On Monday morning, I caught up with former Portland Trail Blazers forward Shavlik Randolph, who is currently playing for the Dongguan New Century Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association.
There's a decent chance you missed this story during the lockout, but Randolph has had an amazing odyssey since he last played for the Blazers during the 2009-2010 season. He went to 2010 training camp with LeBron James and the Miami Heat at an Air Force base, he rehabilitated with Blazers center Greg Oden in Vail, CO, and he was playing professionally in Puerto Rico when former lottery pick Robert "Tractor" Traylor, who was also playing there, died suddenly.
Randolph signed to play in China during the lockout and is currently averaging 24.2 points and 12.0 rebounds, top-10 league-wide in both categories, for Dongguan, the CBA's third place team in the standings.
In this interview, Randolph took questions about: life and basketball in China, why J.R. Smith and his family keep getting into fights with the Chinese crowds, how big is Stephon Marbury over there, and why American players are in such a bind with their no opt-out contracts. Randolph, like other Americans playing in the CBA, won't be eligible for clearance to return to the NBA until his team is eliminated from the playoffs, which could extend all the way through March.
"I'm going to be at the mercy of circumstances when I get back," Randolph admitted. "I understand beggars can't be choosers. I'm not going to be someone who is going to sit there and be picky... I'm somebody absolutely willing to accept any role. Rebounder, defender, opportunistic scorer."
This trip to China was Randolph's first major life experience outside the United States, and his insights and perspective are very interesting. The CBA allows each team to sign two foreign players, or three foreign players if you finished near the bottom of the standings the previous year. Randolph is joined on the team by fellow import Josh Akognon, who played his college ball at Washington State, and 13 Chinese players. The local Chinese media has referred to him as "White Randolph."
"Tell everybody in Portland that I said, 'What's up and I miss them,'" he said, before getting on with his evening. Randolph will forever be a Blazersedge Legend.
Click through for the full interview transcript.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter
What's up? How's China?
I got here at the beginning of September so I've been here for about four months. For someone who has lived in America his whole life, I think you would have to be out here for a couple of years to really adjust to the culture. It's really different.
It's really been a good experience as far as basketball. The basketball has been invaluable. This league has gotten a lot of press this year with so many [NBA] guys having coming out here. It's really good basketball being played out here. As far as our team, our team has done a lot better than people were predicting before the season started. Right now we're in the hunt. We're in the hunt with everything. I think we're in third place right now. It's a competitive league, a lot of really good teams, a lot of really good players, I'm looking forward to seeing how it finishes.
You said your goals going in were to keep testing your hip after the surgery and to get a bunch of game minutes under your belt. Fair to say missions accomplished?
Absolutely. Before I signed with the team, I went and met the coach. The coach is an American guy, he's actually an unbelievable coach. He's the all-time leading, most wins in Australia history. He's coached the Australian national team. He's an unbelievable coach, I've really enjoyed playing for him. I think I'm playing at 32 or 33 minutes a game.
Our other import on the team, we have a fantastic guard named Josh Akognon. A lot of people back in the States might not be too familiar with him. In my opinion I think he's going to play in the NBA. He's an NBA-caliber point guard. Me and him are kind of, depending on who's hot, either one of us will be the No. 1 option.
It's everything I set out to do when I made the decision to sign over here during the lockout. I've gotten to play, I've gotten to play against great competition and I definitely feel I've done the things necessary for me to get better and for me to come back a more complete player.
Have you had a moment where you regretted the decision to sign in China or had second thoughts?
From an emotional standpoint, my girlfriend came and helped me move out here, and she was out here for a couple weeks, and then when she left and I was out here by myself, for the first couple days I was like, man... this is tough. That was really tough for me to be out here by myself for the first week. Once I started getting used to things, the point guard I play with and the coach is awesome.
When the lockout lifted initially and I saw guys signing with teams, seeing guys getting contracts, kind of saying to myself, 'That could have been me if I waited.' I try not to have any regrets, I feel like God put me here for a reason. Initially it's kind of hard to see your peers back playing, and you want to be there. That's what the goal is. I look to myself and look to my teammates to put myself into this season and what's going on over here.
I don't regret it at all. It was a decision I made, I feel like I made the right one. Being able to play has gotten me to be a lot better and I think I'm going to benefit from it in the long run.
Exactly when will you be NBA-eligible?
That's tough to answer, to give you a specific date because the team I play for is in the playoff race. We are one of the better teams in the league. The playoffs start February 22 and the last possible game, the championship is at the end of March, so it's hard to tell what could happen. I could be available anywhere from the beginning of March to the end of March. I'm hoping that we can go as far as possible in the playoffs, and I'll come back at the end of March but you never know. I would say some time in March, I would be available.
J.R. Smith, his girlfriend and his sister seem to be going at it with Chinese fans in the stands every week. It's been the biggest story coming out of China here in the USA. Are the incidents a big deal over there in China?
It's really not that big of a story over here. They really do a good job of concentrating on the basketball [in the media]. We played them both times, there was never an incident, nothing happened but I could see how something could happen.
When he plays, they play very physical with him. They get away with a lot of fouls on him. The other teams are told to have a player that tries to play physical with him and rough him up. Sometimes he doesn't get calls. He's sitting there playing against double teams and triple teams the whole game. I think his family is just protective and they don't like to see players play that physical with him. He's over here scoring 35 or 40 points a game and when someone is in the game specifically to try to play hard against you or foul you.
I'm sure if my family was in the game watching and someone was fouling me like that or playing hard against me like that, they wouldn't like it too much either.
Are you dealing with that type of intentional fouling too?
As the season goes on and you're putting up good numbers and you have a good team, a lot of times a team will try to put just a big husky guy on me to take hard fouls on me to try to put me at the free throw line, try to scare me away from finish around the basket. It definitely happens. If you're one of the top scorers in the league, teams are going to do that to you.
I heard you had to step in and break up a fight between your teammate and Stephon Marbury?
When we were playing his team, Stephon got into it with our point guard Josh. I had to step in between them. Our point guard got ejected. They were really close to going at it. The thing is they are actually friends. They have a friendship off the court. The game got so heated, they started jawing back and forth, and it escalated into a physical confrontation.
We were going out there, it was a great game. Beijing, the team he plays for is currently second, and we're currently in third place, it was a big game. They were just jawing back and forth. I can't remember what happened, I turned around and they were in each other's face and I tried to step in to make sure nothing got out of hand.
What's your read on Marbury in China? Is he the same guy just older? Is he nuts?
Let me tell you something, I'm not sure exactly how old he is, but if he's lost a step I certainly cannot tell. He's out here playing a very high level of basketball and he's having a great season this year. I've seen him play -- I've played against him 100 times when I was with the Sixers and we were in the same division as them, we played against them a lot -- he's still got it. He's still a great player.
He's huge out here. With his shoes. I think this is his third year out here, the fans love him out here and he does really, really well.
Is he getting mobbed in public? That level of fame?
He's the most recognizable player. Even with all the guys that have come over. He's been over here. He's the ambassador for the league. He's been over here, this is his third season, he's got his Starbury shoes which are a hit out here, the fans love him.
I heard you had a run-in with some drunk fans who were looking for a fight after a game. What happened?
It was an import from another team. It was Josh Powell. I don't think he'd have a problem [if I talked about it]. It wasn't that big of an issue.
We had gone out to dinner after we played his team. To be honest, I don't really know what happened but we were walking in the hotel lobby, it was probably around midnight, and there were probably six or seven really drunk Chinese men, and they just started trying to pick a fight. Obviously there's a language barrier, you can't understand what they're saying.
They started trying to get physical to the point -- I tried to get away from it. It almost escalated into a very bad situation. Eventually security came in and we were able to get up to Josh's room and get away from it. It was just drunk guys in the lobby and I don't know if if it was because we were Americans, they didn't understand what we were saying or they were trying to impress the girls they were with, but it was a little bit threatening at the time. You're not going to do anything. We're not going to fight anybody.
Has security been a regular concern?
Thus far, that incident was the exception. That was probably the only time I feared for my safety a little bit. From my experience, the Chinese people couldn't have been nicer, couldn't have been more accepting. Like I said, you can't speak one word to them. That's one of the hardest things being out here. The language barrier, not being able to communicate. The language is so different, it's not even like [English] words [at all]. Their language is so different, it's not like Spanish where you can make out some stuff that they say, it's just so different.
The fans out here are passionate about basketball. They love basketball. They love the players on their team. They show out well for the games, even road games. It's been a good experience but I'd prefer to be back in the States and I'm looking forward to getting back but the Chinese people have been great.
What have you been doing during the downtime?
To be honest, it's a lot like the NBA schedule. We play three games a week. With that many games, you're playing a lot of minutes, not practicing that long. The city I live in is probably an hour outside of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an unbelievable city. I've gotten to make a lot of trips down to Hong Kong, take a car from the hotel I stay at. Hong Kong is very Americanized, a lot of people speak English, that's been great.
I'm staying at a really nice, Americanized hotel. I need my room service and dry cleaning, I don't know what I'd do without it.
The shopping out here is unbelievable. The city that I live in is one of the biggest manufacturing hubs in the world. You could get anything you could ever think of out here. The malls out here are just unbelievable. Man, anything you can think of. Clothing, electronics, watches, jewelry, anything. Anything you can think of. Usually you get it out here cheaper than you pay for it in the States.
I'm definitely coming back with a bag of stuff. I'm just hoping I don't run into any problems at customs.
So the league rule is two imports per team and everyone else on the roster is Chinese, right?
A lot of other teams, most of the other teams have players that are on the Chinese National Team. We're one of the only teams if not the only team that doesn't have a player on the Chinese National Team. That's one of the reasons why we weren't picked to finish well. That's why I've been so satisfied and happy with the season we've had. Every team is allowed two imports. The teams that finish in the bottom-4 from last season are allowed three imports.
China kind of has a reputation for not being as strong of a league as Spain or Russia or something like that. Because they think the domestic talent in Russia is better in China. That may be the case but as far as the imports and the foreign players, every night, you're going out and playing against Kenyon Martin, Josh Powell, Josh Boone, Will McDonald, guys that have an NBA pedigree, had they waited around for the lockout, they would be in the NBA and given the opportunity, could contribute to the NBA. The guards out here, it's really, really been some good basketball being played.
As far as the playoffs, your team is in third place, Marbury's team is second, who is in first place?
The first place team is kind of like the Lakers of the league. They're called Guanddong. They have Aaron Brooks and James Singleton and they're easily the best team in the league. They have about five or six guys from the Chinese national teams. They have the best, by far, Chinese talent. They're the best team and they've won it like the past six years or something ridiculous like that. They're really good.
How does the playoff series format work?
We actually only have three regular season games left. Assuming nothing crazy happens and we're in the playoffs, it's a best of five series. There's three rounds, eight teams in the playoffs. They've really tried to model things over here after the NBA.
Have you heard any guys who are going to specific teams?
I've heard the Knicks and the Lakers with J.R. [Smith]. With Wilson [Chandler], I've heard Denver. I heard he's probably going to sign back with Denver. Aaron [Brooks], I heard he's probably going to return back with the Suns but I'm not really sure about that. As far as the other guys, I haven't really spoken in depth with them about it. A lot of the other guys are in similar situations with me, waiting and when they get back they'll see what teams need at that time and decide who they end up signing with.
How has contact from NBA teams played out since the end of the lockout?
As soon as the lockout lifted, there was a lot of communication with a number of teams. As soon as they realized I signed in China, there was no communication after that. Everyone, as has been well publicized, anyone that signed over here is going to be here for the whole season.
I'm not a guy like Wilson or J.R. or Aaron Brooks who is going to have a multi-year deal on the table when he gets back. But teams know that I'm over here and there's no point in talking. As March gets closer, my agent has had some really good talks with a number of teams and we're pretty optimistic about my opportunities when I get back whenever that may be. I'm going to be at the mercy of circumstances when I get back because I'm not going to be able to give a date when I get back. It's like, 'Let's see where we are, what we need," when I get back in town and take it from there.
What do you mean by circumstances exactly?
There's so much stuff going on right now. There are a lot of teams looking to sign bigs. There are guys ahead of me in the pecking order. I understand that. [Joel] Przybilla is coming back. Kenyon [Martin] just signed. I know there is a number of guys. I'm just going to wait my turn and stay ready. Stay prepared. I'm very optimistic that I'll get an opportunity.
Are there specific teams that are more interested in you than others?
I can't really go into the specifics of the teams but there are definitely some teams that are more interested than others and that are more realistic for me than other teams. With me, it's being at the mercy of circumstance. It's where that team stands currently with their roster. Has someone gotten injured?
What's your pitch to NBA teams?
I understand beggars can't be choosers. I'm not going to be someone who is going to sit there and be picky. Anyone who would want me, I'm somebody absolutely willing to accept any role. Rebounder, defender, opportunistic scorer. Hopefully when I get back, I'll get a good opportunity with a number of the teams we've been talking to. If nothing happens when I get back, I'm very optimistic when free agency starts in July that I'll be in a good situation.
What's been the biggest development in your game recently?
The main thing for me is getting back to being able to play athletically, having an element of being able to play above the rim, which has been hard for me the last few years. I've been limited because of the injuries and trying to play through that hip pain. That's been one thing.
I've really developed my shooting, my jump shooting, there's one point this season where I was shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line, that's just attributed to a lot of repetitions and being able to shoot in a game situation. It's a lot different getting up shots by yourself as opposed to being in a game situation and being able to shoot with a hand in your face under game pressure. That's something I've gotten better at.
Will you head back home to North Carolina first after the season?
I'm going to go back to North Carolina or Tampa, those will be the places I'll be working out. I'll be taking a little time off. It's a grind out here. I'll just keep myself in shape. Keep myself ready.
I'd even consider going back down and playing in Puerto Rico to keep myself in game shape while I wait to see happens with teams and who I could sign with just to continue to play games and not get out of that game shape.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter