Joakim Noah was honored with his first All-Star selection on Thursday as the league announced the reserves for both the Eastern and Western Conference. He will join Luol Deng, who will be making his second consecutive All-Star appearance, having been selected as a reserve last year.
For Noah, it’s a great honor and recognition of the hard work its taken him to get to this level. He even took to twitter to deliver an acceptance speech, thanking those who have helped him get to where he is.
There isn’t a shortage of people that the six-year center can’t thank in helping him become the player he has become. One of those people is a former college teammate from the University of Florida and also happens to be making his second All-Star appearance, Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee.
The pair were college teammates at the University of Florida during the 2004-05 season when Lee was a senior and Noah was a freshmen. While Lee was honored to be the first Warriors’ All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997, he also feels a great deal of happiness for Noah.
“His game is very similar [to mine],” Lee said. “You know what to expect out of him. He’s consistent in being a hard-nosed player, rebounder, great passer and a guy that’s going to compete every single night, which in the NBA is as big of a skill as anything else. I’m a big fan of his game and I think he’s continued to get better each year and add different things to his game. I’m very proud of him.”
Gator coach Billy Donovan has a buddy system his players follow and Lee would be the one who would make sure Noah got to class on time, which was a challenge in itself.
Lee also was somewhat of a mentor to Noah as the center didn’t see the floor much during his first season, but would go on to lead the Gators to back-to-back National Titles the following two seasons before being selected with the ninth pick by the Bulls in 2007.
The two have come a long way since their days at Gainesville and Lee hasn’t been surprised with the production of Noah.
“To be honest, the biggest jump I think he made was in college, when he went from being a freshman to a sophomore – being one of the best players in the country in that second year. That was, to me, the biggest jump he’s made. After that, I could tell, because of his length and athleticism, that he was going to be successful at this level. The most impressive thing is that he’s continued to add different things to his game each year. To not only be a good NBA player, but to be a great one.
While the starters are selected by the fans, it can be argued that being selected as a reserve by the coaches is more of an honor and sign of respect.
“He’s a heck of a basketball player,” Warriors Coach Mark Jackson said. “His energy, effort and enthusiasm is contagious, and that’s been consistent since day one. He’s a winning basketball player and he’s great to watch. He does all the things that will not show up on a stat sheet and it’s great that the coaches rewarded that. He’s having another great season.”
Lee has been the Warriors most consistent producer all season long with averages of 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
The Warriors currently sit fifth in the Western Conference.
Lee was added as an injury replacement by David Stern in the 2010 All-Star game in Texas, but takes more pride in being recognized because of the Warriors success.
“I think it goes to show the strides the team has made this year in winning more games and we’re starting to get some national recognition from that. We have to keep it up. I’m just kind of a byproduct of that. It’s a big honor."
CURRY REMINISCES ON TIME WITH NATE ROBINSON
Aside from praising coach Jackson for helping him mature last season in Golden State, Nate Robinson has also spoke highly on point guard Stephen Curry.
Robinson joined the Warriors at the beginning of last season and would go on to start as Curry missed 40 games with lingering ankle issues.
In just one season, Curry has a career worth of memories from his time with the energetic Robinson.
“So many to count,” Curry said smiling at the mere mention of Robinson. “I just remember the first plane ride. He joined the team last year, I think after the first week. We were in LA, so he met the team on the road. D Lee had kind of warned us about his energy and his personality. On the first plane ride back to LA, it was like he had been on the team for 10 years and he knew everybody personally. He was joking around, running up and down the aisle of the plane, tickling people, ragging on people and he had been with us for less than 24 hours. You can just see that’s who he is. He’s a fun guy, always like to keep it light. That’s something that regardless if you play well or not, he’s not going to change, so you like that about him.
There were several who felt Curry should be joining Lee in Houston next month, but Curry is happy for his teammate and doesn’t want talks of a snub to take away from Lee and the team’s success.
“A lot of talk was about who didn’t make the team last night, but you can’t look past how much D Lee deserves the honor and selection to represent the team,” Curry said. “For us to break that streak in not having an All-Star since ’97, having a representative in Houston, that’s a big deal. Regardless of who it is, no one is going to say he doesn’t deserve it. You have to focus on that and not the other way around like I’m trying to do.”
It’s hard to argue against the case of Curry as an All-Star with averages of 20.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, while shooting 45 percent from three-point range.
“The biggest thing is that he’s healthy this year,” said Lee. “He’s always had this potential. He’s healthy, confident and his ability to go out there play long minutes, not hurt his ankle – that’s the biggest thing. He’s one of the best shooters, if not the best shooter, in the league. He’s unbelievable off the bounce, he’s stepped up his defense a lot this year. That’s been very important for me and him. I think we do a great job of leading together and guys on this team see us having two All-Stars. I hope he can still get in because he definitely deserves it.”