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Friday, January 22, 2010

Catching Up With... Sundiata Gaines

If you haven't seen the video yet, go check it out right now.

The hero of Georgia's run through the SEC tournament two years ago is back to his old tricks, but now he's doing it in the NBA. Of course, perhaps more remarkable than his big shots is the road that Sundiata Gaines has taken from Athens to Salt Lake City. I got a chance to chat with him earlier this week about his meteoric rise to achieve his NBA dreams. Here's what he had to say...

David Hale: So you make it to the NBA and a few days later you're hitting one of the most dramatic shots of the season to beat one of the league's best teams. What has the past few weeks been like for you?

Sundiata Gaines:
It's something special. Pretty much any kid growing up dreams of playing in the NBA, so to see it come true is like no other. I'm speechless. But I'm just happy to be here in Utah. And I'm just trying to enjoy every moment and at the same time produce.

DH: Well you were always a fan favorite in Athens, but it wasn't a traditional journey to the NBA for you. What has improved about your game over the past two years that has allowed you to finally make this leap?

I always felt I could play at the NBA level, but just going overseas and working on my jump shot and having an extra year under my belt as a point guard, learning that position and defending, my defense got better. It was always good but it got better. That's what teams look for in the NBA, because I'm going to have to oppose the other team's best player. Put that with my all-around game and I did a good job in the developmental league and made the most of it.

DH: You mentioned playing overseas. (Gaines played in Italy before joining the NBA's developmental league.) What was that experience like for you? Was it a huge change that was hard to adapt to or was it good to just get away and concentrate on basketball?

First it was tough. Playing in another country, there's a language barrier and the culture is different. You want to go out and get something to eat, but things close at early times. That was a big adjustment as far as the language. And the style of play is totally different than in college. It's more physical and there are guys that can really shoot the basketball overseas. So that time, being over there and practicing twice a day, it really gave me an opportunity to work on my game and my jump shot got a lot better. Just having that opportunity of going over there, I learned the defensive schemes, how to play off the pick-and-roll and stuff.

DH: So that's life playing overseas. What has it been like being in the NBA?

Everything is at a first-class level. You have first-class seats on the plane. You get priority. They carry your gear, so you don't have to carry your own gear. And you're playing in the NBA. You see it nationally every night, every time you play.

DH: You've gone up against some of the biggest names in the NBA already. What was going through your head the first time you stepped on the court and saw guys like LeBron James on the other team?

My first step on the court in the NBA, I was a little nervous. But after a few minutes of playing, I realized that it's just basketball. I always knew I could play on this level, so my jitters definitely went away. Seeing guys like LeBron and Dwyane Wade -- at first it was definitely a little shock like, you're here, but it's not like they're not human. It was good to see them and all, but I knew we were here to compete and win. I just looked at them like competitors.

DH: What kind of reaction have you gotten from family and friends since your big shot against Cleveland?

My family is definitely behind me 100 percent, so obviously they were happy. The fans, they've kind of embraced me, knowing what I went through to get where I'm at. Pretty much it's all been good, and I want to try to keep that going as long as possible.

DH: Have you had a chance to see much of your old team at Georgia this year? What do you make of the way the team has been playing?

I haven't seen Georgia that much. I saw them a couple times, and I know they've lost a lot of close games. The first time I met Coach Fox was actually when I played at Georgia and he was at Nevada. But I actually had a chance to talk to him before the season started, and he seems like he's a good coach, and he's got the program going in the right direction. Now he just needs to bring some good, talented players in. But I think the team is on the right track of possibly becoming SEC champions and potentially going on a Final Four run.

DH: OK, let me put you on the spot -- if you had to choose between the two, which moment was bigger for you, the game-winning shot to beat the Cavs or your run through the SEC tournament two years ago?

Man, that's tough. I love the NBA and all, and the last shot is great. But I'd have to go with the tournament run, just because, my team, I'd been with since the beginning. We had to work from the bottom and go all the way to the top. It was four games in three days, and that's crazy and unheard of. And for us to go to the tournament -- the last time Georgia won the SEC tournament was like 1983 or something, so to win it, that to me was probably the best moment of my life right there. Then comes the NBA shot.


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Anonymous said...

Outstanding interview David! Thanks SO much for taking the time to sit down with one of my all-time favorite Dawgs (regardless of sport). I was fortunate enough to be in Trek's Gym for the SEC Tourney Championship Game a couple years ago, and that is one of my favorite UGA sporting experiences. I was happy for ALL our Hoop Dawgs, but mostly for Yata. The look on that young man's face when he was awarded the MVP trophy was nothing less than priceless! Brought tears to this Dawg fan's eyes! That guy had been through SO much adversity at UGA, and seeing it FINALLY pay off was outstanding.

I am so happy for Yata, and I wish him the utmost success in the NBA! Sundiata Gaines = Damn Good Dawg!!! Dude has the heart of a champion!

Anonymous said...

Gaines was a consistent bright spot on a dull team.


jm from louisville said...

GATA YATA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BigMuddyDawg said...

Awesome write-up, David. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Mr. Gaines surely knows how much he is loved by Dawgs fans and so it is always great for all of us to get a glimpse into his successful life now, apart from Georgia.