Zach LaVine is quickly becoming the most exciting player of this year’s NBA draft class. Born in Renton, Washington, LaVine made his inaugural appearance at the Seattle Pro-Am All-Star Game this weekend, where his interplanetary athleticism was on full display.
The Minnesota Timberwolves rookie sat down with Dime after the game to chat about all sorts of topics, like his love for the television show Castle, how Smush Parker influenced him as a dunker (no, really), the ongoing Kevin Love rumors, his Draft night controversy, and more.
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Dime: You’re a Washington native. Were you a Sonics fan as a kid?
Zach LaVine: I was. I was a little bit of a Seattle fan, but growing up I was always a Kobe Bryant fan. He was my favorite player.
Dime: This is your first time playing at the Seattle Pro-Am. What was the experience like?
ZL: It was incredible. I’d be happy to come back and do it again. This was definitely a good experience. You know, Jamal [Crawford] called me, and he told me to come do it. He wanted the fans to see me, and I hope they enjoyed it.
Dime: I asked Jamal this question earlier. What do you think this tournament means to basketball fans in Seattle since they no longer have an NBA team?
ZL: He’s doing a great thing, you know, bringing the pros back and giving them a little glimpse of the NBA scene. This town definitely deserves an NBA team, and in my opinion, I feel like we’ll get one in the next couple of years.
Dime: Both your parents were athletes. Is athletic ability something that came naturally to you, was it something you had to work at, or was it a combination of both?
ZL: It was a combination of both. I spent a lot of time working on my athleticism, you know, running, push ups. I gotta thank God because he blessed me with this ability, but I still work at it and different things like that, so…
Dime: What advice do you have for the kids here today who wanna work on their hops?
ZL: I do a lot of lunges, actually. Plyometrics, running hills…
Dime: Did you run track?
ZL: I didn’t run track, but I’m always racing my teammates.
Dime: You seem like you would’ve been a good long jumper, kinda like James White.
ZL: Yeah. Just try to dunk a lot. Michael Jordan never really worked on his jumping, but he was always dunking.
Dime: You absolutely shut down the dunk contest today. What was that experience like, going up against a professional dunker like Golden Child [Kevin Kemp]?
ZL: I was scared, you know, but I know I got some things not many people could compete with. But that dude [Golden Child] is crazy. I’ve seen him dunk before and things like that, but yeah, that dude’s crazy.
Dime: Do you watch the guys from Team Flight Brothers, Dunkademics, other professional dunkers to get some ideas?
ZL: Yeah, I watch ’em, and I wanna keep my dunks creative and exciting.
Dime: Who are some of your favorite dunkers?
ZL: Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and for some reason, I like Smush Parker and some of his dunks, you know, the little reverses and things like that. Who else? I like Baron Davis, some of the little guys. Michael Jordan of course. Dominique. And I watch like Kenny Dobbs, Young Hollywood and stuff like that.
Dime: The Air Up There?
ZL: The Air Up There! Oh my gosh. That dude’s crazy.
Dime: What are some of your favorite dunks? Today, you did the behind-the-back off the bounce, the reverse Eastbay, a windmill from the free-throw line…
ZL: I like the reverse Eastbay off the bounce. I think I was the one that made it up. Hopefully, I’ll get some credit for that. I’m gonna have to patent that. But you know, I got a lot of different things.
Dime: You got something we haven’t seen yet?
ZL: I got a couple of things you’ve never seen before.
Dime: Hopefully, we’ll get to see it in the Slam Dunk Contest this year. Speaking of that, who would you like to go against in the dunk contest?
ZL: See, I was just training with Andrew Wiggins, and me and him were talking about it, so…me, him, and Aaron Gordon. Those are my three I really wanna go against. Me, him, and Aaron Gordon. That’ll be a good one.
Dime: Are you gonna win?
ZL: I always think I’m gonna win.
Dime: You just wrapped up Summer League in Las Vegas. Three things about that: what surprised you the most, what was the biggest challenge, and what’s the most important thing you learned?
ZL: The biggest learning experience was getting a feel for the game. It was my first time being out there going against professionals, so getting in rhythm, looking for the easy shots, not always trying to do the hardest thing you can do. The challenge I would say…just the conditioning part. Sometimes, you get more tired than you think. You know, it’s more physical, it’s more quick. The thing that surprised me, you know, was that I picked up on the speed more quickly than I thought. I felt like really comfortable out there.
Dime: How different is it from the college game?
ZL: I feel like in the college game you can hide people better. In the NBA, there’s no zones, so you’re on an island. I definitely feel like my pace and speed helps me in that area. So yeah, I definitely felt comfortable out there.
Dime: How much of a distraction have the Kevin Love rumors been?
ZL: People ask me all the time, but I hope he comes back because he’s one of the best players in our league right now. But I definitely have just been focusing on myself and try and get better and do the best I can. I don’t think it’s a distraction. He’ll do what’s best for him and his career.
Dime: You mentioned you and Andrew Wiggins are buddies. If the trade happens, how excited will you be for him to join you in Minnesota?
ZL: That would definitely be a very exciting team, I know that. He’s a hard worker, and he’ll bring a lot of excitement to Minnesota.
Dime: Speaking of Minnesota, a lot was made about your reaction on draft night when the Timberwolves selected you. Was that a misunderstanding? Were you disappointed, or were you just emotional?
ZL: I feel like people understand where I was coming from now, but you know, I worked so hard to get to that moment. I was in shock. You know, I might have said “F— me,” but man, I was just in disbelief. That’s what I tried to tell people. Why would I be disappointed? My dream just came true. I’m about to be in the NBA. So no, I wasn’t disappointed at all. I’m sorry if that was the first impression, but people who know me know that I was completely in shock. I thought I was gonna start to cry.
Dime: There’s been some debate about your natural position. Do you see yourself as a point guard, a two-guard, or more of just a combo-guard?
ZL: There’s always people that make assumptions of you. I’m a player. Wherever they wanna put me at, I’ll go out there and do the best I can. I feel like I showed over and over again with different things, you know, workouts, just in Summer League, that I can play the point guard position and play it well. But then I can also play the two-guard as well, so I might not be the conventional point guard, but I can get the job done. Wherever the coach needs me to play at, I’ll do it.
Dime: You mentioned unconventional point guards, and there’s been a lot of comparisons to you and Russell Westbrook, partly because of the UCLA connection. What current or past NBA players do you study and model your game after?
ZL: I feel like I play like a Jamal Crawford more than anyone. Same little herky-jerky moves, you know, we shoot it alike, we both have really good touch. I might be a little more athletic. He might have better handles than me, a better feel for the game. He’s actually helped me with different things like that, you know. He’s a veteran in the game and one of the best scorers in our league, so I’ve always worked out with him and things like that. I can see the comparisons with Russell Westbrook, his athleticism. I’m not as reckless as him going to the hoop. He might shoot it a little bit more, but you know, I’m just trying to be me. I feel like I try to bring a new style, and I’m just trying to play my game.
Dime: What aspects of your game are you trying to improve this summer?
ZL: With me, I don’t like doubters, so when people say I can’t play defense, you know, I feel like I’m a very capable defender. I’ve heard someone say he can’t dribble the ball very well ‘cause they seen me at UCLA one year. So I just try to improve on everything, you know, my left hand a little bit more, getting to the hole a little bit more, set up people better, but I try to work on my overall game, get down on defense, get a little bit stronger, obviously. I’m a hard worker, so I’m definitely gonna be in the gym.
Dime: What team or player do you stop everything to watch?
ZL: Jamal Crawford. Kobe Bryant. Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant. LeBron James. I used to watch Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, but those are some of the people that like whenever I see the game I gotta stop whatever I’m doing.
Dime: What’s a personal item or belonging you can’t live without?
ZL: I would say my wallet, of course. Probably some shoes. My phone. A TV, definitely. A TV.
Dime: What are some of your favorite television shows?
ZL: I watch everything from Cartoon Network to CSI. I watch Castle. Castle’s my show. Family Guy, Game of Thrones. All that.
Dime: What’s the last album you downloaded?
ZL: I listen to Chief Keef. Yeah, I mess with him. Out of Chicago. That’s one of my favorite artists.
Dime: If you weren’t a basketball player, what would you be doing instead?
ZL: I was better at baseball when I was kid, so I would definitely be playing baseball. That, or football. But I wasn’t prepared for all those hits. I was definitely a better baseball player.
Dime: I’m sure your basketball coach didn’t like you getting hit.
ZL: Yeah, it got stopped.
Dime: You’re on death row. What’s your last meal?
ZL: Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
Dime: What’s your guilty pleasure?
ZL: Sweets. I love candy. Candy and Slurpees.
Dime: What’s something about yourself most people don’t know?
ZL: I’m a laid-back person. I guess they can notice probably by my game. I’m just really laid back. I’m a family-oriented person. I like spending time with my family.
Can Zach win the NBA dunk contest?
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