On Wednesday afternoon, the day before the big night, the Grand Hyatt New York was the hub for basketball, as players, fans and media crowded the hotel for pre-NBA draft activities. The rookies met with their business reps and visited different suites in the hotel to meet with their stylists and designers (such as Jhoanna Alba), pick out jewelry for the draft from Jason of Beverly Hills and watch the first demo for the upcoming Call of Duty: WWII video game. The hoopla was even right outside on the sidewalk of East 42nd Street, where kids waited eagerly with basketballs and other merchandise, hoping to get autographs as the players passed by.
On the ballroom level of the hotel, the NBA held its hour-long draft media availability. The 20 rookies were split in half, allowing each group to speak with the media for a half an hour. Regardless of which group it was, the ballroom was constantly busy and loud. The players sat at elevated tables and were met with a swarm of lights, cameras, microphones, cell phones and voice recorders, from hundreds of local, national and foreign reporters roaming the space.
During the event, the NBPA spoke with seven rookies ahead of Thursday’s draft to discuss their games, on- and off-court goals, fun interests and community ideas as new professionals. The insights below—from Bam Adebayo (Heat), OG Anunoby (Raptors), John Collins (Hawks), Zach Collins (Kings), Josh Jackson (Kings), T.J. Leaf (Pacers) and Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavericks)—have been edited for clarity and length.
His game: I compete, I play with passion, I play hard. I catch lobs, I can make open jump shots, I defend.
On-court goals: I want to be the best player I can be, so just developing, learning from the vets and getting acquainted with my coaches.
Community idea: Something like Jayson Tatum said—just starting a foundation about single mothers. I grew up with a single mom just like he did. Some people don’t notice that a woman’s really struggling because she always has a smile on her face. It was just seeing my mom take care of a kid that grows faster, eats faster. It was just seeing all that and she’s got to take care of herself, and then the house and the bills. Out of all that, that’s a lot to worry about. So just seeing that just made it where I never wanted my mom to work again. I’ve always looked up to MLK Jr. just because he was an inspiration to everybody. He died trying to do something different, make a difference in this world.
His game: I’m a versatile, athletic guy that can do a lot on both sides.
On-court goals: Just contribute to a team and help win.
Off-court goals: Just try to inspire kids and enable them to play [in London, where I’m from]. They like soccer a lot, so it’s just trying to get them to branch out and play basketball, see if they like it. I started watching [the NBA] when I was young. I liked Tracy McGrady and then as I got older, I continued playing and watching, and I just fell for the game. The game has gotten more global. The NBA plays a game in the UK every year. My sisters live in London still and my brother was at the game.
Fun interests: I’m still a soccer fan now, but growing up soccer was probably my No. 1 sport until middle school. I like Manchester United. The footwork, quick feet helped me in basketball. In soccer, you need quick feet.
Community idea: Special needs. I’ve just always liked spending time with kids.
His game: I use my athleticism to help me around the basket, make energy plays. Also, I’m a great rebounder.
On-court goals: I definitely want to make the rookie game, always shooting for Rookie of the Year. And at the end of the day, I want to win games for my team.
Fun interests: I liked WWE and the wrestler Edge. I just liked the literal edge he had to the way he wrestled and fought. I always thought it was cool. The Rated-R Superstar [his nickname], that was my guy, so I definitely had fun watching him. As soon as Edge retired, I kind of fell off the WWE train, but I’m always a big fan anyway.
His game: I would describe my game as a guy that can do multiple things on both sides of the court. I think I bring a toughness. I think I bring an edge to the game a little bit. I think I can shoot. I just think I’m a versatile big guy that opens up the court.
On-court goals: I want to be Rookie of the Year, I want to be an All-Star, I’d love to win a championship. I mean, why not? So I definitely have high goals for myself—not just next year, but for my whole career.
Fun interests: I love yoga. I started doing it over the summer a little bit. It was kind of optional over the summer during summer workouts, and I did it one time and was, like, “Wow, I feel great.” It’s not as easy as it looks, and if anyone has done yoga they know that. It’s another way to take care of your body, and it’s fun. I think anything that can help me with my body or my physique or conditioning—hot yoga or anything like that—I’d love to do it [in the NBA].
Community idea: I’ve always been involved with special education. My mom has been a teacher doing that for as long as I can remember to be honest. She’s always done a great job with that and I’ve always been exposed to that type of stuff. So I think that’d be something I’m comfortable with doing.
His game: I would describe myself as a slasher—a guy who drives in transition and creates easy plays for myself off the defense.
On-court goals: Really no matter where I’m drafted, I’m just trying to win as many games as I possibly can and help my team be the best that we can be.
Off-court goals: Just trying to remain humble and stay in the gym, and work on my game and get better.
Community idea: I definitely want to go back to my community in Detroit, try to do something for the city—maybe get a recreation center there or something. And I want to go to my old schools, help out there a little bit.
His game: I think my game is just really versatile. I have a very high IQ, I can do a lot of things on the floor and overall I’m just an extreme competitor and a winner.
On-court goals: I just want to make an impact on the team, help us get some wins and just get better. That’s the biggest thing for me. I need to get better, I need to do that at an accelerated pace.
Off-court goals: Just developing this new lifestyle. It’s definitely a big jump, so I’m just looking forward to it.
Fun interests: Fishing, golfing. My dad and my brother [fished], so I did it. I also grew up watching a lot of movies, watching a lot of TV shows. I just developed a love for it. My favorite of all time is probably Gladiator with Russell Crowe.
Dennis Smith Jr.
His game: I’m a competitor, I’m an attacker from the point guard position, and I just want to win games.
On-court goals: I just want to win a lot of games, be Rookie of the Year and whatever team I go to, I want to make it to the playoffs.
Off-court goals: Of course, I’m going to get my grandma something. It’s the first thing I’m going to do. But off the court, I want to save as much money as possible.