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Ebanks, Caracter & Johnson: 2010-11 Exit Interviews

Lakers second round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, along with late-season acquisition Trey Johnson, went through their respective exit interviews on Tuesday afternoon.

Ebanks appeared in 20 games to average 3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds before hurting his foot in February; Caracter saw some early-season minutes with Andrew Bynum recovering from injury, averaging 5.2 minutes per game towards 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds; Johnson joined the team prior to the final regular season game, playing 13 minutes to score six points against Sacramento.

Below is a summary of their exit interviews:

On the stress fracture of his left tibia: I actually have a couple more weeks left to keep rehabbing and resting it, and we’ll get another MRI and see where we’ll take it from there. Hopefully then I can start summer work outs and get ready.” Ebanks suffered a set back in his initial rehab, as he was originally supposed to be out about three weeks from March 4.

- Among the things GM Mitch Kupchak would like Ebanks to improve upon is his shooting, as if he were able to improve significantly from the perimeter, he’d have a better chance of playing at the 2 or 3 in the NBA. They’d also like him to get stronger, and particularly like his athletic ability.

- On what he learned from Phil Jackson: “Just mind preparation, the things you have to know on and off the court. It’s crazy. It’s much more in depth than college was. He just taught me about the game and how to play it.”

- Among several interesting stories on this Lakers team was that Ebanks happened to grow up just a few blocks away from both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom in Queens. “It was a good experience especially my first year looking up to those guys. They definitely looked out for me the whole year, and (hopefully) for years to come.”

- Ebanks pointed out how beneficial it was for him to speak with Kobe Bryant, especially early in the season, about offense and where he likes to score within the offense. On defense, he spent the most time talking to Ron Artest, whom Ebanks said looked out the most for him and Caracter during games.

Ebanks on being fellow rookies with Derrick Caracter on a veteran team: “It was great. Just being great teammates for our vets out there. We’re about to be sophomores next year, and ready to play.”

- What he got out of his meeting: “Basically that I just need to work, stay in shape, be ready. Just some fine tuning, being confident out there, being myself, playing my game. With the amount of weight that I lost, playing with this new body.” Caracter dropped between 30 and 40 pounds from college, getting down to about 280 pounds, and wants to continue to eat healthy, boost up his cardio, and perhaps start some boxing and ballet to work on his flexibility. He said he wished he could have made a bigger impact.

- What he took out of his rookie season: “Just knowing what it takes to come in day in and day out and work hard, be able to perform at the same time … There’s a lot of things I felt I could have done a lot better. Just being prepared earlier in the season when I had those early opportunities, but that’s just something I have to get better at, locking in mentally and being able to perform like I know I can.” Among the things he’d like to do better: finish strong at the rim.

- On learning from Phil Jackson: “Just what it takes to be a champion, really. Everything he does, gets the team ready, is just one of a kind. I’ve never seen it, and the way he does it is amazing. A lot of things that we may think or want to say, sometimes he just says it. It benefits most of the guys on the team, and allows a player to develop.”

- Finally, Caracter said he expects to have to earn his way back onto the team by showing he’s improved his body and his game; he beat Ebanks more often in 1-on-1 contests; and he cited Derek Fisher’s in-game leadership and Lamar Odom’s key role in keeping the players loose.

- Reflecting on the sudden end to the season: The experience for me personally was definitely a blessing and well worth it, but of course you would have liked to end on a higher note. To start here in the preseason and come back, it was bittersweet the way it ended.

- Johnson said Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson said they were appreciative of what he brought to the team this year when called upon late, but was given no indication of whether he’ll have a chance to make the team for next season. Nonetheless, he felt that for the two-time defending champs to say “We can use him” legitimized Johnson to other teams. He’s looking for a commitment to be a full member of a team, as has been his dream and goal.

- On what he learned basketball wise: “Oh a lot. The preparation level is tremendous, especially dealing with Phil. I really, really enjoyed the way he prepares, not just himself but the entire staff and the players for a game. That’s something I’ll probably take with me for the rest of my playing career, and my coaching career. I’d love to get into coaching after basketball, and I like the approach to the game.” Johnson would love to play for another 10 years if he can, before getting into coaching.

- Perhaps the biggest thing Johnson wants to work on is to become a more consistent three-point shooter.

- The highlight of Johnson’s time with the Lakers was having his family drive over to both New Orleans and Dallas from their home in Jackson, MS, in the playoffs to see him in person. “My family got a chance to share this with me, and I think that was great for them. It really brought us together in a sense, of being able to enjoy something that I’ve always dreamed of, so I think that’s probably what I remember the most.”

Injury Update: Derrick Caracter’s Ankle is OK

UCLA Health SystemRookie backup center Derrick Caracter suffered a minor ankle injury after colliding with Kobe Bryant in the second quarter of L.A.’s 87-86 win over the Clippers on Tuesday, and did not return to the contest.

Caracter, however, said after the game that his ankle is “fine,” reporting that he would be able to play on Friday against the Bulls if Phil Jackson calls his number.

L.A.’s front line was so thin in the second half against the Clips that small forwards Ron Artest and Matt Barnes each saw extended time at power forward, with Artest shining in his defense of Blake Griffin.

Center Andrew Bynum (knee) is expected to play at some point of the road trip, while fellow big man Theo Ratliff remains a few weeks a knee while recovering from minor knee surgery.

Rookies in London

101002_rookies_in_londonLakers rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks hanging out along the River Thames in Canary Wharf, London.

NY/NJ Hoops in L.A.

blog_100928artestcaracterThe Lakers have become significantly less of an international team by personnel since the departures of Vladimir Radmanovic (Serbia), DJ Mbenga (Congo) and Sun Yue (China) from the 2008-09 training camp roster, leaving only Pau Gasol (Spain) and Sasha Vujacic (Slovenia) left in 2010-11.

But if you’re looking for a roster full of New York – New Jersey metropolitan area hoopers, it’s not the Knicks or Nets, but the Los Angeles Lakers that carry the day.

In fact, three Lakers – Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Devin Ebanks – are all from the same borough of New York City (Queens), and have known one another for years. Odom and Artest played on the same AAU team as teenagers, while Ebanks grew up so close to Artest’s Queensbridge project that Artest knew of him by the time he was 10 years old.

But that’s just New York.

Over in New Jersey, Derrick Caracter (Fanwood, N.J.) and Andrew Bynum (Metuchen, N.J.) grew up in towns that are both about 30 miles away from NYC, and just nine miles away from one another.

The five East Coasters have now spent four days of training camp together, and after Tuesday morning’s practice, Caracter, Ebanks and Artest stayed after to play a brand of 1-on-1 basketball that might have been confused with Australian Rules Football or a WWF undercard.

“That’s inner city ball, man,” said Caracter. “Coming from the New York, New Jersey metropolitan area street ball, you gotta be physical out there. It’s just that mentality of attack, attack, attack on both ends of the floor.”

Kobe Bryant, a Philadelphia native (about 70 miles south of Metuchen), could be included in the mix as well, though Caracter offered some clarifications, or at least generalizations, about the differences between East Coast city styles.

“In New York you have the tight handle, New Jersey it’s all-around hoops with some handlers and some shooters, and Philly has more drivers,” he explained. “Philly players know how to get to the paint and create even if they don’t have the best handle.”

Add a taste of California (Luke Walton, Matt Barnes), Florida (Steve Blake) and the South (Derek Fisher, Theo Ratliff) with the NY/NJ and international crews, and you have a championship caliber NBA team.

Lakers Rookies Getting a Jump Start

Lakers second round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter have been a constant, collective presence at the team’s practice facility since Labor Day, serving the dual purpose of learning Phil Jackson’s system and getting physically ready for training camp.

Assistant coach Jim Cleamons was at the team’s facility on Friday continuing the off-season triangle offense instruction started in July by fellow assistant Chuck Person (pictured below), while strengh and conditioning chief Chip Schaefer continued to put the rooks through off-court drills and excercises.

After a Friday morning session, Ebanks and Caracter joined us to discuss their first impressions of the organization, their days as AAU teammates, Tupac vs. Biggy and more:

102618713GE385_Summer_LeagueMT: Let’s start with your respective first impressions of the Lakers having now been here for a little while working out:
Devin Ebanks: That everyone is a hard worker. Seeing Kobe in here every day early, for example, makes me want to work even harder. You know he’s put in a lot of work (already) in his career and to see him still doing that is (motivating).
Derrick Caracter: Same thing. With the vets, seeing guys like Kobe, Theo Ratliff and Derek Fisher … (Fisher) was out here yesterday working, looking like he was 17. Just seeing how the veterans take care of their bodies, and how guys who have been in the league for 14 years still going at that pace makes you as a rookie feel like you can’t take any days off, and that you have to bring the same amount of energy if not more.

MT: After the draft, GM Mitch Kupchak said that the two of you would join the Lakers Summer League team in Las Vegas, and then likely be invited to training camp. No contracts were signed at the time, and thus a roster spot wasn’t guaranteed. But clearly Kupchak and his staff liked how you both played in Vegas and what they saw in the weeks after, as both of you officially signed contracts in early August. Your thoughts at the time?
Ebanks: It was a great feeling, a dream come true really. Having a chance to be on the best team in the league is exciting, and I’m happy everybody on the staff thought that DC (Caracter) and I were suitable to play for the Lakers.
Caracter: As far as the whole draft process was concerned, I just kept my faith strong, and although I may have slipped a little bit,* you can’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter now, and I think everything happens for a reason. I feel to 58, but I fell to the back-to-back champions.
*Caracter was taken with the 58th overall pick, Ebanks the 43rd.

61032342MT: As I understand it, you guys have been playing with or against each other since way back in the New York City surrounding area AAU circuit…
Ebanks: It’s been great coming in here with someone that I go back to high school days. We played on the same AAU team, and (when we were on opposing teams) I’d always see him in different tournaments around New York and New Jersey. Like he said, everything happens for a reason, and it’s a great feeling to have someone you grew up playing with come into the NBA with you.
Caracter: Yeah I’m from Jersey, but I played with Devin on the New York Panthers team. I also played at Riverside, and so did he, but I was gone from there by the time he got to Riverside. The AAU circuit is so tight, especially when it’s New York and New Jersey, especially for me because I was from New Jersey but on New York teams. I had gone from being a Nike kid to an Adidas kid, and a Long Island team was Adidas while the Nike team was Riverside.

MT: Yeah, I was a Nike guy. Not really. Anyways, being East Coast guys, what’s your initial take on L.A.?
Ebanks: It’s cool. It’s not like New York is in terms of hustle and bustle. It seems more laid back. But I haven’t gotten to do much yet, I’ve been pretty much just working out and playing basketball. Once I get acclimated, I’ll be interested to see what L.A. has to offer.
Caracter: I’ve been out a few times, checked out some improv, a little comedy show. I didn’t get on stage though … (the comedian) tried to crack some jokes on me but I just kept quiet. I’ve never really been a crazy West Coast guy, but L.A.’s cool. I’m going to enjoy myself and get adjusted to any place I go to, but I never want to forget that I’m here for one reason.

tupac-und-biggieMT: Speaking of East Coast – West Coast, we can transition easily over to hip hop. My first rap album in the mid 1990′s was Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me.” Tupac is from East Harlem, but also lived in Baltimore before later in high school moving to California…
Caracter: Tupac came out to the West Coast and people started claiming that he was a West Coast dude, but he’s from the East Coast. No matter what, I’m a Tupac guy. He’s my favorite.
Ebanks: I’m a Biggy man myself. No disrespect to Tupac, I just like Biggy more, I thought he was a better rapper.
Caracter: I used to have fights over that. ‘Pac was flowing too. Biggy was more smooth and cool (in his style), but I feel that numbers don’t lie. ‘Pac dropped how many albums vs. the two Big put out. I’m not saying Big wasn’t a great rapper, but it shows that ‘Pac was constantly in that booth. Acutally, the new Bun B album that just came out in 2010, ‘Pac has a verse on that album.

MT: Really? I remember Bun B from UGK (Underground Kingz), and the guest verse on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’”. What other artists do you listen to?
(Both): Lil’ Wayne, Drake, J. Cole, Young Jeezy, Common…
Caracter: Some old school R&B and classic soul too, and Jack Johnson.
Ebanks: DC has more of the old man in him, more of the soul. I’m more hip-hop.

MT: Derrick’s a big Lady Gaga fan too, right Devin?
Ebanks: (laughs)
Caracter: Nah, nah … (reconsiders) … actually I was on Lady Gaga for a little bit, but once everyone hopped on it too much, I wasn’t on it as much.

MT: Hey she’s pretty good … I saw Ron Artest at her first concert at Nokia Theatre across from STAPLES Center.
How about TV?

Ebanks: Just Sportscenter, if I’m watching TV it’s on ESPN.
MT: No “Mad Men,” “Friday Night Lights” or “True Blood,” Andrew Bynum’s favorite show?
Caracter: I don’t really watch TV. Once they came out with that NBA housewives show, I do not turn the TV on. Instead I read books and listen to music.

MT: Such as?
Caracter: I just read “Peaks and Valleys” by Spencer Johnson (M.D.). I also just got Phil Jackson’s book, “The Last Season,” from my agent.
Ebanks: Not really any reading for me.

MT: What do you (Ebanks) do in your free time besides listen to music?
Ebanks: I’ve been on Twitter a lot (@DevinEbanks3), you could call me a Twitterhead. I’ll be on my computer doing other things, but that’s about it.

MT: OK. Who’s stronger?
Ebanks: DC.
Caracter: (nods).
MT: Physically stronger, sure, but who wins in a fight?
Caracter: (laughs). We’d never fight, of course, and I’m not hating, but, I’ve got these hands…
Ebanks: I’m a lover, not a fighter. He can have it.
Caracter: I will say that skinny dudes can hit hard. I have a lot of friends at home like that, they have more bone and they connect, that can hurt.

MT: Nice. I’m not being unfair to say we can choose Ebanks in a foot race though, right?
Caracter: Well … I mean we can try it. I’m sure he’d get me, but he has to prove it.
Ebanks: (laughs)

MT: Better shooter?
Ebanks: I’m gonna have to take that rap for that one.
Caracter: He does shoot more jumpers than me.

MT: That’s OK, (Caracter has) the low post game. Finally, who’s funnier?
Ebanks: This dude right here. For real.
Caracter: (laughs)

Rookie Caracter Switches Jersey Numbers

Second round pick Derrick Caracter had originally planned on wearing No. 58 for the Lakers, perhaps signifying his original draft position.

It’s a good thing those jerseys were yet to be printed, however, because last week, Caracter decided that he’ll sport No. 45 instead.

Though Caracter would have become the first Laker to wear No. 58, he’ll only be the third to sport No. 45, following A.C. Green and Sean Rooks.

Fellow second round pick Devin Ebanks, the 43rd selection, will wear No. 3.