You can find the feature printed below in our newest issue, Dime #68.
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While his prep peers across the country gobbled up the media attention, YouTube mixtapes and NBA-hype predictions, Landry Fields quietly worked. Growing up, his destiny was laid out in much simpler terms; basketball was a game, not the be-all, end-all. In fact, his first recruitment letter in high school didn’t arrive until junior year â€“ and from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. â€“ not exactly the basketball Mecca that he now runs with the New York Knicks. He ended up with an offer and commitment to Stanford, for the obvious academic gains, even when more storied programs like Arizona and Gonzaga came calling late.
“I was just an unknown,” says Fields, calling from his Miami hotel room the night before he would drop 14, seven and five on South Beach’s finest. A game his team would also drop, the eighth loss in a vicious nine-game stretch for the Knicks. “I played with a local team in Long Beach and that was about it. Then I went to high school and just tried to make my way from there. I was playing freshman ball my freshman year and then with the varsity sophomore-through-senior year. I had to climb the ranks by myself.”
The son of two former collegiate athletes â€“ who got their burn at Miami-Ohio (Dad) and Highline Community College (Mom), respectively â€“ Fields recalls he was always good, but never dominant.
But here he is; a second-round pick from 2010 who has started all but two games in two years for the nation’s premier basketball club. Only John Wall â€“ the highlight machine, face of Reebok and No. 1 pick in that same draft â€“ has logged more career minutes than Fields in their respective draft class. Not bad for a player who wasn’t even invited to the NBA’s pre-draft combine before New York took him 39th overall.
Oh, and the boos. Holy hell did the Garden boo. In a picture now worth more than a few laughs, a young Knicks fan, decked out in a blue wig and orange face paint, threw his hands to the sky in utter what-the-hell-is-going-on desperation as deputy commissioner Adam Silver read Fields’ name from the podium.
“Why, God? Why did you send us the steal of the draft?”
What New York ended up getting with that 39th pick turned into a starter averaging 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for their first playoff team in seven seasons.
“I was brought into a real good situation,” says Fields about his rookie year. “So I was blessed to come to New York and actually have that opportunity to play. If I had gone anywhere else, it might not be that same story for me.”
His college coach concurs.
“I don’t think people watched or studied him enough to determine the type of value he could have at the next level,” says Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, who helped develop Fields over two years in Palo Alto. “That’s why I was really, really excited about the Knicks because I thought they really did their homework. They spent a lot of time â€“ they came to see him multiple times, spoke with us and asked us questions to really get some insights on what we felt he could do â€“ and ultimately took a chance on him in the second round.”
What also goes unnoticed is the fact that Fields subscribes to the manta every coach preaches: team ball, not me ball. He’s a subtle assassin on the floor, and while he doesn’t appear particularly monstrous in any single category, his 6-7 frame reaches nearly every line on the stat sheet. What makes him so dangerous is that opposing teams have to pick their proverbial poison.
“I look at basketball as there are so many different aspects of the game, and you don’t have to be (dominant) in just one thing,” says Fields. “You can go out there and help out the team in a lot of different areas. If it’s not points, then maybe it’s defense or rebounding, assists, making good cuts, screening well â€“ all kinds of different things, and even things that don’t show up in the stat book.”