Better late than never has a whole new meaning for one North Vancouver basketball star.
In the hectic days leading up to Thursday’s NBA draft, seven-footer Robert Sacré flew all over the continent to attend individual workouts with 15 different teams in 15 different cities.
It sounds grueling but you’d never hear Sacré complain about it.
“I think the hardest part is the airport, going through airport security all the damn time,” Sacré said when the North Shore News caught up with him by phone two days before the draft. “Other than that it’s not that bad. If I just have to play basketball and stay in shape that’s a pretty good job for me.”
One team he didn’t end up visiting was the Los Angeles Lakers — they called his agent and asked for a workout but there just wasn’t time to fit it into the schedule. If they were interested they’d just have to take a look at the tapes of all of his games played over four years with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. That, in fact, was one of the reasons he chose to go to Gonzaga, the NCAA’s mid-major darlings, when he was a highly recruited big man out of Handsworth secondary.
“All of our games (at Gonzaga) are televised,” he said. “Everybody has seen us, I’ve been on TV a lot more than some of the guys I’ve been competing with. I’ve been fortunate — that’s why I picked Gonzaga. I wanted to be seen and I was fortunate enough to be seen.”
The private workouts and TV appearances became even more important for Sacré this past month when he was not invited to the main NBA draft combine in Chicago. As a potential second-round pick Sacré was on a shortlist of potential combine attendees but ultimately didn’t make the cut. Again, the always affable Sacré was undaunted.
“I didn’t really take any offence not making the NBA combine,” he said. “I just said OK, that’s fine. I hadn’t been home in six weeks so it gave me a chance to go back home . . . relax and work out there for four or five days and then get back on the road.”
Knowing that he was potentially on the bubble — some draft exerts predicted he could sneak into the first round while others didn’t have him getting picked at all in the two-round draft — Sacré could have felt some extra pressure as he made his rounds from team to team. But that’s not really the way he operates.
“I don’t even think about it like that, I just go out and play my game,” he said. “I don’t think about it as any pressure. There is no pressure. People will make pressure for themselves but I just view it as, OK, they’ve already seen me enough, they know what I can and cannot do so I might as well just show ’em what they haven’t seen before and just have fun. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so you might as well have fun while you do it.”
Still, Sacré knew better than to go to the draft and face the prospect of waiting in the stands as name after name was called before him. Instead he headed to New Orleans, his father’s hometown, and flew in his mother, girlfriend and young son to watch the draft unfold on television. The show turned into a marathon.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis went first overall and then the rest of the first round came and went. Then came round No. 2, Sacré’s chance to shine. But still he waited. In the middle of the round the NBA took a trip to Europe with seven out of the 10 picks made from No. 48 to No. 57 coming from overseas.
Finally, one minute before midnight Louisiana time, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver strode to the podium to announce the final pick of the night. It belonged to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was Robert Sacré.
“First thing I thought of was, best for last,” Sacré said in a conference call the following morning. Always a charming interview subject, Sacré should fit right in in Hollywood. The team’s not bad either.
“I was selected to go to one of the greatest teams in NBA history,” he said, adding that it was “kind of ironic” that the team he didn’t get a chance to workout with ended up taking him after all. “They knew what they wanted, I guess. I’m fortunate.”
Though sweating out the draft’s first 59 picks must have been tough, Sacré is thrilled with where he landed.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be a lottery pick. I was expecting something mid-second, anywhere in the second, maybe even late first. But I just view it as a blessing. I’m going to maybe have a chance to play with one of the greatest players of all time and have a chance to get better and be with a prestigious team and a team that knows how to win.”
Fitting in with the Lakers will be all about knowing his role, said Sacré.
“I’m going to be the guy who comes in and plays hard defence, makes sure guys don’t get baskets while (Pau) Gasol or (Andrew) Bynum gets a break. I’m going to come in, play my butt off and you know what — know my role, shut my mouth and try to get Kobe another ring.”
It sounds like a good role that Sacré might just be able to pull off. Everything except the “shut my mouth” part at least — some roles people are born to play.