It was a sunny and bitter Monday afternoon in the middle of January, but the gym within Cleveland Clinic Courts felt like it could have been the middle of the summer. Balmy, warm and full of running – at least by those that could physically endure such an exercise.
The Cavaliers were taking part in their first practice since returning from a borderline humiliating five-game road trip that saw the team lose by an average of 26 points per game and come home with just seven of 15 players healthy. While those that could take on a full practice were playing five-on-five with coaches as stand-ins, veteran forward Antawn Jamison was practicing a few shooting drills off to the side as he was given the day off for some much-needed mental and physical recuperation.
“I was ready to go,” said Jamison with just a hint of sweat on his forehead. ”That’s one thing about Coach [Scott]: He’s been there before and knows the mileage that I have. He just wants to make sure that I’m fresh and ready to play.”
With teammates dropping like flies, Jamison was forced to play an average of 36 minutes over the course of the five-game trip, including 41 minutes in a tough loss to the Phoenix Suns. Now 34-years old, Jamison is asked to make up for a lack of not just healthy bodies, but ones that can produce night in and night out as Scott has been forced to start several undrafted rookies for the bulk of 2011.
But you won’t hear Jamison complaining. Granted, the season started off on a bit of a rough patch as the veteran was asked to take on a reserve role and battled a knee injury. But with all of that behind him, Jamison has embraced the role of veteran leader that leads by example, making sure that the younger players learn from every game, even if the last 48 minutes resulted in a loss.
“It’s our job,” said Jamison. “You have to do it.
“The most important thing is to continue to work, try to get better and get a win.”
Though the final scores do not necessarily reflect it, Jamison feels that the younger players on the Cavaliers are learning from the recent turn of events. While many want to tout this Cavaliers organization as one that has been among the best over the past seven seasons, it is now an organization that is giving integral playing time to players under the age of 23.
Sitting at 8-32 on the season, and owning an injury report longer than most grocery lists, Christian Eyenga, Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, JJ Hickson and Ramon Sessions combine for six years of NBA experience.
“I have a responsibility with these younger guys looking [up to] me,” said Jamison. “I have to stay positive and continue to lead by example – that’s what I’m going to continue to do. To say that it’s not tough mentally is an understatement, but you have to keep plugging away. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
Jamison states that his goal is to have these younger players look back on their career and remember how he handled these tougher times. He feels that his work ethic and overall positive demeanor is rubbing off as younger players are starting to show up early to practice and gameday shootarounds, looking to work hard and use this season as a learning experience rather than one that could lead others down the wrong career path.
Earning some sympathy from the fans due to the situation which landed him in Cleveland, Jamison says that he is perfectly happy where he is at this stage of his career. Would he like to win more often or have a chance at a championship? Of course. But in the end, the veteran forward knows that he has been blessed to have a career last this long and will use this year to have a lasting impact on those that will follow in his size-16 footsteps.
“I enjoy my life,” said Jamison. “If these are the only problems I have to deal with in my life, I’ll take it. There are a lot of people less fortunate than I am and this is my job. This is my passion, my love, and I enjoy what I do. Even though it’s tough right now, I still enjoy being sore. I still enjoy competing.”
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)