Being an underdog is one thing, but Udonis Haslem has had quite a unique journey to the NBA.
After going undrafted in 2002, Haslem played overseas in France for a season and joined the HEAT and Spurs during 2003 Summer League. From there, you should know the rest of the story. UD has three NBA titles on his resume and is the all-time leading rebounder in franchise history.
With Summer League right around the corner, HEAT.com sat down with Udonis Haslem to discuss how it all started.
What did you do specifically while in France that attributed to your weight loss?
When I wasn’t drafted, it was easy for me to like point the finger at the NBA teams and complain and place blame elsewhere, but I tried to focus on the things that I can control. And one of the things that I could control was my conditioning and the way I was eating. I made a point to myself that when my next opportunity presented itself to be a part of an NBA roster, that I controlled everything and I took full advantage of everything that I had the opportunity to do to put myself in the best position.
How did you feel when you knew you’d play for the HEAT during Summer League?
I felt great, you know what I mean? It was crazy coming home and having the opportunity to practice and play with the team and obviously Pat Riley, who I have so much respect for and had heard so much about. [He’s] legendary, so I was a little intimidated by meeting him, but it was an amazing opportunity coming home and having the opportunity to try out for my home team. I got a chance to visit all my friends. It was really cool that I was getting a chance to try out for the HEAT, so it was a big deal.
How was that first meeting with Pat Riley? Were you really nervous?
Yeah, I was a little nervous. The great Pat Riley. His track record speaks for itself, so I definitely was a little nervous. And actually it took me maybe about two years to get comfortable having conversations with Pat.
Do you remember the first time you walked into the HEAT practice facility?
There were like 50 guys in the gym coming in for that Summer League. There were a lot of guys. I’m not sure if it’s the same [now]. When I came, we made cuts so we had a lot of guys and guys were having to get cut, so the minute you walked into the gym you were on edge because any day could be your last day.
How did you approach each day and game during Summer League?
Like my life was on the line. Every practice, every game, was like when your back’s against the wall. It’s like you’re desperate. Every practice, every game, I was playing with a sense of desperation [and] urgency.
I read that you were so tough during HEAT workouts and were just so zoned in.
I would have run through a brick wall, bro. I could have hurt somebody trying to make the team. I literally would have hurt somebody trying to make the team. That’s how focused I was. Not in a malicious way trying to hurt somebody physically, but just locked in. Nothing was going to stop me.
Did you feel you had a good chance to make a roster after Summer League with the HEAT and Spurs?
I didn’t know, man. There were a lot of guys, and some of those guys were veterans that already had NBA experience. So anytime you’re competing against veterans, it’s hard because some teams look for guys that have already been around and got that experience.
Can you talk about David Thorpe and his intense workouts with you?
He was very instrumental early on in my career getting my shot down. Early, high school and college, I played primarily in the paint, close to the basket. When I got to the NBA, it was time to kind of expand my game, expand my range a little bit. So he was very critical in helping me work on my range and my shot.
How did you feel when you finally signed in August of 2003?
It was amazing, man. I didn’t know it was going to be the beginning of something so special. I just lived in that moment.
How has your relationship with Spo evolved over the years?
It’s way more open. Obviously, we’re beyond coach and player now. We have a respect level and an understanding for each other that we can come to each other and pretty much talk about anything basketball-wise or life-wise.
What kind of advice would you give to guys currently in Summer League trying to do what you did?
Don’t have any regrets. These habits that you’re going to build [and] you’re going to learn here playing with the Miami HEAT are going to help you in the NBA because the [players in the NBA] don’t play hard and guys have bad habits. So take this seriously whether it’s here or with another organization. These habits and the things that you’re learning here can definitely help you throughout your NBA career.
Not many players go from undrafted in Summer League to holding a team record like you do in rebounds. How would you describe this journey?
It’s been a dream come true, but make no mistake about it: there’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes. A lot of blood, sweat and tears put into this. I’m just thankful that I’ve had this opportunity. It’s been an amazing ride, but I’m not done yet. I still have opportunities to lead and impact this organization in so many different ways, so that’s just the next chapter for me.