I think my favorite moment at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) took place during a game where I didn’t actually play.
We played UNLV my freshman year. It was a packed house, they were ranked No. 19 in the nation and the game went to double-overtime. We ended up losing, but I remember being on the bench cheerleading the whole time; Waving my towel around, high-fiving, getting the crowd involved and it was just so much fun.
And that’s when it really hit me. Even if I’m not playing right now, I’m gonna work my butt off so I can play – so I can generate this same type of experience for myself. So I can have this personally. I can remember just feeling that energy, and feeling the crowd. It was special.
Now, I think about everything I’ve done and what I’ve gone through. And to be able to step into an NBA executive office and shake hands with the general manager, and the head coaches around the league and the player personnel people – It’s crazy to think about it and it’s crazy to experience it.
I grew up in Phoenix and I grew up watching the Suns. Seeing them go through a lot, ups and downs over the years, and then to be at a draft workout with them, with an opportunity to potentially be picked up by the team is something that is really special.
My dad was a city councilman in the Phoenix area. He had a big office downtown and he had all these balls signed by the Phoenix Suns and different organizations and stuff like that. I remember always going into his office at a really young age and picking them up and dribbling them and he’d yell at me, “Hey, don’t dribble the basketball, they have signatures on them you can’t dribble these!”
And I think he finally figured it out and ended up putting a ball in there without signatures that I could always dribble.
Growing up as a kid you tell yourself, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be in the NBA,’ but I’m sure millions and billions of kids say that all the time. That’s why going from city to city and arena to arena has been different, but it’s been a great time for me.
This experience, it’s something that not a lot of people get a chance to do. One thing my parents have always told me about the game of basketball is that it should be fun for you. Not a lot of people get a chance to try out in front of GMs and have an opportunity to be selected and have an opportunity to play in the NBA.
A lot of people tend to think that because I went to a smaller school that’s the reason for my statistics being as out there as they tend to be and I think that it’s cool for me to go in there and prove people wrong. That’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, something I strive to do: continue to prove people wrong.
Continue to prove people wrong when they tell me I’m not going to get drafted. That I’m not going to have any NBA workouts. That I’m not going to be able to adjust my game. I’m so excited to knock all of those misconceptions out the window because I came from a small school.
I’m excited to show them what I can do. I’m not going into the NBA trying to become a superstar or something along those lines – although that would be nice. That’s not what I want the executives and the coaches who have met me to take away from meeting me.
I want them to take away the fact that I’m ready to come in there and fill a specific role. I want to be able to go in and make an impact immediately, on and off the court and also in the community. I want them to understand that’s something I’m ready and able to do because that’s where legacy lives. Even if it’s not NBA, Hall of Fame legacy, there’s legacies within certain organizations and you just want to be able to leave your mark wherever you go. That’s what I’m focused on and have been trying to make them understand.
That and of course my desire and my knowledge of how to rebound. I think it’s a pivotal thing for me in this draft process, and hopefully teams can see that and want that kind of player on their team.
I think the ability to rebound is one of the things that translates the most from college to the NBA.
At a young age my dad started teaching me the ins and outs of how to rebound, how to play post defense and post offense and that kind of thing. He was my coach all the way through and told me to study the shot of my teammates, the flight of my opponents, how to work on carving out space, and how to box out.
Then as I got into high school I had some great AAU coaches and high school staff that continued my development offensively and helped build my confidence. I had the skill set and I had the know-how, and I had the ability to use my body in a way that I could be successful at the next level. Although the conditioning aspect of it wasn’t there.
I remember coach (Bob) Williams at UCSB having a conversation with me after my sophomore year and saying, ‘Alan, you’re a tremendous player, and you’re killing right now, and you’re weighing 293 pounds. Imagine how good you could be at 260.’
That was always something that was in my head, and it was just like, ‘dang, maybe I can try this diet thing out.’ People have been talking about it for a long time, I never really bought into it but I finally decided to buy in and I saw the results.
It was challenging at first, first couple of weeks and days. You start to feel those hunger pangs and all that type of stuff but I was sacrificing for a great reason. And I have to give my mom credit.
My mom makes world famous tacos that all my friends and family are in love with, but she really changed the way she cooked food and learned new recipes and healthy alternatives and that was the jump start to it. So I stopped eating the tacos. Then once I started seeing some of the results that I was getting from eating healthier, everything else just picked up.
My mom lives about 30 minutes south of where I go to school too, so I’d drive down on the weekend to pick up food and eat that for the week. Then I’d come back with Tupperware, wash my dishes, and she’d cook some more food. It was a complete team effort.
The only way I could describe both of my parents through this whole process is ultra, super supportive. My dad is more on the basketball ins of things. He communicates with my agent a lot and talks with me a lot, always trying to offer some advice. He’s been my coach forever – he still coaches from the stands from time to time.
My mom has just been that rock that I need. Something’s going on, flights delayed, or I’m flying in late, or I’m not feeling too well, just call her and she picks me up and keeps me grounded. She reads me bible verses all the time so I can just maintain focus on what’s really important and know that it’s a process and it should be fun.
I also have had two great guys ahead of me from UCSB that went on to do what I’m trying to do. Orlando Johnson, O, has been right there with me. Also James Nunnally, who had a couple of NBA call ups a couple of years ago and last year. Both of those guys were two of the best players I’ve ever played with and they’ve been my guys throughout this. We’ve been texting throughout and they’re just telling me to continue to do what I do, stay grounded, stay humble, and you’ll have a chance to do something special.
I love the game of basketball. My goal is to play in the NBA, and that’s where I’ll hopefully be playing. But whether it’s in the NBA or elsewhere I love the game and I think I got some good years in these legs, so I want to ride it out as long as I can and just enjoy the ride.
That’s why on draft day I’m not really going to sit in front of the TV too much and kind of hope and ponder in that sense. What will happen will happen – it’s in God’s hands at that point. I’ll get a phone call from whoever it is if I’m selected, and if I’m not selected it’ll be a phone call about what the next steps are going to be.
In fact, we already have draft day all planned out. I’ll be back in Phoenix with my family and I’ll probably go to dinner on draft day. From there, I plan on having a family get together the day after the draft.
My mom’s making her famous tacos, so I’m excited to get down on some of those, especially since they still have me on this diet. So I get to be around the tacos and my family. Nothing crazy and nothing extravagant, just spending time with people that I love the most.
It’s been different and it’s been a great opportunity to get out there and see all the NBA towns and meet all of these people and experience what I’ve experienced. You’re not in these cities for a long period of time, but you do get a chance to look out your window a little bit and really take in this experience. You can really kind of grasp it when you’re out there, because the dream has really become tangible at this point.
Photo Credits – Ethan Miller/Getty Images, Roland Martinez/Getty Images, The Williams Family