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Exit Interviews: JJ Hickson, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland

  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    The following are transcripts of exit interviews with JJ Hickson, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland from April 18th. You can read transcripts of other exit interviews with LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews by clicking here.


    Any indication we've seen the last of you?

    That's to be determined. You know, all I can do is control what I can control and that's play basketball. You know, let the front office and my agent handle that part of it.

    You want to come back?

    I definitely want to come back. This is my best season of my career. I think I've thrived in playing in this system and playing under Coach Stotts. You know, so why not come back?

    How much fun has it been for you?

    It's been a lot of fun. I think I developed mostly off the court. You know, just being in Portland, a town that's laid back, you get a lot of time to yourself so I think more than anything I grew outside the court.

    How high can you take your game?

    I think the sky's the limit still. I think I have a long way to go before I reach my ceiling. You know, that's why I'm so excited for the summer. It's a time period where I can get better, you know try to further my career.

    Any moments that stand out to you?

    Definitely the first game of the season, we beat the Lakers at the Rose Garden.  We definitely got the season started off right. We kind of took a slide towards the end but you know, other than that I feel like it was a great season for me individually and for us as a team.

    Would you rather have a role playing power forward rather than center?

    Of course. I know for a fact that everyone knows, who knows basketball, that's my natural position, is the power forward. This season I think sacrificed a lot by playing a five. Once again, I've got to thank Coach for giving me the opportunity to thrive in his system and to start and try to build something new with these group of guys.

    The four spot is solidified here, what does that say about you coming back here?

    Like I said, man, it's still to be determined. You never know what's going to happen when you go to the offseason, you know with different trades and things like that. Right now, I'm just sitting back, getting ready for the summer and let the cookies crumble where they may.

    Approach to free agency? Have teams wine and dine you or just wait for the phone call from your agent?

    I don't know. This is my first time in free agency so I'll sit down and talk with my agency and see what the best options are and we'll go from there.

    Defense, interior defense was a problem, what's your perspective as to why that was?

    Just a lack of communication as a team. I don't think it was anything individual, I think at times this season we had breakdowns it was because of communication type thing. It was never anything individual with one person on the team. So, I think our defense is a team thing, I think it should be kept as a team thing.

    Locker room and the environment, was it the one of the happier ones you've experienced?

    You know, definitely. This is a laid back type group. We have a lot of young guys, but for our team to be so young, we're really a laid back, tight knit type group.


    Glasses? Do they have lenses in them?

    Yes, I can't see without them.

    Exit interview?

    It was good. Obviously discussed offseason plans, what I'm going to be doing this summer.

    What are your plans?

    I'll be here, obviously to train throughout part of the summer, participate in Summer League and I'll definitely be going to (Tim) Grgurich camp.

    What do they want you to work on?

    Defending the paint. Blocking shots and rebounding. You know, just trying to be an anchor on defense and then just continue to improve my game defensively.

    How much room do you think you have to grow there physically, defensively?

    A lot. A lot of it is mental as well. Anticipating, being there at the right time. But, I can definitely learn and understand through film. Obviously playing this summer, how to guard better one-on-one in the post, how to get their quicker to block shots and such.

    Rookie season done, how does it feel now?

    It's been good. I've had my ups and downs, it's no doubt about that. I'm happy with where I'm at right now. I definitely have a lot of work ahead of me because I want to be really good. But I just have to learn from, I suppose you could say, my mistakes or my faults this year and try to come back next year even stronger and ready.

    Do you have to bulk up a little bit more?

    Possibly a little bit more. I'm definitely not going to bulk up too much more because I don't want to lose my athleticism, my ability to run. But, definitely get stronger.

    What are you at right now?

    About 250.

    Where would you like to be?

    Hopefully around 260. During the season you tend to fluctuate a little more and it's all about keeping weight on and still being healthy so, we'll see what happens.

    You think you can gain 10 pounds on before the season?

    Probably. But, if not that, 255. I mean, just depends kind of where they want me at, what the strength guys see me doing.

    Are you going to be working with anyone specifically this summer?

    I'm sure I'll work with Kim a lot but as well as the other coaches. It's important to get variety so, kind of change the pace of your workouts. Each one of them, obviously for big guys you're going to do some more things, but it's good to have someone different pushing you here and there throughout different days.

    Neil has talked about need for a rim protecting, rebounding center to add, when you hear that do you think why can't I be that guy?

    I do think I can be that guy. It's his job, it's what he has to do, but right now I'm on a five to six month mission to come in and be that guy. Hopefully I will be, it's my goal and I do think I can be that guy. I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me this offseason, this summer but it's something I'm willing to do.

    Surprised by the physicality and the speed of the game?

    I wouldn't say surprised, obviously this is a top-notch level of basketball. Guys are so athletic, bigger, faster, stronger than what I've ever seen in college. And quite frankly it was like I was a freshman coming out of college. I didn't play my freshman year much, then I really played a lot my sophomore year, decided to come out. In college I didn't have to guard one-on-one in the post other than Jared Sullinger. I didn't have to worry about getting three seconds in the paint. I could just stand there, so it's a lot different. Obviously now I've played against a lot of skilled guys, their stronger, faster, more athletic, it's just a lot different. I feel like I got used to it and hopefully next year I'll continue to grow on it.

    Who was the toughest guy you think you had to guard this year?

    Oh, wow, probably Marc Gasol. He's very, very skilled, can pass, can shoot, score in the post. And he's smart, knows how to use his body well, good footwork and plays the game the right way. So, I would say he's probably the toughest to guard.

    What's the greatest lesson you think you've learned?

    Don't get to high with the highs and down on the low parts of the season. Obviously I was a rookie so hopefully next year I'll be able to balance that and stay on more of a plateau. Everyone has ups and downs but I just need to come in more, I wouldn't say more focused, ready to step into a bigger role next year.

    Have you feel like you've grown personally? Coming out here as a 20-year old by yourself.

    A lot. Both on and off the court, night and day compared to whatever I came in. The off the court stuff, basically living by myself, have to take care of myself. And, on the court stuff, it's just a lot different than college, than what I was used to. Like I said, guys are bigger faster and stronger, the game is more unique, much more fast-paced, everything like that. It's night and day both on and off the court compared to where I was at when I came in.

    What has been a difference in college and the NBA, what are some things you've learned to be a better shot blocker?

    Well the 2.9 rule, the three-second rule in the paint. 2.9 is what we call it. You've got to cleanse yourself or get out. Often times this year I wouldn't find a guy to tag in the middle of the paint to cleanse myself and now I look back and I have Kevin Durant coming at the rim or I have Russell Westbrook attacking from the weak side, and those guys are super athletes. It makes it much more difficult obviously with timing and anticipation to get there and stop them. So, I just have to realize how much more athletic guys are, how much quicker I need to be there, just anticipate, which I learned this season. And, surely throughout parts of the summer, Summer League and beginning next year in the offseason throughout my career I'll understand and anticipate different teams we're playing, different guys, how fast they get to the rim, what their tendencies are and things like that.

    Do you think it helped being such a young team that you guys all had the same experiences together?

    In some ways. It's good to have a balance. I had Jared (Jeffries) at one end of the spectrum telling me, 'you know, I've been through this, continue to play hard, don't get down on yourself. You have a lot of athleticism,  you just have to continue to work.' Whereas Joel has played overseas but he's an NBA rookie, so for a big guy he's just 'Meyers, keep playing hard. You can do this.' And, obviously Damian and Will, I'm close to all those guys and it was good to have young guys around to understand that other people are experiencing this just like I am and to keep my head up and continue to move forward.

    You head into the offseason encouraged, discouraged?

    Encouraged, always. Obviously, the season, no one sitting here is an idiot. It's not the way we wanted to end. It was rough. We went through injuries, we went through tough losses. I was playing probably more than I ever anticipated and it kind of hit us with a whirlwind. But, we're past that now. That has nothing to do with next season, it has nothing to do with today or anything going forward. So, I just have to remain focused and excited about next year. That's what we're pushing for, we're pushing to be a playoff team, we want to be good. I think we all care about each other and we're buying into a system where we play for each other and we want to be good.

    Personal expectations for the next season or beyond that?

    I would say the only expectation for myself is to try to be a starter. I'm not going to put any stats out there or I'm not going to try and say I'm going to be a top defensive center in the league, nothing like that. Nothing like that is ever going to be accurate, sitting here today. I definitely need to work as hard as I possibly can, which I will, this summer, this offseason and come back stronger next year and ready to go.

    Favorite play of the year for you?

    Not necessarily. I think I had a few plays this year that I really enjoyed, a few dunks. Threes were, okay I suppose (laughs). In all seriousness, not really. I'm looking forward to next year.  


    How would you describe your rookie season?

    Tough. You know, I expected a lot more of myself but at the end of the day I had to obviously realize how much I had to learn about the game coming over here. And, adjusting to the style of basketball is completely different to anything I'm used to. I've been playing a certain way for seven years and that's not just something you can erase and change right away. I feel like I learned a lot and I feel like I took a lot of strides in my career and now I know what to expect going into next year. I can work on things I need to work on to get better, to get onto the court. I know what I got to do.

    Plans for the summer?

    I'm going to be working out, pretty much. I might take like a week off but I'm going to get back to work straight away. I'm going to be in Spain until Summer League rolls around. I'll come back here probably about a month before Summer League, work out and get ready for that.

    What do you think specifically you have to work on?

    I think we spoke about that before. I just feel, all in all it was the defensive factor was a big factor for me but I'm getting better at that. You know, I've spoken to the coach a lot and he's impressed with the stuff I've been doing especially in practice. I'm always in the gym working on it, asking questions, trying to get better, showing the will to get better. So, that's a big factor is the defensive side of things. And, offensively, just being more confident on the court. I think the more minutes I get on the court, the easier it's going to be for me. I felt really comfortable in the last two games, playing, and you know I had stretches where I'm playing in 10, 11, 12 minutes at a time and not coming off the court, so I had time to get a rhythm and really get a feel for the game.

    In those last few games, do you think you're that mobile big self that you want to be or did you feel like you were able to do that?

    Yeah, I played a lot in the post in the last two games. Most of my stuff, my buckets and everything came from playing in the post and that's what I've done my whole career. I've been, not purely a post player but been mainly in the post and then I can step out to knock down a shot every now and then. That's where I've been comfortable. That's been one of the biggest adjustments for me because most of the plays that we run and things for the four-man are for him to be spread. So, when you're spread, you have to learn how to cut off the ball, when to cut off the ball, spacing, and I've never really been in that position to be able to know how to do that. So, that was another adjustment but when I get into the post, that's where I've always played and where I feel comfortable.

    Confident that you'll be back next year?

    Who knows? It's a business at the end of the day. You know I'll be ready for anything. I'd love to be back, I love this organization, I love my teammates. I had a great year with no problems or anything but you never know what can happen, it's a long summer.

    National team duty?

    There is national team duty. I haven't actually spoken to them about it at the moment. It's in a few months time so I have to talk to them about that when it comes up.

    Will you play with the Trail Blazers Summer league team?


    Looking towards next year, are you looking at some of the adjustment stuff as things you've already gone through so it's not going to be that kind of adjustment?

    Yeah, now I know what to expect. I went through a lot this year and now I know what to expect. It's not going to be so much of shock coming into next season as it was this season. I've played in some games, I've taken steps forwards in learning what I need to learn. And, I feel like I'll be able to produce a lot better next year, definitely.

    Issue with the finger? Surgery?

    I could have surgery if I wanted to but I don't think I'm going to need it. They said it's going to heal with rest and hopefully with the time out we have at the moment, it should just get better.


    It's going to be fine, I've always had tendonitis and stuff like that but that's just rest. As soon as I rest it should be better.

    In Spain who do you work with?

    My agent sets up, I have some people over there that I work out with. But, my main work is going to be when I come back over here. He (his agent) has access to a lot of gyms and "physios" and stuff. We'll work on all my strength stuff over there but I have on old coach I used to work with. He used to be a coach over here but he's working in Spain for a long time now. He runs an academy over there  and he was actually the one that took me out of England and took me to Gran Canaries, so I'm going to work out with him in the summer. He has a lot of facilities and everything like that.

    Who will you be working with in Portland?

    I don't know, whoever's here! I'll be in Portland probably a month before Summer League starts so I'll be here either with Dale Osbourne or Kaleb (Canales) or whoever is here working out here.

    Tough first year but were you able to enjoy it?

    Yeah. Yeah, 100 percent, it opens up your eyes. Coming from the European game, even little things like traveling, staying in the hotels, over there it's completely different. Here, it's a luxury. You feel like you can't take advantage of other things, so yeah, I've really enjoyed it. I've enjoyed the game in general, learning the game again. You know, if I felt like I wasn't making any kind of progress I'd be really frustrated with myself but I feel like I'm learning every day and I feel like I'm getting better and people are telling me I'm getting better. It's a step forward.

    Difference between the relations you had in Spain and this season? Have you noticed a difference?

    Not really, it's about the same. You know, during the season you'll always have your ups and downs with the players in general. There's no real difference in the correlation between your players. You know, nothing really.

    Are you happy to not be next to Meyers every day?

    Yes, finally (jokingly). A little bit of a break.

    Tests last week with the physicals, did you see a lot of improvement?

    Yeah, they told me there was a lot of improvement. The motion tests and stuff like that, range of motion stuff, yeah. I've seen a lot of improvement in that. I've been working a lot in the weight room and my range of motion and preventing injuries and stuff like that throughout the whole year so I did see a big change.

    Do you have some goals physically for the summer, do you want to return here?

    I want to maintain at the moment. I actually lost like six or seven percent body fat this year. So I went down from like 13 to around about eight (We'll blame this on the metric system). I really want to be able to maintain, stay in the shape that I'm in. Put on a little more muscle, that'd be great.


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