Cross posted from SportsHubLA.com (www.sportshubla.com):
Hey. This is Brian Kamenetzky, with the LA Times and ESPN The Magazine. My brother Andrew and I have helped start a new LA sports website, SportsHubLA.com. We provide news and original content on all of LA's teams, including UCLA football and hoops. Below is an interview with former Bruin Arron Afflalo. Hope you enjoy it. Brian
By Andrew Kamenetzky... As far as basketball products go, you can't get more "Los Angeles" than Arron Afflalo. Born at UCLA Medical Center. A star at Compton Centennial High School, where he was a senior leader of the school's first Division III CA State title. An All-American at UCLA, where he helped take the Bruins to Final Fours in 2006 and 2007, including the championship game in `06. Now a rookie with the Detroit Pistons, Affalo finally writes a chapter of his basketball life outside of L.A. But his roots still remain in the Southland, meaning November 17th's game against the Lakers marked a special time in his hoops life, as his first professional outing in his hometown. I talked with Afflalo before and after the game about his thoughts on UCLA, Ben Howland and life as a NBA rook.
Andrew Kamenetzky: You were part of two very strong UCLA teams that just happened to run up against some bad luck and timing with those back-to-back Florida Gator squads. Did it almost feel like being on Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns team or the Stockton-Malone Jazz teams that had the misfortune of running into Michael Jordan's peak?
Arron Afflalo: Yeah. Like you said, it was all about timing. Florida was very good. They had a lot of great players, but what made special was that they were all friends and they played together and knew how to win. That's something that was a little insurmountable for us, but it doesn't take away from what we did the past two years. UCLA is back to the top and I guess (helping get us there) was my calling card. Maybe they'll get over the hill this year.
AK: When you look back on being a part of a final four and a championship round team, how do you regard that time at UCLA?
AA: Man, it was a lot of fun. To be here at home and do something special like that for a special university that has so much tradition made it very worthwhile. I've built some great relationships along the way and it's truly one of the best times of my life.
AK: When you watch the team now, what are your impressions of them?
AA: Same old. Just hard working. You never know what the talent level is gonna once you're a team, but that team is gonna work. They're gonna work hard. They got a great preparation coach (Ben Howland) and they're gonna do well again.
AK: If you had to pinpoint what, if anything, could stand in their way of winning a championship this year, what would it be?
AA: Just themselves. Focus. The ability to focus for forty minutes in important games and especially the tournament. And play together. If they play together, I think they should be fine.
AK: What are your impressions of Kevin Love so far?
AA: I've known Kevin for a while. He's good. He's a very cerebral player and he uses that to his advantage, along with his body. He just knows how to play the game.
AK: How much of an advantage is it for a team to have a big that's so cerebral, how knows how to move the ball around and pass out of the post?
AA: It makes the guard's job on both ends a little easier to know you have a smart defensive player behind you and to also know you can trust your big man. All those guys, they've really grown a lot and matured and for a freshman, he'll fit right in.
AK: Have you been keeping in touch with guys like Darren Collison? Giving them advice, cheering them on?
AA: Yeah. I went up to school (on Thursday) and said hi to those guys. Just real briefly. They're all working hard. They're all focused. They've been there the past two years. Especially guys like Darren, that's all he knows. You expect another big year from him and for him to lead the team.
AK: If they did win a title this year, is there any bittersweet element to it for you, because of how close you got?
AA: Oh, no. I'd be just as happy as if I was on the team. I'm part of their family. I'm part of the program. I'm part of the history. That's all that matters."
AK: Is it presumptuous of me to think that you still might get a little extra pleasure winning an NBA title against a team with either Joakim Noah, Al Horford or Corey Brewer on it?
AA: Not really. Those guys aren't together anymore and are with a brand new group of guys. It's different. It's a whole new level here. I'm just enjoying every moment. I love to win, regardless of what level it's at.
AK: (Joking) What if they happened to end up on the same team together and you beat them for a title?
AA: No. I don't know. Those days are gone and I enjoyed them. I learned a lot of life's lessons from them and they hopefully made me a better player and a better individual.
AK: You tested the waters a bit after your sophomore season, put your name out there to possibly enter the 2006 draft, then withdrew. What made you decide to stay one more season at UCLA?
AA: It was mostly my competitive spirit, man. I wanted to compete. I was hungry to be at the highest level, but I wasn't gonna just jump right in, you know. That test run that I took my sophomore year was for me to feel it out a little bit, to see where I stood. And to also get some positive feedback and some negative feedback that I could work on and improve on. I just tried to use that to my advantage.
AK: What were some of the specifics that you heard you needed to work on the most?
AA: Just a little bit of everything. I really take pride in trying to be a complete player on both ends of the floor. It's just another year to mature and get better in all areas.
AK: Did you feel like the extra year at UCLA accomplished what you wanted, in terms of improving?
AA: A little bit. Every year, you're gonna improve. You're gonna learn a little bit. You're gonna go through experiences that make you better. So if I was back for my senior year, I probably would have been a little bit better. But it was just time. And everything worked for the best for both programs.
AK: Twenty-six guys were taken before Detroit ended up selecting you. Are you getting nervous as the draft keeps going and your name hasn't been called?
AA: Not really. It's not really in your hands anymore. I went through mini-workouts and I ended up on the best team possible.
AK: Did you have any inkling that the Pistons were interested in you?
AA: At the time I didn't, because I hadn't worked out for them. But right after the draft and realizing the type of team I was coming to, it made perfect sense. The things they value, their pride in winning, in being a winning organization. It's what I'm all about. Joe D is the best. I couldn't ask for a better GM or a better person to want to play for or work hard for.
AK: Having not worked out for them, when you heard your name, were you kind of like, "Detroit? Really?"
AA: Yeah, a little bit. But I was just happy. It's been a dream of mine to get to this level, regardless of what team I had been on. But I was even more happy that I was coming here.
AK: You played for a very defensive minded coach in Ben Howland at UCLA. How did he prepare you for coming to a team like the Pistons, that also like to grind down opponents?
AA: He's just a preparation coach. He keeps us into the game. He lets us know what needs to be done to win. And it starts on the defensive end.
(After the game, a 103-91 Lakers win where Afflalo played 11 minutes and scored four points)
AK: How was it for you tonight playing in front a hometown crowd?
AA: It was fun. It was fun. I wanted to win, though. I'm not all that happy right now. Outside of that, though, I had a good time.
AK: Was this something you'd looked forward to for a long time, playing your first professional game in the city where you grew up?
AA: Yeah. It's all that I imagined. The crowd was great. It was a good game, for the most part. Like I said, I love to be out there competing. I'm hungry to win.
AK: Your former Bruins teammate Jordan Farmar had a huge game for the Lakers. As a friend, is there even a little part of you that's cheering for him as you're watching.
AA: No. Not at all. Not at all. I'm happy for him now, but not at the time.
AK: During Jordan's rookie season last year, did you talk with him at all about what he was going through? Try to gain any insight?
AA: Not so much, because it was his first year and UCLA, we were going through our thing. Once our season ended, I talked with him a little bit in the offseason about how everything went. But I kind of let him do his thing during the year.
AK: Did he give you any heads up on what to look for, what you'll need to adjust towards?
AA: Not really, because he's still learning himself, so I think it's something that, we're only a year apart in our entry into the NBA, so I think we're gonna grow and learn together.
Andrew Kamenetzky hosts Lakers Blog and Blue Notes: A Dodgers Blog for LATimes.com. In addition to his work with the Times, he is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com and EXPN.com, and co-authored Fishing on the Edge, the autobiography of B.A.S.S. fishing bad boy Mike Iaconelli.