Former Kentucky star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is getting set to star his second NBA season — and first with Oklahoma City after his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers. He met with media members Monday and talked about a lot of things, including now being on the same team as former Wildcat Hamidou Diallo.
Q. How excited are you to play with Chris Paul?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: I’m really excited. Done obviously a lot of good things with this game and got to a point in his life that I would like to get to myself. Got a lot of things to learn from him and I’ll do so.
Q. Shai, Chris Paul said when he got traded to the Thunder he sent you some words of encouragement via text and then kind of smiles and said, And then we became teammates a few days later. What was that time like and what did Chris mean to you in those moments when your NBA career was kind of influx at the moment?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, it was big, guy like Chris, guy you grew up watching giving you words of advice and building your confidence a little bit. Yeah, like I said, he’s been through so much in his 14, 15 years in the NBA. I can learn so much.
Q. What’s it like being back with Hamidou on the same team with him?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, it’ll be really fun. Playing with Hammy in college was exciting. Obviously he’s a really good athlete and he’s easy to play with. We’ll have a little connection. I’ll know his tendencies and he’ll know mine. Be fun out there.
Q. What kind of advantages or assets do you guys have defensively heading into the season? What type of team do you think you can be on that end of the floor?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: I think we can be really good defensively. We got a lot of guys with length and athleticism, and obviously those two things help a lot. Then the rest just comes down to willingness, too. I think we got guys willing to compete and really play hard at that end of the floor, so I think we’ll be good.
Q. Really haven’t started camp and got into a lot of practice yet, but the time you’ve had with Billy and some of the players, what are some of the differences you’ve seen with how you were utilized with the Clippers as rookie and how you think your role is going to be this season in your second season?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, we haven’t really done too much structure-wise so I can’t really answer that question. As far as playing with my teammates, I feel comfortable out there. Getting to know those guys better and better every day.
Q. With the Clippers last year you were on a team that nobody thought a lot of going into the season, and then they trade Tobia Harris mid-year and everybody thinks it’s tank mode. You don’t tank. You have a successful year; scare the Warriors in the playoffs. Any similarities to what you’ve seen here? Is it the same kind of script that you might can follow with surprising the league?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, I guess you can say so. Personally I try not to worry about everything that the league or the media says in terms of things like tanking and things like that, expectations for us.
I think if we’re focus on ourselves, try to get better every day, and play to the best of our ability the best we can, it’ll take us where it takes us. Whether it be the playoffs, not the playoffs, finals run, never know.
Q. You’re from Toronto. Just got done playing in L.A. How big of a culture shock is it to be in Oklahoma City, and what have you enjoyed so far?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Actually not that much difference from Lexington where I went to school. Reminds me a lot of like that. Fans are really behind their team and stuff like that, so kind of been a little bit used to it. It’ll be fun.
Q. Shai, (coach) Billy (Donovan) mentioned that there may be a time where you, Dennis, and Chris are all on the floor at the same time. Dennis talked about how that’s obviously exciting. From your perspective, your experience in the NBA, what are the challenges of having three primary ball handlers on the floor?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: As I’ve grown as a player it doesn’t become more of a challenge. It becomes more of a like a weapon almost. Guys can take breaks off the ball and things like that and not have a deficit team-wise.
Yeah, played with guys that are versatile and willing to come off the ball and play as well on ball. Almost makes the game easier.
Q. So last season you were a rookie role player on a veteran laden team. This season you’re probably more expected to take more of a leadership role as the season progresses. Can you tell me maybe where your mindset is heading into the season maybe with that role in your mind?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Personally just attack every day the same. Just try to be the best me that I can be, whether that be practice, games, whatever it is, and then still continue to be who I am whether that role changes or not. Not worried about that. Everything else will take care of itself.
Q. Obviously you’re new to the area. Talk about what got you into basketball? What was the passion that made you decide to take this path?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, the ball was put in my hands at a really young age from my dad. Then from there, I just fell in love with it, I guess, and ran with it. Yeah, the game has been good to me.
Q. Any other sports you were into or always basketball?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: For the most part basketball. I played soccer at a really young age but mostly basketball.
Q. Following you on social media you have a fashion sense. Where does that come from and when did you start to get into it?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: I honestly liked shopping my whole life really, whether it be going to the mall and getting toys or whatever it is, depending on the age obviously. And then at the stage I’m at it’s a lot more accessible, so just ran with it.
Q. There is a lot of uncertainty with the future of this team, but there is kind of a feel that you’re the foundational piece this team will build around. Do you take pride in that? Did you believe in the future of this team and the organization, and, you know, with Russ and PG now out the door?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Yeah, I feel like this organization is in a good spot to get better. Obviously having a lot of picks through the work in the summer, and then having guys on the team that are talented and I think have something to prove.
So that’s always a good thing. I think this organization has obviously done it in the past with guys like Russell, Kevin, and James, so I think they know what it takes and how to do it. It’s only a matter of time.
Q. Back on the soccer thing, was that something that you still are interested in? Do you still follow it? Did that fall by the wayside?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Like I play soccer video games and stuff like that, but I don’t really keep up.