First off, I want to congratulate you on your success at the NCAA championships, Pan Am Games and world championships this past summer.
Although we haven’t met, I watched you and was cheering you on. It’s always great to see fellow Canadians triumph!
I hope you have had a chance for it to all soak in now that you’re back at USC. I know you are about to head in to a really critical time in your life and athletic career, something I can identify with, and I thought I could share a little advice and insight based on my personal experience.
I was flying high when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected me as the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, but I was about to go through the biggest test of my life. It has been a challenge I could not have anticipated, but I have learned some incredibly important things about life along the way, and for that I am grateful.
Most importantly, be extremely selective in who you let in your life. Your family and your friends are your lifeline, your support group and your biggest cheerleaders. Look for those people who have been there from the start, when you were just a kid from the neighbourhood, not a superstar athlete. Keep an eye out for those that are there for the wrong reason, just looking to enjoy the ride.
I was fortunate that I had support at home from my mom and at UNLV from my coaches, teammates and, most importantly, my roommate. After a bad game, I knew I could talk to him about my frustrations and what could have been better. He would even come to the gym and shoot with me, even if it was one o’clock in the morning.
Of course, through everything, my mom has been my biggest supporter. Whether in college or in the NBA, every time I didn’t play the way I wanted, she would text me and say to keep my head up, always believe in God and everything will be okay. She still tells me that.
For all the support I had, there were also definitely people looking to take advantage of my situation. I’m sure you know exactly the people I am talking about. They are selfish and are only looking to take from you, with no care for how their actions may affect you.
Once you have all your family and the right circle of friends around you, the sky is the limit. That’s what has been happening with me, and it’s working. This past summer has been the best since I was drafted, and I am feeling healthy for the first time in a long time. As an athlete, you know how integral health is to success and performance, which is why you should never take it for granted.
Before I even set foot on an NBA court, I had to have rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder. As a result, I couldn’t work out and prepare for my rookie year, and I showed up to camp overweight. I felt slow and sluggish, and all of a sudden everybody was saying I couldn’t cut it. I knew I had to prove them wrong.
After my first NBA season ended, I went to a gym in Santa Barbara (California) to work on my weight and conditioning. I ended up losing 20 pounds in six weeks.
I also started to take nutrition more seriously. I cut out my pre-surgery favourites like pasta and chicken alfredo and started eating clean and drinking a ton of water. I did various methods of strength training, from weight lifting to yoga. As athletes, our bodies are our tools, so we have to make sure we keep in shape, whatever it takes.
I’m sure you are taking great care of yourself, and I have heard that you will get even bigger, stronger and faster than you are now. Focus on your training and your long-term goals. Change does not happen overnight, which was something that was hard for me at first. Be patient and you will see reward. Most importantly, do not be discouraged by what people are saying.
Ignoring the haters is an incredibly challenging thing to do, especially in the social media age. I had a lot of people sending me personal messages or publicly commenting that I sucked or was a scrub. It was happening multiple times a week in my first season.
At the end of the day, you don’t know who these people are, and they don’t know you. It’s someone’s opinion. It’s up to you if you want to take their message to heart. I chose to keep my focus on my teammates, coaches, family and friends.
After your success this summer, I know you were faced with the decision to turn pro and you chose to return to school. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what you should do, but only you know what is best for yourself and your future. For me, turning pro after one year in college was the best decision. There is a small window of opportunity to take advantage of, and I am sure you have a team of knowledgeable, trusted advisors that are guiding you through the decision making process.
While you are still in school, take advantage of the opportunity to get an education. I’m going back to school, if not next summer, then the summer after.
In the end, we have both been blessed. It wasn’t always easy for me to see that, but now I am in a great situation, playing for my hometown Toronto Raptors. Whatever challenges you may face throughout your career, you only become stronger when you face them head on.
All the best at school and hopefully we’ll have a chance to meet soon.