On Tuesday, as two teams from India competed in the Jr. NBA World Championship at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, the squads had a recognizable fan sitting on their bench. Former All-Star center Brook Lopez was in attendance to root for the 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds, whom he had gotten to know during a recent visit to India.
During his trip in May, Lopez saw the country’s NBA Academy and watched these teams win the Jr. NBA India National Finals to qualify for this week’s Jr. NBA World Championship. When Lopez learned that this tournament was in Orlando, where he owns a home, he put together a luncheon for his friends from India. On Monday, Team India’s players and coaches visited his home, where Lopez signed autographs and spoke to the kids.
This has been a busy offseason for Lopez, who signed with the Milwaukee Bucks last month after weighing his free-agency options. In one of the biggest bargain deals of the offseason, the Bucks added Lopez – a starting center who will add another dimension to their offense – on a one-year deal worth $3,382,000.
HoopsHype caught up with Lopez to discuss his bond with Team India’s players, his decision to join the Bucks, his offseason workouts and more.
You’re the most skilled offensive center that the Milwaukee Bucks have had in quite some time. With talented teammates like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe among others, how much will that open things up for you and make your job easier?
Brook Lopez: I definitely think it’s going to be a symbiotic relationship all around. I think we have such a variety of talent, including many talented young players, and I think that’s going to make things easier for everyone. I think we’ll definitely be making noise in the East.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA and he just looks unstoppable at times. How excited are you to play with him?
BL: I’m thrilled. He is without question one of the best players in the league and the best player in the East. I mean, it’s going to be so thrilling to be on the court with him [and not going up against him]. The most amazing thing about Giannis is, as great of a player he is, he’s an even better teammate. You see him out there with the guys and you look at the kind of leader he’s grown into, it’s really a special thing. It’s unique.
I was so impressed with the way you developed your three-point shot in recent years. After making just three shots from long range in your first eight NBA seasons, you’ve made 246 threes over the last two years while shooting nearly 35 percent from deep. You made it look easy, but how tough was it behind-the-scenes and how did you build up the confidence to start shooting threes in games?
BL: It was just a lot of reps in the offseason, honestly. I was getting in the gym every single day and getting shots up. I also have to attribute some of that success to head coach Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn because he really gave me the confidence to just go out there and shoot it.
Right before that season in Brooklyn when I really started shooting a lot of threes, Coach Atkinson told me, “Just keep shooting.” Regardless of whether I was missing every three-pointer I attempted or making every three-pointer I attempted in games, he kept telling me, “Just keep shooting.” He made it clear that they needed me out there shooting and spacing the floor, so he instilled a lot of confidence in me and just gave me the opportunity to go out there and [add that to my game]. I’m very thankful he allowed me to do that.
Milwaukee struggled last year with shooting, ranking 27th in the league in three-pointers made per game. Now, with you and Ersan Ilyasova joining the team, those numbers should improve a bit. How much will improved shooting and better spacing help this team?
BL: I think it’s going to be fantastic. Obviously, Ersan is someone who can shoot the lights out. We both know that [shooting threes] is definitely going to be one of our roles with this team. A lot of the time in Coach [Mike] Budenholzer’s system, it’s paramount that the floor is spaced and he runs a lot of 5-out [offense].
It’s going to open things up for a lot of people, especially the guys like Giannis, who is just going to be deadly with that much spacing around him, and Eric, who likes to penetrate, get in the paint and make plays for himself and others.
When you were going through your options this summer, what made you ultimately choose the Bucks in free agency?
BL: I just tried to evaluate all of the different options that I had. When I was looking at Milwaukee, they were just such a young, hungry team that’s right on the cusp. They have continued to improve every year and I think the sky is the limit for this team. I think we’re going to grow a lot together this year and become a very formidable team.
With LeBron James heading West, a lot of East teams feel like the conference is wide open. Do you agree with that, and how good can this Bucks team be if you guys play to your full potential?
BL: Absolutely, we feel like that. We definitely think the East is wide open. It’s going to be such a fun, exciting time in the East and it’s going to be super competitive. There are a lot of teams that can do [big] things, from Toronto to Boston to Philly – you just go down the list and it’s clear that the East is as exciting as it’s been in a long time. I think we’re very confident that we can, no question, win the East.
After LeBron joined the Lakers, there were some reports saying you would likely re-sign with Los Angeles. Why did you ultimately decide to leave the Lakers?
BL: That was just the way things worked out. Now, I’m definitely happy to be in Milwaukee because I think we have a great opportunity to do something special as a team.
I know you’ve bonded with the kids from Team India ever since you visited the country in May. What was it like having the players over to your house this week and what are you trying to teach them?
BL: It was a great experience! I was so happy to see them again. There are so many familiar faces in this group because I met many of them when I was over there in May. I just wanted to show them a little bit of hospitality after they took such great care of me when I was out in their amazing country.
What areas of your game are you working to improve this offseason?
BL: I’m just trying to continue to improve every aspect of my game. I want to continue to be a better defender. I want to be more of a facilitator offensively, for sure. I really want to mold myself into a player that will fit super well in Coach Bud’s system and just try to be really coachable, so I can do what he needs me to do.
Are you excited to be closer to your brother? (Robin Lopez, Brook’s twin, plays about an hour and a half away from Milwaukee in Chicago).
BL: Absolutely not. That may be the one negative thing about this move. (laughs)