Read Part II of the interview here.
Thinking back on your high school career and the fact that your father played basketball at UCLA, I don’t understand how they let you get out of the state.
Austin Daye: You can thank Kerry Keating for that. He saw me play against Canyon High school when Jerime Anderson was being recruited. It was Jerime’s sophomore year and my junior year. I had a really good game, but I guess Kerry Keating didn’t see a whole lot that he was interested in. They weren’t really recruiting me that hard which kind of upset me and gave me a chip on my shoulder. I was always kind of looked down on when I was coming up in high school. I was never the strongest and never the tallest and then I started hitting my growth spurt at the end of my junior year. I was getting better every day by playing basketball nonstop and one-on-one with my dad and other good players.
Going into my senior year, I played with Pump N Run with James Harden and Larry Drew. Through that process, UCLA started recruiting me really hard at the end. I really didn’t like that because I knew Kerry Keating had been doubting me a little bit. Ben Howland started recruiting me and told me he had a big interest personally, aside from what Kerry had to say. But I had already made my decision. I knew Gonzaga was going to be a good situation for me and I was excited to get out to Spokane. It’s basketball country out there, basketball is No.1 and I was so happy with my decision. And the bonus was that Kerry Keating got the job at Santa Clara.
Going into Gonzaga, that meant I would get to play against Kerry Keating. I don’t know if you guys have the stats, but I remember playing really well against Santa Clara when we played them. I love Kerry Keating for helping me get to where I’m at. It definitely gave me a chip on my shoulder and I definitely wanted to drop as many points as possible against Santa Clara. I want to thank you for asking me about that. [Laughs]
In the Orange County area, I would always hear your name mentioned after Taylor King. It’s interesting to look at each of your paths now. When you were in high school he had much more acclaim and had signed with Duke. Was there a natural rivalry between you two since you were from the same area? I’d imagine that drove you also.
AD: That’s an even funnier question than the Kerry Keating question. When I was really young, I played with a team called South Coast All-Stars and Taylor was on my team. I played with them for a few years and wasn’t really maturing like other kids, who were getting much faster, taller and quicker. My body wasn’t really forming yet, I was really lanky. Taylor at the time, in sixth grade, he was the most dominant kid in the country. He was No. 1 for a long time before OJ Mayo came on the scene. We won a lot of games but toward the end of the run me and my dad decided that I needed to get out of that situation because I was playing but not getting a lot of shots and developing. So I played for teams in L.A. and worked on my game as best as I could.
Taylor committed to UCLA and was getting all of these accolades. I was on JV as a freshman and he was on varsity. I always checked his stats, every year, every game. I was right down the street and as a sophomore I started on varsity. I was always comparing and he was so much better than I was during my sophomore year. My junior year, I grew like seven inches over the summer and still had my guard skills. I was playing so much better and my numbers started to climb. Going into my senior year, I thought ‘this guy has been the No. 1 or No. 2 guy for the longest time. It’s time for me and James Harden to pass him. We haven’t gotten any ink and he’s been getting ink his whole life.’ It was time for me and James to pass him and we were on the same summer team. James killed that summer and I think I did just as good of a job as him.
My senior year I averaged like 31 and 17. I told myself, there is no way I’m not getting into the McDonald’s game – there’s no way I don’t get California state player of the year. But when you play for Mater Dei and you have a lot of great players around you and you are averaging the most points on the team, you’re going to get a lot of credit – and I give Taylor full credit for what he did. And James too, I thought he should have been state player of the year as well. Taylor got that accolade above us and he got the McDonalds game above me and I’m glad James was able to make the McDonald’s game. It definitely put a big chip on my shoulder.
Going into college, I always checked Taylor’s stats. He kind of fell off the map a little bit. I’ve always kept those chips on my shoulders and I think they’ve always helped me get by and helped me want to get better than the next guy. The competition that emerges from friendly rivalries is very interesting.
A lot of people can say they want a chance to be better than a certain NBA player and have their stats to look at. I had someone’s stats to look at that was across the street, across the freeway. Taylor is a good guy, I just didn’t like that he had committed to UCLA in eighth grade and was getting all this ink. He was good, don’t get me wrong, but he hadn’t done it yet, where he had gotten to his senior year and could say ‘I’m better than everyone in California’. I always had a chip on my shoulder about the Taylor thing all through high school.
Do you have a lot of optimism going into your third year with the Pistons as far as your role growing with the team and potentially becoming a full time starter?
AD: Coach [John] Kuester gave me a hell of an opportunity last year, letting me start for the first couple games and I kind of went on a downslide. I greatly appreciated him giving me the opportunity to start. This year, I told Joe Dumars that I’m ready to start 82 games or play a lot of minutes, I will be ready for whatever situation I’m thrown in. My main focus since game No. 82 in Philadelphia last year has been getting ready for this season and making a big impact.
It feels like a fresh start in Detroit with new coach Lawrence Frank and you have some exciting young players with you, Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe. Do you think there will be a new level of excitement with fans in Detroit if the lockout ends and you guys can come together this year?
AD: I hope so, that is all I want. I was able to watch the Lakers play Detroit in the Finals and how crazy that arena is. It’s nothing to where it was in the Finals, the Chauncey [Billups] an Ben [Wallace] years. There were games last year where there were two or three rows empty. I want to be a part of a team that can bring that Detroit basketball love back. I want to help Joe Dumars’ vision and Coach Frank – me, Brandon [Knight], Greg [Monroe], Charlie [Villanueva], BG [Ben Gordon] – we want to bring something back to the fans where even if we’re not winning every game, every game is competitive.