Eastbay and Nike teamed up to provide an all-access look into basketball’s brightest young athletes. These athletes are tomorrow’s biggest superstars, and we wanted to get an inside look at 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 contributed to XXL Magazine, Slam Magazine, and other publications.
Jackson sat down with Zach LaVine, who starred at UCLA before being drafted in the first round by Minnesota. LaVine is a two-time dunk contest champion, was an NBA All-Rookie team selection in 2015, and the Rising Stars Challenge MVP in 2016. He averaged 14 points per game last season on a team loaded with young talent.
Check out the highlights of the Q&A between the two, where they discuss LaVine’s upbringing, dunking skills, and training regimen.
On where Zach played the most while growing up:
I’m a backyard dude. I had a nailed-up hoop in the backyard, and then I had just a regular crank-it-up hoop. I used to go to parks all the time. My dad used to drive around and go to parks. Other than that, man, I was backyard playing one-on-one. Went to YMCA Boys and Girls Club, of course. Other than that, man, I was in the backyard putting up thousands and thousands of shots.
On his family being his biggest motivation:
I just want to make my family proud. That’s the main thing. We put in so many hours of work in my backyard. So many sacrifices that my mom, my sister, my dad have made. I’m not going to take any short cuts or anything like that. I am going to continue to do the best I can, and improve my game, and get to the levels that we set as a family. Make sure they’re okay – my family is number one.
On his local community supporting him as he grew up:
I know my neighbors probably didn’t like hearing basketballs bouncing at twelve o’clock at night, but they’re respectful and understood I was trying to be somewhere and go somewhere. It was really cool of them.
On how he became such a high-flyer:
I wasn’t always the bounciest person or most athletic. I was small. Sophomore year of high school, I was about 5’10” and 150 pounds. I did lunges on the football field. I ran. The thing I did the most, I just tried to dunk a lot. From a young age, I went outside and tried to replicate dunk contests. I was jumping over stuff when my dad lowered the hoop. I feel like if you just do it enough, it comes into your game.
On his first dunk:
I think it was AAU basketball my sophomore year. We were in Vegas at Bishop Gorman. Got a steal. Dude was on the left-hand side of me. I rose up, just tried to get a little chest-to-chest, and dunked on him. It was a great feeling, man. The whole crowd went, “Ooh! Ahh!” All that stuff. It was when my family was there and my boys were there. It was cool.
On his dunking ability and not wanting to be labeled as only a dunker:
Winning two dunk contests back-to-back has been a blessing. I’m very happy. I’m very fortunate I did that. I got a lot of support from that. But you don’t make the NBA – you don’t make your money – you don’t go out there and give blood, sweat, and tears all these hours for dunks. It’s just two points. I’ve got a lot to my game, man. It’s just going to continue to get better and better.
On his mindset when he’s on the court:
The main thing – when I step on the court, I think I’m the best. I think I’m the fastest and most athletic. You know, not to be cocky, but that’s just the mindset I have. That gets me going. That’s something that’s been instilled in me since I was a young buck.
On his game-day routine:
Get a right good meal in. Get some fruit. I take a nap before every game. Take a nap and go out there and get ready.
On what’s next for him:
I came a long way since I was young. First two years in the league, I’ve been doing good, but there’s always room for improvement. I have higher goals for myself, and I’m definitely going to reach them.