Our student contributor Adarsh Rao caught up with Sacramento Kings’ point guard Isaiah Thomas for an exclusive phone interview during his visit to India from 7th June to 14th June 2014. Isaiah conducted clinics in IES School, Mumbai on 10th June and Boys Higher Secondary School, Chennai on 11th June. In this chat, Isaiah talks about being a small man in the NBA, his fan following in India, his goal of becoming an All-Star, the NBA’s growing interest in India, his equations with Kings’ Indian origin majority owner Vivek Ranadive and the future of basketball in India.
Before entering the 2011 NBA draft, you hit a buzzer beater against the University of Arizona for the Washington Huskies in the Championship game of the Pac-10 Tournament. Was it your biggest basketball moment? How do you feel about it today?
That game winner was probably my biggest basketball moment. Because every kid dreams of doing that: National TV, Championship game, last possession of the game, and then you hit at the buzzer. That was part of the biggest basketball moment of my career other than my getting drafted (into the NBA).
In 2012, in your rookie year, you won two consecutive rookie of the month awards and you are the first person to do it being picked last in the NBA draft. How do you feel about that? To be picked last and yet you won rookie of the month awards and you finished 7th in the NBA rookie of the year voting.
I was given an opportunity to play, so I just took advantage of it and ran with it. I have played basketball my whole life so it’s nothing new. I just needed to get on the court and once there I just played basketball and did the things that I knew I had to do. People were surprised by how good I was playing but I wasn’t surprised because I put in the hard work.
We have a request on Facebook from one of your fans, his name is Kabir Saxena and his question to you is: “How are you so effective at penetrating through rival defence, especially good defensive teams like OKC and Indiana Pacers?” You posted career high points this January against OKC and Indiana. So what did you do separately/specially to achieve these numbers?
Just confidence, I have confidence in myself. Like I said, I was given the opportunity to play and I took advantage of that. The main thing is if you have confidence in yourself, believe in yourself, you can do whatever it you put your mind to. I just went out there and played basketball. I was aggressive, I was in attack mode and I had a pretty good game.
Now that you’ve made a statement in the NBA, what do you take from this year to the plans that you have for next year?
I got goals, I want to win. First and foremost I want to get to the play-offs and then I want to be an All-Star. I think everything in the NBA is about newer opportunity, how big your window is. With bigger and bigger opportunities, I’m going to show the world that I can play at a higher level.
Here in India, you’re already an All-Star, Isaiah. We all look up to you and Nate and the style of game that you have: how you get off screens, the rotation and the scoring ability. What do you have to say to aspiring young players, especially point guards and small men who are trying to pick up their game?
First of all just have fun but also work hard and don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t be what you want to be. If you put your mind to something, if you continue to work and you have faith in yourself and trust in yourself, I think that takes you a long way. That’s what I’ve done my whole life, continue to have confidence in myself and belief in my abilities. That has taken me a long way.
You’re an honoured member of the Sacramento Kings team. How does it feel to have planned with Vivek Ranadive and his plans to promoting Indian basketball here? What are you looking for in the future of Indian Basketball?
It’s great to have an owner like Vivek. He’s a great person. He’s very smart, intelligent, and he cares about you. So that’s the most important thing: that he cares about you not just as a basketball player but also as a person. He’s the first Indian owner in the NBA and it’ll only expand the NBA and bring a lot of what’s in the US to India. Hopefully sooner or later there’ll be an Indian basketball player drafted in the NBA who’ll be a superstar. I have a very strong belief that it will happen especially with the NBA having a lot of clinics and things over here (in India) as the years go by.
Definitely. How were the Clinics, Isaiah? How were the Clinics so far in Mumbai?
Ah they’ve been great. The kids have been excellent. The kids are just very excited and happy. They’re working hard and they’re learning. That’s what it’s about especially when we talk about kids and clinics, we just want them to be happy. You want them to have fun and also you want them to work and learn.
Here in India, we don’t get to watch a lot of basketball unlike in the States. It’s sidelined by other sports. Could it be a reason why most of the youngsters in India find it difficult to get their basics right? Just how important is it to watch, analyze and learn before actually playing basketball?
Nothing is very important. You can learn by listening and working hard and practising your craft. But you can also learn by watching games. That’s what I do, First and foremost I’m a fan of basketball. I love watching other teams play. I love watching other top point guards play. Also, I take things from their game and put it in mine when I watch them so I think when you’re a student at the game and you love watching the game of basketball, that also helps you.
There are quite a few big names on your team Isaiah: DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Jason Terry and Derrick Williams, to name of few. How does it feel to play with these big guys and how has it worked for you so far?
It’s worked great. We’re a talented group of guys. Like you said, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams, they’re very talented guys. I think the more and more we play with each other the more we’re going to become better and we’re gonna learn each other’s games and everything’s gonna work out in the end so, hopefully we all stick together and we can also turn this organization around together.
You had a few Google hangout sessions, Isaiah. Were you impressed by the level of questions/knowledge that your fan following in India had, with respect to the NBA?
Yeah, I was very surprised with all the things that they know especially about myself. I didn’t know I even had fans over here so it was a blessing to talk to and interact with people over here. And they know things that people in the United States know. It’s fun, and I love interacting with fans. I love interacting with people that love the game of basketball.
In India you’re an All-star. When there were posts on Facebook that you were coming to India, everyone was excited. And when this interview will be out I’m sure they’ll all catch up.
I love that. I love everything you just said about being excited. When they asked me to come out here, I didn’t even think twice. I wanted to experience this. I wanted to be out here and see something that I haven’t seen before.
Also you’re going to do live commentary for the Finals on Sony Six. To watch NBA games here in India, people have to wake up at 5:30 AM to watch it on TV.
[Pfft] Yeah, I know. I’m going have to get up early and commentate the game, but I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.
We’re hoping so will India be! Thank you so much for this interview. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you, thank you so much.