“My dad was my first hater,” 2020 Rookie of the Year Ja Morant claimed, just days before he was drafted to Memphis with the #2 overall pick, last June. After shaking Adam Silver’s hand that night in Brooklyn, Morant’s bond with his father Tee, forged through exhaustive back-yard workouts and home film sessions, was on full display. Both Tee and his wife Jamie played basketball, the game was the foundation of their relationship and a factor in the rapid growth of Ja, who has truly become one of the most exciting talents in the NBA.
A year later, we’re looking at yet another class full of second, or even third-generation basketball players, as we prepare for the belated 2020 draft. More than ever before, we’re seeing the conspicuous impact of an upbringing surrounded by the infectious enthusiasm of hooper parents, something that I – at a far more modest standard – can attest to.
Earlier this week, Marc Spears of The Undefeated zoomed in on four prospects who grew up with first-hand access to professional knowledge and experience. As with the likes of Steph Curry, Austin Rivers, Klay Thompson and a handful of other current NBA stars, a peak behind the curtain was available for Kenyon Martin Jr., Brendan Bailey, Cole Anthony and Nico Mannion, early in life.
Mannion’s father Pace is an outlier from that group however, as he spent more time on the Italian basketball scene than in the NBA. Further highlighting the reach and power of the international influence, Nico is just one of many 2020 prospects who have inherited elite-level wisdom, partially gained outside of the big league.
“The draft process I’m going through and the process he went through are totally different things, due to the time, because of the virus and everything that’s going on,” Mannion told me. “But he’s been a great person to lean on for advice just because he’s really been through it; he played six years in the league and thirteen overseas. He knows the ins and outs of the game, so whenever I have any questions, he’s the first one I ask, whether that’s fatherly advice or basketball advice.”
Arizona alumn Josh Green’s upbringing in Sydney revolved almost-exclusively around sports. His family are as athletic as they come, with a significant focus on versatility, as Green excelled in rugby, soccer, swimming and Australian rules football as a child. His parents would encourage Josh and his three siblings to try their hand at absolutely any competition they could, which explains some of the questionable trivia he has recently read about himself.
“I think coming from a competitive environment, my parents really wanted me to try every sport, I was open to trying everything. In fact, I will say that the Panini trading cards that have come out recently, stating that I played Water Polo, you know? Well, I can confirm that was just to get a day off school.”
Though passionate advocates for a multi-sport approach, his mother Cahla and father Delmas played semi-professionally down under. It is of no coincidence that when it came time to focus exclusively on one of his many endeavours, he gravitated toward the game in which he was exposed to at an above-average level. He had seen how the game is supposed to be played, what it meant to those playing it and clearly that resonated with him.
“I think my love of basketball has grown from my parents and continues to grow, because every time I step on the court, I love it,” Green expressed.
French point guard Théo Maledon can relate; basketball is in his blood. His parents, Sylvie and Claude played competitive basketball and his sister currently plays in Southern Arkansas. His compatriot Killian Hayes – a Florida-born guard who spent his formative years competing for his father DeRon’s former club in Cholet, France – is touted for selection in the lottery. His dad also played in Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine and Russia, while his mother, Sandrine, was no stranger to the court either.
“I’ve been working out with my father since I was five years old,” Hayes said. “I remember going to all of his practices, all of his home games and that inspired me to reach this stage.”
Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey was able to lean on his dad to get better, though he never got a chance to cheer him on from the bleachers. Before Tyrese’s arrival, Tyrone Maxey played college ball for Washington State in the early ‘90s, before coaching in Texas for almost 17 years and eventually becoming Director of Recruiting at SMU. Despite his father’s position, Tyrese couldn’t turn down the opportunity with the Wildcats, but that takes nothing away from their father-son union.
“My father has always been my biggest influence, as he knows what it takes to play at a high level. I was watching film as a child and that prepared me for this process, way ahead of time.”
On-court experience is an excellent source to draw from for these prospects, as they develop with the support of their household. However, even those who haven’t laced them up at the highest level can leave a mark just by living and breathing the game. LaMelo Ball’s dad LaVar obsesses over two things – basketball and business. To his credit, NBA media has feverishly followed the growth of his three sons and his unabashed, occasionally questionable assurance has contributed toward the intense coverage of his youngest. LaMelo has a lot to thank his father for and likely won’t forget that once his name is called.
“He raised me and taught me the game, pretty much. He was there for everything I did when I was little.”
When oldest son Lonzo was drafted in 2017, LaVar was coming off an unprecedented, much-maligned media tour with the view of maximising the reach of his son’s profile. This time, he’s taken a backseat.
“That’s my pops, so he’s always going to be involved but it’s pretty much been me, JJ (Jermaine Jackson, agent) and the team, just getting to it.”
Away from the hardwood, Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. picked up tips on how to navigate life as a top athlete from his father, former Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey Sr.
“It definitely helped being able to see him go through the professional experience. Even though he can’t tell me the X’s & O’s of basketball, I can depend on him for advice on the business side of things.”
Part of the reason you’re reading this is the abundance of weeknights I personally spent in dusty gyms, watching my parents play at amateur level. Naturally, I picked up the ball and the game has remained a passion of mine for two decades since. My family can talk basketball for hours and, in a strange way, those are the lengthy conversations I remember most fondly.
The sense of shared fulfilment which will be experienced by each of Wednesday’s draftees, alongside their parents, is immeasurable and will surely mean more than any hat placed on their head.