Standing in at a shy 7-1, Joel “The Thrilla” Przybilla has emerged over the years as a grizzled veteran on a young team full of promise.
Always a hard worker but never a prolific scorer, Przybilla is known for his shot blocking and rebounding abilities – a combination that has allowed him to fill an important role with the Trail Blazers. This season, Przybilla has once again embraced his role, coming off the bench and contributing a consistent 20 minutes and 8 rebounds per game. Teamed with 21 year old Greg Oden, the two centers make for a fearsome duo in the Western Conference, standing tall among the best big-men in the game.
Casey Holdahl recently caught up with Joel to discuss his place on a team that has high hopes for the 2009-10 season.
You’ve one of the veterans on this team and have been around longer than just about anyone else on the roster. How have you seen this team come together?
JP: You can see it by our play on the floor. We’ve always had a close-knit team, everyone enjoys each other. This year, throughout the preseason and the first couple of games, we weren’t playing that well because we’re still trying to figure out our roles. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that know how to play and now we’re starting to realize this is what we have to do to win when coach calls upon me to get in the game. Everyone is starting to adjust real well.
You’ve transitioned from a starter to coming off the bench. How have you adjusted to that change?
JP: My role has always been to play defense, rebound, block shots. Any points from me are a bonus. My job is coming in and being a defensive prescience, and that never changes. Last year I was in and out of the starting lineup. Things can change. Right now I’m not starting but as the season goes on anything can happen. I’ve just got to be ready to play.
It’s a great luxury for Coach McMillan to have two starting-caliber centers.
JP: I think it’s big for us. Greg and myself, we’re more defensive centers. We protect and control the paint. We’re the anchors for the defense. Especially on this last road trip, the reason we won a lot of those games is because of our defense. The games weren’t shootouts. A lot of the games we held teams to under 90 points and in a lot of stretches the bigs on the defensive end set the tone. I think we’ve done a good job with that this year.
You’re tied for first in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes and eighth in rebounds per 48 minutes. What makes a player a good rebounder or a good shot blocker?
JP: I’ve been in this league for 10 years and for me, rebounding is hard work and determination. I’ve realized that I want the ball more than the opposing opponent or team, then I go out and get it. It’s like playing defense, the will to defend. Not everyone in this league can score but everyone in this league, I guarantee you, can play defense. But it’s the guys who want to play defense, who want to rebound, who want to take that charge, because it takes determination and will. It’s hard work when it comes down to it.
Shot blocking is a little different. Not everyone can block shots. For me, shot blocking is something I’ve always had a knack for. It’s just timing and studying the opposing teams. Knowing things like a player’s tendencies or plays that are run so you’re in the right spot at the right time. I’m not the biggest guy out there and I’m definitely not the quickest or highest jumper but I know how to be in the right place at the right time, and that makes a difference.
A lot of it has nothing to do with athletic ability. Like I said, defense comes down to effort. You may attempt to block a shot ten to fifteen times a game and you may only block one shot. That’s a lot of jumping effort and work to do that.
You’re a guy who never seems to shy away from confrontation on the court. Where does that mentality come from?
JP: I think intensity is part of the game. I’m very bullheaded sometimes, very stubborn. Sometimes I go against an opposing player who is the same way and isn’t going to back down. It’s like two sticks of dynamite.
I’m not going to back down from anyone. I may back down from people off the court, but when I step on the court I’m a different person. That’s just the way I am. I’ve always been like that. I just don’t want to be known as a soft player. That’s just not me. I’m not getting into it to be on Sportscenter. Trust me, I’d rather save my money and be quite and walk off the court with a win but if somebody is going at me or a teammate, that’s what gets me going. I see myself as one of the elders on the team and I want to protect my players. When you have a close group of guys and you’ve been around them so much and you enjoy them you don’t like seeing guys get picked on. You’re going to step up for them and have their backs.
Finally, word is you and your wife are expecting a new addition to the Przybilla family.
JP: I’ve been wanting a second child for a long time now. We’re expecting the first couple weeks in May, so we’ll be having it here in Portland. Don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but as long as it’s healthy. I love my son Anthony so much that I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to have another one. It’s exciting. My wife will be laying or sitting down and Anthony will go up and start talking to her belly. ‘Hello in there, this is Anthony.’ That’s what he says. He wants a sister. Mike Barrett has a daughter, Gabby, that Anthony knows, so he says ‘I want a little sister like Gabby.’ He says he’s going to take care of her.