At 19 years old, Shaw Kemp was the youngest rookie in his draft class. There was no question the young fella’ had a lot of talent and potential, but drafting someone practically out of high school was still a huge risk. Seattle was ready to take that risk at no.17.
There are many basketball questions when drafting a 19-year-old, but one of the main concerns is adapting to the NBA life. You start earning six figures long before you understand the responsibilities ahead of you – that can be a dangerous combination. The Sonics were convinced there was enough veteran leadership to lead young Mr. Kemp down the right path.
Unlike nowadays, rookies didn’t get a lot of minutes on the court even if they were the future of the franchise. Out of 81 games Kemp played in his rookie season, he started only one. Kemp averaged 13.8 minutes and 5.2 FGA per game. Back then, you make a mistake or two, and that’s it; your ass is on the bench.
Mentally it’s tough. The thing about it is, you play your whole life. Then you make it to the pros, and you’re not playing; you’re almost a cheerleader at times. But you motivate yourself, the only way you’re going to get on the court is to better yourself. That comes through practice, through repetitions.Shawn Kemp, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Sounds obvious, but the catch is in staying motivated. Some guys have that inner drive and motor to work their ass off every day to maybe play 5-6 meaningful minutes. Kemp was one of those guys, but even he needed a veteran to guide him through the grind. You need to learn how to practice.
I was very fortunate to play with a group of guys who saw a young kid come in, and they wanted this young kid to succeed. It could’ve been just the opposite where these guys like Xavier McDaniels, Derrick McKey, Nate McMillan; a lot of these guys that groomed me, they could’ve turned their shoulder on me.Shawn Kemp, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Kemp pointed out they stuck with him through the good, the bad, and the immature times (he stressed this one the most) and helped him become a Sonics legend. What Kemp didn’t say, and his mentors probably would, is that it takes two to tango. Kemp wanted to be mentored. He loved to grind, spend countless hours in the gym, and learn.
As a young player, it’s a good thing to go through because you learn so fast. At that age, I learned so fast because I was a friend of film. That right there was motivation for me.Shawn Kemp, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
We can’t understate the cultural differences between 1990 and 2020. Kids these days want to make it over night. If you grew up in the 80s, making it fast was counted in years, not months. That’s Shawn Kemp’s message to all the young prospects out there.
Work hard, listen to your veterans and above all, be patient.