Jodie Valade of the Plain Dealer caught up with Portland Trail Blazers forward/center J.J. Hickson on Saturday night in Cleveland, where he spent the first three seasons of his career after being a first-round pick in 2008.
"It gave me chills to kind of walk into this building again," Hickson said. "This is where it all started for me."
Hickson received a warm ovation from the crowd when he was announced as the Trail Blazers starting center. The role of playing in the middle is something the 6-foot-9 player resisted when playing for Cleveland and Cavaliers coach Byron Scott.
Scott can see the difference in the player he once had to prod into better play -- and not just in Hickson's double-double average.
"He's matured," Scott said. "He's doing the things he's capable of doing -- rebounding, running the floor. When he has a shot, he's taking it, and taking it with confidence. I don't think he's putting a whole lot of stock into trying to score every time he gets the ball, trying to be that offensive juggernaut that he thought he was. I think he's playing within himself and I think he's doing a heck of a job."
Valade did a brief question-and-answer with Hickson too.
Q: Did you learn any secrets from Anderson Varejao on rebounding when you played with him in Cleveland?
A: Not only him, but guys like Ben Wallace and Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas). Those guys weren't that athletic. It's not all about technique, it's who wants it most. That's what I learned about from Andy. It's nothing about technique. It's all about heart and desire.
Q: You had a kind of up-and-down relationship with Cavaliers coach Byron Scott when you played for him 2010-11. What's your relationship like with him now?
A: It was kind of hot and cold, like you said, but I thought we ended on a great note. We didn't have the season we wanted, but I played hard for Byron and I think he definitely appreciated it.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter