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2011 NBA Draft: Pre-Draft Interviews With Potential Houston Rockets

[Note: The video above contains interviews with Alec Burks, Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter and Kawhi Leonard. I would have gotten video with everyone else, but my camcorder died. However, below the following post, you'll be able to find audio interviews with Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely, Markieff Morris and Valanciunas. If you need help clarifying any quotes, ask in the comments. Apologies for the delay in posting: Internet was difficult to come by. Enjoy.]

Ten minutes into Wednesday's NBA Draft media day, each of the twelve prospects in the media room had already heard the same generic questions five times over. There was one youthful gentleman attempting to suck up to any player who would listen to him for more than five seconds -- seriously, he told Markieff Morris to go out and party because he "deserved" it -- but for the most part, originality could only extend so far throughout a media group consisting of about fifty people.

What I found to be interesting about the process, however, were some of the differing responses that the players gave to otherwise basic questions. For example, Tristan Thompson was asked to name his best NBA quality.

"My personality," he said.

High-flyer Jan Vesely -- who seemed even more enormous in person (at least for a projected small forward) and had a good three inches on Thompson -- sat down at an adjacent table. Upon hearing Thompson's response, I asked Vesely the same question... and received a more pointed response.

"My game," he said. "Just the game of basketball."

Of the two answers, I liked the second. But, as with the majority of the results of media day, there was no need to get picky. The word "basketball," when said aloud, was the only reminder that these people were athletes. Nothing about media day was going to turn anyone off to a potential prospect.

Different players took different approaches to "unveiling" themselves to the public eye. Thompson looked chipper and comfortable, as if he'd been in this situation for years.

"Can you guard NBA centers?" I asked. He jumped at the question.

"Yeah, I definitely feel comfortable doing that," he said. "I'm a basketball player: I'll guard anyone on the court. If coach wants me to guard the point guard -- if coach wants me to guard Rondo, I'll guard Rondo. It might be difficult, but I'll guard him."

Given the lack of prospects attributed to Houston -- Klay Thompson, Marcus Morris and Chris Singleton were all absent -- I threw some Rockets bait Tristan's way, and he gobbled it up right away.

"I would love to play for Houston. Being in Texas, you know? The organization is on the rise. They just hired coach Kevin McHale. He's from a winning tradition. I feel that if I had the opportunity to play for them it would be exciting."

Somehow, I have a feeling that Thompson won't be the last player to cite McHale as a positive reason to go to Houston.

At other tables, Europeans Vesely and Jonas Valanciunas were quiet and reserved, though Vesely did drop the following:

Me: "How are you different from Andrei Kirilenko?"

Vesely (long pause): "I can jump higher."

That said, if two of the three Euros in the room were quiet, the third made sure to pick up the slack. By far, nobody was near as visibly confident as Enes Kanter.

"I believe I am the toughest player in the draft," he said, beaming with conviction. Someone asked him how his ineligibility hurt him. Without hesitation, a response.

"I would go number one."


"I believe I am the best player in this draft."

How would Kentucky have faired had he played last season? Again, a quick, crisp answer.

"We would have won the national title."

He didn't talk as if to merely impress those around him. This was no show. Kanter, without question, considered everything he said to be absolute fact. Pleasantly surprised to hear a European speaking his mind, I asked him why he was so confident. He smiled.

"I believe in myself, you know?"

There was no questioning that. Also, for the record, the "Drake meets Gheorghe Muresan" comparisons regarding Kanter were spot-on.

Valanciunas was not in the same boat as Kanter. He looked timid throughout the process and only showed a hint of personality when someone with a microphone walked up to him and said, "Hello, Jonas." Caught off guard, he finally let out a laugh.

I was curious what the process had been like for Valanciunas up to this point, and in particular thought to myself, "why did he come out this season?" So I asked. He hesitated and asked me to repeat the question. So I did.

"I don't know," he said slowly. "I had a [good] season. Everybody wants to see me here, so I came here."

Markieff Morris was similarly reserved, but he offered a few simple, concise responses. He felt he was a natural power forward but said he could "definitely" play some backup center. In addition, he separated his twin brother Marcus from himself, citing that Marcus was more of a scorer while he himself was a "banger."

Predictably, the bigger names drew the largest crowds. Jimmer Fredette's table was swarmed by media members for the entirety of his half-hour-long session. Kyrie Irving was surrounded, as was Derrick Williams. So I kept to the other players. In all, I talked with Alec Burks, Kawhi Leonard, Valanciunas, Vesely, Thompson, Morris and Kanter.

Perhaps I'll be talking to one of them Thursday night for the Rockets' post-pick presser. At this point, though, I'm prepared to see anyone don the red hat. It's that wide-open. More to come Thursday morning.

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Tristan Thompson, pt. 1

Tristan Thompson, pt. 2

Markieff Morris

Jonas Valanciunas

Jan Vesely