Durant: ‘Learning to get better’

“Keep dreaming, keep playing,” is the advice Kevin Durant has for the young basketball players in India. Sportstar in conversation with the NBA star who plays for Golden State Warriors.

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant. The 28-year-old NBA star is all set to make a trip to India in the off-season.   -  AP

Kevin Durant has the distinction of making eight consecutive All-Star appearances. He has also been a part of the two gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball teams. Named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008, Durant went on to become the MVP in 2014.

After a move to the Golden State Warriors — much to the dismay of the fans of his former team Oklahoma City Thunder — Durant became the second-highest paid player in the NBA League behind LeBron James, earning a whopping $26.5m a year.

The 28-year-old star is all set to make a trip to India in the off-season. While in India, Durant will visit the Elite Academy to be set up by the NBA in Delhi-NCR to train 24 budding players who have been chosen from all over the country. On the sidelines of the NBA All-Star weekend, Durant spoke to a select Indian media about his visit, and also the development of the game in the country.

Excerpts:

Question: As we all know, height is an advantage in basketball and India doesn’t fare too well on that front. So what advice would you like to give to the young Indian basketball players about competing at the highest level?

Answer: You have great examples here, in the All-Star Weekend; you look at Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, they were not the biggest, fastest, strongest, but they still are great players. These guys are great for our game and are definitely giving a lot of players around the world the hope to play in our league. And they are great ambassadors of the game as well. So work on your skill, work on your fundamentals, enjoy the game and anything can happen.

India has a couple of guys trying to get into the D-League team. In terms of talent, how is the transition from the D-League to the NBA? How advantageous is it to play in the D-League?

If you’re coming from the D-League, college or from overseas there is a difference. To make it to our league in the NBA, when you come from the D-League, you are familiar with the NBA style of game. Now probably every NBA team has an affiliate, so they keep an eye on you (the talent in the D-League) all the time. So you get great experience, great teaching, that’s the way to get into NBA nowadays.

You have been a high-profile player for sometime. Who do you still want to talk to — whether it’s a player or a world leader — about life changes, someone you can connect to?

Great question. I’m supposed to spend some time with Obama. I want to sit down with him, have a conversation on how the world can be better, how we — how I — can impact the world. What he’s done as a world leader is great — he is one of the most important figures in the history of our nation. So that would be pretty cool to sit down and talk to him about how I can help change the world at some point through my actions and through what I do. Obama will probably be the biggest guy.

But in basketball, guys like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, I just talk to them about the game and see what I can learn from them.

Kobe makes annual trips to China and he is a rock star there. India is growing up in the game. Is it possible that we can see you going to India regularly and kind of achieve that rock star image?

I think what people really appreciated about Kobe was that he really wanted to learn about different aspects of life and how people approach different things. I feel the same way. I want to feel the culture when I go to India. I want to see what it’s about. I want to get to touch the people and check their pulse — not only about the game, but life in general. So visiting Taj Mahal would be really cool. Hopefully people not only give me respect as a basketball player but also as a person who I am. I don’t know much about India. Maybe Taj Mahal has been on my bucket list for a while, then once you get over there, you never know what’s coming up, so let’s see, it’s always better when it’s a mystery.

What would you advise an aspiring young Indian player? Would it be different from what you advise an aspiring young American player?

I wouldn’t say anything that would be different. No matter who you are, and what you do, you should have no limitations. Go out every single day and achieve small goals every single day.

What would be the biggest difference in playing in India and playing in America, in terms of the pace, toughness, fitness etc?

I think it is just the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting and passing. You get the fundamentals right and that crosses over no matter where you are as a basketball player. So when you get those fundamentals of the game down, that’s where you start at trick shots and try some moves. That’s where you figure out the ways to score other than just knowing the game.

The popularity of NBA is increasing rapidly in India. More youngsters are now dreaming of playing in the NBA. So what is your message to young aspiring Indian basketball players?

Keep dreaming, keep playing! It can happen if you believe in it and it will happen if you work at it. It may sound like a cliché, but it really is that simple to keep believing. Believe that it will happen and work towards it.

Is there any particular routine that you go through during your lean patches?

I just try to rebound. Just try to touch the ball somewhere to get back in the game and get me going. We have some great team-mates, so they are encouraging; looking for you in your slump, so that also helps. It’s a long year, so I am always trying to work on my game everyday.

Do you have any rituals before the games?

No. I used to have a lot, but now I am used to having a lot of strength in myself and thinking than just thinking of rituals. My thing is just go out there and have some fun, and focus and play as much as I can.

Does the nature of your rivalry with LeBron James change in any way considering that both Warriors and the Cavs are likely to meet in the finals?

Who knows what happens, but it seems like the ideal match-up. But there are so many great teams — so I’m definitely excited about the second half of the year. Let’s see what happens. But we try to play every single game like it’s our last and keep getting better.

Now that you play for the Golden State Warriors, with the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Greene, how has the transition been? You’re having a great season, but the name isn’t cropping up in the MVP debate. What are your views on that?

The transition has been smooth and playing with selfless players like Klay, Steph and Draymond, who go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, I am just trying to return the favour by playing as hard as I can. It’s been a good mix. As far as my season (is concerned), I am just trying to learn to do better, and MVP and awards are not in my control. We are all athletes here but I am just trying to learn to get better, and my plan is to help my team.

What are the areas of concern that the Warriors need to address before going into the playoffs?

We are just trying to focus on us every single day. Just want to keep growing; we are playing a good defence. Offensively, we are moving the ball well, so just want to keep building at it. Instead of worrying about the playoffs right now, you take advantage of the day that you have and just get better.