HoopsHype.com Interviews

Dick Van Arsdale: "We need some help on this team"
by Steven Koek / June 17, 2002

Tell me about the pre-draft camp in Chicago. What did you hope to get out of it?

Dick Van Arsdale: It’s like a refresher course to see the guys you’ve seen over the past two or three years, maybe a few you haven’t seen. You get a better idea to see how they compete against each other, how they shoot the ball. They run them through a lot of different drills, and then have games. The only disappointing thing is a lot of the first round players don’t show up anymore, so that’s a little bit of a problem. But it still gives us an idea, a chance to see players we don’t know that much about. There are probably ten representatives from every NBA team, so it’s an NBA convention. I think it’s beneficial.

Anybody jump out at you this year?

DVA: Usually, you’ll see a player or two you think really helped themselves in the draft and moved up. I didn’t see a lot of that this time. One player who helped himself a little bit in my mind, although I’m not sure he’s a first-round pick, is Ryan Humphrey from Notre Dame, who played so hard and has such a passion for the game that you have to notice him. I don’t think there were any other major surprises in Chicago.

The ping-pong balls didn’t drop the Suns way this time, but if you had the No.1 pick would you choose Yao Ming? Jay Williams? Someone else?

DVA: That’s really a tough question. I think it would be really tough to pass on Williams because he’s a great kid. I think he’s made for the pro game even though a lot of people don’t describe him as a true point guard, he’s a basketball player and it would be really hard to pass on Jay Williams. He’s a smart player, great attitude, strong, can go to the basket. It would be tough to make that decision, although with Jake Tsakalidis here, we still need to give him some time and see how he’ll develop.

The Houston Rockets seem to be leaning toward selecting Ming.

DVA: Unless they’re just putting up a smokescreen, you never know. Teams play games with what they tell the media and what they want to tell other teams. It sure looks like they’re going after Ming, but we’ll find out a little bit later.

How would you rate the talent overall in this year’s draft? Is it a good year to have two first-round picks?

DVA: I think it’s a pretty good year. I don’t think there are any Tim Duncan’s or Shaquille O’Neal’s out there, but I think it’s a good year, has a little bit of depth to it, and I know from our standpoint if we stay at nine and 22, we think we’ll get a very good player at nine and think we’ll also get a player who could make the team at 22. I think when you go into the draft, if you’re not optimistic, not looking forward to it, something’s wrong with you, you’ve got to be positive. And we need some help on this team.

You said “if” you stay at nine and 22. A deal is still possible then?

DVA: You never know. I know Bryan Colangelo does most of the talking other teams in regards to trades. I say every year, there’s a lot of conversation, usually not too much happens, but you have to be ready.

The Suns have brought in a lot of guys this year to work out. How has that been going?

DVA: I enjoy it, it’s been a lot of fun. I think we’ll bring in a total of 40-45 guys, which is a lot for us. Jared Jeffries played well, Juan Dixon from Maryland. We’ve had a lot of good players in here. Casey Jacobsen from Stanford. The thing that’s impressed me this year is that most of these kids, I call them kids, seem like they’re pretty good kids, and I’ve been impressed by that.

When you get to draft day, is it as simple as “this is the guy we want, if he’s not available, we’ll take this guy”?

DVA: It should be but it’s not. We have a list of players rated how we would draft them, and as they’re picked before us we just cross them out. Now, theoretically when you get down to the ninth pick, whoever is left on your board you take, but that is subject to change. The guy who will put the final stamp of approval on it for us is Jerry Colangelo. It does hold pretty true to form.

When you get to the 22nd pick, is it just the proverbial “best athlete available” or do your positioning needs still apply?

DVA: Let’s say we get down to 22 and the next player on our list is a guard and we’ve already picked a guard, and we want a forward. 22 could switch depending on what we get at nine. I know I’m being real evasive, but it could be best athlete or it could be by position, depending on what happens at nine.

The major differences in the players available for the draft are the early-entry underclassmen and high school players, as well as the increasing number of foreign players. How has that changed the look of the draft?

DVA: A great deal because we have to scout the high school players now, not a lot of them but we have to know who the best ones are, there may be four or five guys you have to consider. Plus you have to consider all the classes now in college. It makes it more difficult. I think the biggest difference is the influx of the European players, how much better they’ve become in the last five to six years. How many more of them there are, as you saw in the playoffs this year. They’re fundamentally sound, they shoot the ball better than most of the players in the United States. I think the European influence has changed the game as much or more than the underclassmen you have to look at.

Obviously Kobe Bryant is the exception, but what do you think about the kids forgoing college eligibility to enter the NBA draft?

DVA: I don’t like it. I’ve always said it, I’ll never change my mind. Kobe had a different background than most of the kids coming out today. He lived in Europe, he spoke several languages, and I think he was more mature culturally, mentally. Education is so important to too many of these kids who try to enter the draft after high school or one year of college… (if they) don’t make it, then (they) don’t have anything to fall back on. I think it’s a travesty. I’d like to see something done where kids had to wait a little bit longer before they entered the draft.

What can this Suns team take from last season into this next year?

DVA: It was a very tough year. We had been in the playoffs the last 13 years, so it shows you can’t rest on your laurels. I don’t know what the players learned, but I think we learned we have to just keep trying to get quality players in here with a lot of character who have the right attitude and want to win basketball games. Part of my job is to fill the holes and gaps that this team has right now. We learned last year we just weren’t good enough with that team. We have to try to improve and get better players.

You were Mr. Basketball of the state of Indiana, you were playing in the New York for the Knicks when the Suns selected you first in the 1967 NBA expansion draft. What was that like?

DVA: I was very disappointed. (laughs) I liked New York, my wife liked New York. I think I was disappointed because I was surprised. I didn’t think I would be taken in the expansion draft. The first thought was “where’s Arizona?”, we had never been here before. After about six months, I fell in love with it. It couldn’t have been a better move for me, but I missed out on two world championships in New York. I think about that, not a lot, but I dwell on it occasionally. But I couldn’t be happier, in the long run, to be here.

Steven Koek is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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