NEW YORK, N.Y. — D’Angelo Russell arrived at Dyckman Park on a Wednesday night with new teammates Isaiah Whitehead and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It was his first dose of New York street basketball – a packed, rowdy city crowd ready to watch hoops under the lights on the paved blacktop courts.
Fans in the stands heckled Russell and said anything they could to get under his skin. He recalls people yelling, “Go back to where you came from!”
Russell didn’t let it bother him. He entered with a chip on his shoulder and he played a gritty game of basketball, winning the game on a last second shot. And then the fans swarmed him as he tried to point to his left arm, where no doubt there was ice in his veins.
And that’s the mentality he wants the Nets to have as they enter the season. He wants to put R-E-S-P-E-C-T back in Brooklyn ball.
“I want teams to hate us,” Russell said at the Nets Inaugural Basketball Camp at Battery Park City. “We’ve struggled over the last few years in Brooklyn. Teams are used to coming in and taking nights off. I just want to rebuild that and make it a place where people come and say, ‘alright we got the crowd against us. It’s New York.’”
Russell is coming off two years of ridicule in Los Angeles, 43 wins, two different coaches. On his way out, new GM Magic Johnson had some choice words for the 21-year-old. But now, he’s in Brooklyn, with a chip, with an edge. He feels it can be the M.O. of this Brooklyn Nets team.
“I feel like everyone’s confident around here. Individually speaking I know I’m coming in with an edge. Allen Crabbe – I know he’s coming in with an edge. DeMarre Carroll’s coming in with an edge. I feel like we’re a confident team and we’re looking forward to doing what we do best.”
He won’t commit to playoffs just yet. He used the term “confident” to describe Jeremy Lin’s call for the playoffs. He also won’t commit to being the “face” of the franchise, as deemed by many. Russell has already bought into the “team-first” mentality that Kenny Atkinson has preached.
“It goes back to the chip on my shoulder. I wouldn’t say, ‘it’s D’Angelo’s team’ or anything like that, but I feel like it’s up for everybody to make their imprint as a team. Me coming in with a chip on my shoulder, A.C. [Allen Crabbe] coming in with a chip on his shoulder, I feel like we’re going to blend together and we’re going to be a great team. As long as we’re making strides that’s all I could really ask for.”
The hunger, the edge… the chip on their shoulder? He’s talking about the coaching staff too. Russell has said nothing but nice things about Atkinson since joining the team. When asked about adjusting to the system, he went right into how much he’s looking forward to playing under Atkinson. This is, after all, his third coach in three years. Don’t expect Atkinson or Russell to be going anywhere any time soon.
“Once we start playing I think I’ll have a better clue on it [the system]. But I’m excited. Excited to play with coach – a player’s coach that has credibility. He’s coming from a lot of different situations and different teams that have been successful.”
For Russell and the Nets to be successful they need to build chemistry. Russell, along with three other key players on this roster, are new. The average age of the team is 24.8. D’Angelo Russell is 21-years-old, second youngest of the 18 players on the roster. It’s crucial for these guys to get along on and off the court in order to establish a source of cohesiveness that Brooklyn’s culture craves so much. It helps push one another to be the best they can be.
“I would say hanging out with somebody different all the time. Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] I try to see what he’s doing after practice. Same with Caris [LeVert], Isaiah [Whitehead]. I try to sprinkle in and spend time with everybody after practice and find something to do.”
Not long ago, Whitehead posted a picture of himself and Russell at halfcourt at a New York Liberty game. It was captioned, “Since junior high.” It seems like the two are hitting it off and have been for a while. D’Angelo had nothing but great things to say about his new teammate.
“He’s a New York native and he’s been running the city forever, so for him to get drafted by the team from his hometown, I give him nothing but double salutes. I’ve been playing against him and with him forever. McDonald’s All-American, high school games. Elite 24 – whatever it was we always found a way to be on the court at the same time.”
Whitehead was the anchor to DLo’s drama at Dyckman. He dropped 33 points and had Russell’s back. It’s little things that will help the Nets as a young team looking to make teams "hate them" or at least hate playing against them.
For the Nets and Russell, they can only hope that night at Dyckman is a foreshadowing of what’s to come. People hated the Nets group at first, then loved them by the end. He wants to put the league, not just the Lakers, on notice.
“Everybody is circled on my calendar," he said. Everybody.”
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