them that you feel," he said. "They're great players so they have great expectations on everybody who is on the court with them. You just have to play up to their standards."
He may not have a roster spot locked up yet but Sacré already seems to be winning fans over with his personality that's even larger than his 260-pound frame.
"I've experienced all types of athletes working in athletics for eight years, but I don't think I have met someone so sure of themselves as Robert," wrote Arielle Moyal, a reporter for the Lakers Nation blog, after conducting an interview with Sacré. "At 23, Robert's got the maturity to be sure of himself and the Lakers team as a full-time roster player."
Coach Brown, the man who will ultimately decide Sacré's fate with the Lakers, was a little less gushing in his praise but still had good things to say.
"He's a guy who's not going to make a ton of mistakes, he's going to try to be solid out there and use his body," he told reporters after game 1. "He does have some skill. The good thing about it is with his intelligence he's going to hardly be out of position offensively and defensively and it showed tonight. It helped that he played with a good, veteran group of players out there but he filled his role the right way."