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Eastbay and Nike teamed up to provide an all-access look into basketball’s brightest young stars. These athletes are tomorrow’s biggest superstars, and we wanted to peel back the layers of some of the hungriest players in the game. Scoop Jackson conducted the interviews. He writes for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, and he also appears on ESPN Radio and TV Shows. He worked as a copywriter and author for Nike from 2001-2005 and has previously worked for XXL Magazine, Slam Magazine, and other publications.
Jackson sat down with Jewell Loyd, who won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award. Loyd scored nearly 2,000 points at Notre Dame, before getting drafted with the No. 1 pick by Seattle. She played alongside veteran point guard Sue Bird, averaging 10.7 points per game as a rookie and 16.5 points per game this past season in her second year. Check out the Q&A between the two, where they discuss Loyd’s upbringing, competitiveness, methods for improvement, and the hopes she has for her basketball legacy.
Scoop Jackson: You’re from Lincolnwood, Illinois. Everybody claims a spot where they got their skills. Did you have a home court in Lincolnwood or did you come into the city to ball? Where did you throw down your claim?
Jewell Loyd: So I lived on Drake Street, and there was a big park called Drake Park, and I was literally down the block. Everyone would just go there – that was like the main spot. What’s really unique about Lincolnwood – there were a lot of parks. Drake Park – that was probably like the best for a game to like 21 or three-on-three tournaments. Then there was another park about two blocks down from my house called Columbia Park. And that was all one-on-one. If you have the best handles in town and, you know, wanted to play against someone one-on-one, that’s where you went. And then if you had a squad, then there was a big park in Chicago called Proesel Park, and that’s where everyone who was from Chicago used to go out there to play, and it was really some of the best talent I’d ever seen. People would bring the squad – I mean the whole squad – and play out there all day. And it took a lot of people a lot of time to gain respect, because you know people who lived in town really represented Lincolnwood really well. So that’s where I played. Drake Park, Proesel Park, and Columbia Park.
Did you make your name playing on each one of those courts?
For sure. What’s kind of cool is my brother did it first. He’s eight years older than me, and so he played all those parks. I was working to pretty much put my name on the court, but this one kid at Drake Park didn’t want me to play. My brother was there at the park with me, and he was watching me. My brother sees me sitting at the court and he’s like, “Why aren’t you playing?” I’m like, “Well, that kid says I can’t play.” And my brother said “Okay, we’ll challenge him.” So we played two-on-two at the court, and I was probably like six or seven. I mean, I was really young. And we’re playing two-on-two on the court and we’re going at it, first to eleven, and people are starting to watch. I was the only girl playing at the park, you know, lots of pressure, game point, I have the ball, and they tried to double team me and tried to steal the ball from me. And so I see my brother cut the back door, I throw it up and he dunks it. And that’s how I kind of got my name on the court, playing with him and got that respect at an early age.
What’s one aspect of your game that you can actually say is great because of the work you put in?
My jumper. My fade away jumper, for sure. I stayed in the park, in the gym, all day long trying to get a fade away like Kobe. And it’s paid off. That’s my bread and butter for sure.
Explain to me real quick – how do you work on your athletic ability, speed, and explosion?
Plyometrics for sure. You know my brother, he’s my trainer. He’s one of the fastest kids. He’s fast and quick. I think that’s the hardest thing to guard as an athlete, especially as a basketball player to be both of those things. So a lot of plyometrics, and a lot of core – that’s where you get all your strength from – it’s your core. So that’s something that I’m working on a lot – to be more explosive.
Okay. Is there something that you would tell, say a high school player, from a skill set standpoint that would get them to be like the next you?
Well, I would just really encourage them to love the game. You have to love the game to grow as a player – to become great. You can’t just spend half the time trying to be great – you got to really buy into it.
Tell me how competitive you can get.
Really competitive. I mean, I’ll get pissed off pretty easily. Definitely when it comes to me and my brother. My friends almost didn’t want us at the house together because of that competitive nature. I would say early on, I was definitely a hot head, for sure. But as you get older, you realize, ok, you know sportsmanship’s just a better way to lose.
Let me ask you: Where do you think that comes from? That competitiveness – do you think you were born with it or did you develop it?
My family. My family is very competitive. My mom ran track in college, my dad played football in college. They’re both athletic. They hate to lose. And growing up, we always played family sports and had two-on-two battles – in any sport. We were super competitive. And you can ask anyone, who grew up with us, anyone from our neighborhood they would tell you that we were a very competitive family. We challenged each other to compete and played together, and it made us one.
Cool. Okay, secretly, I heard you’re secretly trying to be a coach. I heard you asked to stay on the bench to see the game from the coach’s perspective. Is that true?
Yeah, I asked to stay on the bench, just to see the game. You know, coming into the league, it’s different than college – the game is faster and the girls are stronger. You can’t go in and think everything’s the same. Every game’s a little different, every team’s a little different. So for me, being on the bench, I get to see it. I get to come in and see where I can be aggressive, where I can get to the line, and feel comfortable. I can see the tendencies of players. I can see anything – what we need on offensive. Do we need to speed the game up? Do we need to get a better shot selection? So it’s easier for me to come in and say, “Okay, I know what we need.” I’m with the coach on the bench, she’s telling me things about the game, and then I’m going to be more prepared coming in. That was really good for me. It was a great decision for me, to take the time I needed to make sure I evolved my game.
Alright, when it’s all said and done, what’s going to be your legacy in the game of basketball?
You know, when I get to that point of my career where it’s over, I want people to just really know that I gave it everything I had and that I literally spent my life on this game, to change the way that people view women’s basketball. You know, to say that I’m a champion. To say that I did everything that I needed to do, not just for the game of basketball, but for myself. And you know that’s something that I really am trying to do. The people around me really have helped, and I had people in my corner to help me try to be the best that I can. I want people to know that I gave it all I can.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content, clarity, and length.
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