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Thursday, April 25, 2024

LeBron James standard for NBA prospects

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CHICAGO—Brandon Miller was a little more than three weeks from being born when LeBron James made his National Basketball Association (NBA) debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.

Two decades later, James is still near the top of the league Miller is about to enter.

“Twenty years is a lot of years. I’m 20, myself. I feel old,” Miller said in jest.

Prospects who gathered in Chicago this week for the NBA draft combine still see James as the gold standard, 20 years after he made the jump from St. Mary-St. Vincent High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

They see a player who entered the league when they were in diapers—or not even born—still going strong at age 38. He has a chance to cap a season in which he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s scoring king by being crowned champion for the fifth time, with the Lakers facing the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.

They see the results of the work he puts in to keep himself in top condition, the contributions he makes away from the court as well as on it. And they take notes.

“I feel like as long as I’m taking care of my body—and that’s the biggest thing that LeBron has done,” Scoot Henderson said. “He made a name for himself off the court as well…. Everybody knows LeBron because of how dominant he is as a player. But as a person, he’s powerful. I see that a lot in myself. I think I can be on that level of greatness.”

Widely projected along with Miller as a top-three pick behind Victor Wembanyama, Henderson is well aware of the opportunities that await him.

He has formed a partnership with Stephen Curry that is helping him build his own business brand and giving him access to shooting coaches and a training team. As role models go, the Golden State Warriors star is obviously a good one.

Henderson said he has tried to cut fried foods from his diet, eat more fruit and get plenty of rest, particularly as he goes through the draft process. He’s been active in the community, holding Thanksgiving food drives, and plans to keep that up. Though he’s working with Curry, he’s also following a similar example set by James.

Miller, coming off the most productive season by an Alabama freshman, envisions himself playing in 20 years. That’s because he is dedicating himself to staying in top condition.

“I think I will still be in the league,” Miller said. “I think the biggest thing with LeBron, he takes care of his body. That’s the biggest thing with being in the NBA—the body. It plays a big part of the career you build in the league.”

Gonzaga star Drew Timme grew up near Dallas rooting for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. But in his mind, James is “the GOAT.”

“That’s a testament to the amount he pours into his own body,” said Timme, whose earliest memories of him are with Miami. “To play for 20 years in the league is crazy. Not many people get to say they’ve done that. I’m sure he adds so much into himself in terms of the proper nutrition, strength and conditioning.”

But to Timme, James’s example extends beyond that.

“He’s a good family man,” he said. “He makes sure his family is good. I feel like I’m pretty family-oriented as well. My family’s pretty strong like his.”

UConn star Adama Sanogo said the NBA hopefuls all can “definitely learn from” James when it comes to conditioning and nutrition. But they can also follow his example in the community.

Sanogo wants to open a school in his hometown of Bamako, Mali, just as James did for at-risk children in Akron. He said many of his friends growing up didn’t have a chance to get an education.

“To go to school in Africa, you have to pay for it,” he said. “Some of my friends had to work to help their family. They were like 10, 11, 12. They had to work to help their family. They played no sports. They couldn’t play basketball, they couldn’t play soccer, because they had a job to do.”

Image credits: AP

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