Durant: One-night show in Utah draws big crowd
People squeezed in the doorways, leaned against the railings, and stood in the aisles. And they all were hoping to see Kevin Durant, the heralded No. 2 pick of the NBA draft whose hype filled the Salt Lake Community College's Lifetime Activities Center beyond its 5,000-seat capacity during the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league on Tuesday night.
Durant was in town just long enough for Durant to play for the Seattle Sonics against the Jazz. His plane from Las Vegas landed at 2:30 p.m. Monday, and his flight back to Vegas is scheduled to leave Thursday morning, so he can join the USA Basketball men's senior national team. He will not play for the Sonics in their Revue games on Thursday and Friday.
So his short visit packed the arena with all those who hoped to see a player whom scouts have deemed a blend of Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady - and who some have even called the next Michael Jordan. Some fans wore the burnt-orange of Durant's college team, the Texas Longhorns, or the emerald green of the Sonics, and they cheered his first basket, a one-handed floater, and his first dunk, a flying right-hand slam on the fast break.
"It was a great crowd," Durant said after the Jazz beat his Sonics 102-88. "It was a lot of fans, I guess because we played the Jazz. It felt just like college."
Durant already is the best player on his NBA team, and he's only 18 years old. He'll be the focus of his team for years to come and, therefore, be swarmed by fans and media at every chance.
"I really don't like it too much, but it's all right," Durant said. "It's a team sport, so I don't think it should really be all on me. It would be fun for my teammates to get a lot of recognition, too, because without them, I wouldn't be anything."
Whether he likes it or not, he'll be the focus of everything involving the Sonics.
He's worked to get to that point, whether he tried to reach it or not, and it was a phrase from his AAU coach Taras Brown, a phrase he was taught when he was nine years old, that earned him the No. 2 pick, the millions of dollars, the hype, the fame, the expectations.
Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
The work started on the L. Street Hill in Fairmont Heights, Md., where he'd run as many times as Brown saw fit.
"I had to run up it 75 times, 100 times, sometimes in the night, sometimes cold," Durant said in the Hotel Monaco on Monday. "And that's a rough neighborhood too. So running up there in night time, I was kind of scared being young."
His 29-point game against the Jazz on Tuesday probably scared NBA teams around the league. His showcased his skills with drives to the basket, long-range jumpers and a buzzer-beating three-pointer in which Durant caught the ball and fired it before his feet hit the ground.
It was a quiet 29 points, if there was such a thing. Durant shot 7-for-21 from the floor. He's shot 33 percent so far in the NBA Summer League, but he's still averaging 25 points a game. Most of them come from the free-throw line. He's averaging 12.3 attempts and 10.3 makes in summer league play.
His performances have been picked apart, as they will be for his career, but Durant is "just getting started," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "He's just getting started."
Barnes said Durant's ceiling is unlimited because of his work ethic, which he said was the best he has ever seen "and I've had some good ones now."
But a strong work ethic isn't unique among successful athletes. What makes Durant different is his God-given gift, said his mother, Wanda Pratt.
"There are so many kids that are talented, and he knows that," Pratt said. "So, in order for him to have that gift and to harness it and to do the things he does on the basketball court and the effect he'll have off the court, he knows that he has to work hard and that shows how grateful he is for the gift."
He knows he is gifted. He knows he has talent. But he also knows he isn't alone.
"A lot of guys know they're good and a lot of guys are satisfied with it," Durant said. "They're content with just being a good player. I want to be great. It's good to be a good player, but I don't want to stop getting better at anything."
His dedication to be great could be described as borderline obsessive.
In the Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Seat Pleasant, Md., Durant would choose to nap behind the navy blue curtain on aerobic mats when tired from workouts.
"I never wanted to leave," Durant says. "I didn't want to walk to get something to eat. Sometimes I didn't have money to get something to eat."
His grandma would bring him supper, instead.
And when Durant got to Texas, he'd spend the mandatory days off in the gym shooting, even against the coaches' requests.
" 'Kevin, you've got to understand we're in this thing for a couple months here,' " Barnes recalls telling him. " 'I respect the fact that you want to be up here, but if you're going to do that, I'd prefer if you'd just shoot free throws or something, but you've got to give yourself some time.' "
Durant would plead with his coaches and say everyone counted out the young team - the starting five consisted of four freshmen and a sophomore.
" 'I want to prove them wrong, coach,' " Durant recalled.
His desire is something he's had from a young age, said his mother.
"It's never-ending. It's non-stop. It's constant," she said.
At Montrose Christian Academy in Rockville, Md., Durant would come to school at 7 a.m. to shoot a few hundred shots, and then stay after practice to shoot a few hundred more, said Durant's high school coach, Stu Vetter.
"That's just extra," Vetter said. "That doesn't count what we do during practice. That's extra."
And when he can't get his shots up, it's agony for Durant.
"I remember throughout the [NBA draft] process, there was about a week and a half I didn't work out," he said. "I was killing myself inside. I almost cried. I couldn't do something I loved. It was tough.
"It hurt me inside because I knew at this time, I could be getting better. My game could be getting better."
He'll keep working, he said. His days in the gym won't be over even when his professional basketball career is.
"Even when I'm retired, I'm still going to be in the gym no matter if it's coaching, getting shots up," he said. "It doesn't matter. I'm always going to be around the gym. It's just something you love; you can't get away from it."
Making it to the NBA wasn't good enough for Durant, Barnes said.
So what is?
"To be one of the best players to ever play the game, to lead my team to championships and to leave my mark on the NBA," he said.