With wife by his side, Hawks’ Kent Bazemore still standing, ready for new challenge | NBA

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Kent Bazemore’s life flashed before his eyes on July 8. It was a moment of joy that ended up being cathartic. He saw every triumph and every setback in mind’s eye. He was reminded of every slight. The memories of a season that didn’t live up to expectations were there. So was the road he traveled.

The moment when Samantha Serpe walked down the aisle to marry Bazemore, he reminisced on his growth as a man. Bazemore went through every scenario of his life. He mentally traversed the good times and the bad.

As his bride approached the altar, the Hawks small forward knew everything was worth it.

“I nearly lost it when she was walking down with her father,” Bazemore said. “She’s someone who’s been there. We started dating in the summer of my rookie season. She was there through my injury in L.A. Then moving to Atlanta. She didn’t have a job, she trusted me and came. We made it through a lot of storms.

“I said to myself that ‘I’m still standing. We’re still standing. I made it.’”

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Overcoming the odds is a reccurring theme in Bazemore’s life. He was a redshirt in his freshman year at Old Dominion University. By the time he left, Bazemore was one of the top players in the CAA conference. However, it wasn’t enough to get drafted in the NBA. Bazemore believes at least part of that was self-inflicted.

“I struggled my senior year. I broke my foot and got a DUI in a week’s time,” Bazemore said. “I was instantly off the draft boards. It was an uphill climb all year. It was rough. I didn’t play well in Portsmouth Invitational. I wasn’t sure what would happen. ”

In spite of Bazemore’s struggles, he caught the eye of several NBA scouts, and that led to a contract with the Warriors. Current Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk was working with Warriors and remembered seeing Bazemore for the first time.

“It was at the Colonial tournament in Richmond,” Schlenk said. “It was his sophomore year. I saw his length and range. His ability to handle the ball and make plays for his teammates. I knew he had something.”

Bazemore spent two years with Golden State from 2012-14. He famously helped influence Stephen Curry to sign with Under Armour. He was traded the Lakers and ended up suffering another foot injury that preemptively ended his season.

“It was tough, and my wife was there through it all,” Bazemore said. “We went through a lot as she was trying to be there for me and I was dealing with a lot of things.”

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Last season brought a different kind of adversity for Bazemore. Yes, he had a long-term contract with a nice signing bonus. Now he had to earn it. However, it would be difficult with more eyes on him and be battling a set of injuries.

It started with a right knee injury, then the parts around the knee began to fail.

“You wake up and you’ve got an ailment or some pain. And you have a certain number of hours before a game to kind of erase it and feel good,” Bazemore said. “It’s hard. You show up super early. You do all this stuff to get ready. All of the sudden it’s time for the jump ball and it’s still there and it just wears on you.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer noticed the difference.

“It’s good to see him healthy to start camp this season,” Budenholzer said. “I think us staying on top of his health. Us staying on top of where he is with his minutes is major. We expect him to have a great year. He’s worked on his shot. He’s worked hard on his decision-making. He’s now one of our longest tenured guys and we need his leadership.

“He was laboring last year, but he always showed up. He is s true professional and that’s what we need.”

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Bazemore’s game thrives on athleticism and activity. He wasn’t able to be that guy last season, and the numbers show it. He had the second-lowest shooting percentage of his career (40.9 percent) in 2016-17, and compared to the 2015-16 season, he shot 80 less attempts within five feet of the basket. He wasn’t attacking the paint, as he took nearly 100 less shots in the restricted area alone.

Bazemore hopes that a healthy start will allow him to flourish and find his former self in addition to becoming a better playmaker.

“It’s a tough task to stay in front of me. I think I will use that to my advantage this year,” Bazemore said. “I want to get some easy shots for my teammates. That’s been my focus these first few days of training camp is making plays. I haven’t quite focused on my own scoring yet. I know I will have to do that. But right now, it’s making plays, reading defenses and focusing on that.”

It will be a different Hawks team from when Bazemore came in 2014. Only he and Dennis Schroder remain from the 60-win squad that went to the Eastern Conference finals. Both were contributors off the bench and now will be thrust into major roles.

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Bazemore is no longer the guy waving the towel or the guy next to the man. He will be a major cog. He will be someone the young Hawks will seek for guidance. Taurean Prince is in his second season. He didn’t play much until the home stretch, and he made his name in the playoffs, nearly doubling his points per game from the regular season (5.7 to 11.2) in six postseason games. The Hawks were more than five points per 100 possessions better with Prince on the floor vs. off as a result.

Prince credits Bazemore’s leadership as the reason behind his success.

“He’s taught me so much on how to be a pro,” Prince said. “It’s a certain way you carry yourself on and off the court. Taking care of your body. It’s knowing you more eyes and you. We are seen different and we have a responsibility.”

Bazemore comes into the new season refreshed physically and mentally. From a physical perspective, he learned more about his body.

“I turned my focus on my body and started reading a lot of books. I have a unique body,” Bazemore said. “I’m 6-5, super long and very, very rigid. It’s different from a lot of guys. Understanding how I feel, what hurts where and why it hurts. How it works and how to heal it is what I spent my summer on.

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Mentally, it came from a combination of talks with Samantha, marriage counseling and a throwback journey.

“I started by going to my old high school gym,” Bazemore said. “It really reminded me of how far I came. When you get to NBA everybody does everything for you and it is easy to forget where you came from. The therapy was helpful in so many ways. I went through a lot and I took it home. My wife put up with a lot. It was interesting having an unbiased person in the room.

“It allowed me to see things from her angle and my wife to see mine. It was mind-blowing. I needed to grow up. I’m still growing, she’s still growing and we’re growing together.”

The Hawks and Bazemore hope the off-court maturity translates during the season.

“Going through marriage counseling thought me a lot of healthy coping mechanisms,” Bazemore said. “In life, every day won’t be good. It’s the same in sports. I used to let the bad games get to me. I’ve learned better ways to deal with tough times.

“I’ve always survived, but now I have more skills to manage when times get rough.”



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