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First one in the gym, last one to leave

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Golden State Warriors guard Kent Bazemore speaks to campers last week at Foothill College. He just completed his rookie season.

The seemingly endless amount of energy Kent Bazemore exuded during his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors – whether he was on the court or on the bench – was on full display last week in Los Altos Hills.

Speaking in front of 137 youngsters attending the Warriors Basketball Camp at Foothill College, Bazemore couldn’t stand still as he told them about his rise from small-town kid to pro basketball player.

As he paced inside the large semicircle formed by an army of attentive campers, the 6-foot-5 guard explained how he made the NBA as an unheralded rookie last year and what it will take to remain in the league.

“First one in the gym and last one to leave. It sounds cliché, but that’s what you’ve got to do,” said Bazemore, wearing a long-sleeved Warriors T-shirt, gray sweatpants and bright-yellow high-top sneakers. “You’ve got to work hard.”

Bazemore was up at 4:45 a.m. that day, he told the campers, making sure to get in an extensive workout at the team’s practice facility before heading to Foothill.

There are few days off for an undrafted player like Bazemore, entering the final year of his partially guaranteed contract.

In an interview after the June 25 appearance, Bazemore told the Town Crier he started his offseason training two weeks after the Warriors were eliminated from the NBA playoffs in mid-May. He works with Warriors staff members daily on his shooting (“I’m extending my range”), ball handling and his specialty – defense.

“I’m working on closeouts and how to defend certain players,” said Bazemore, named the nation’s top defensive player as a senior at Old Dominion University.

Despite his defensive prowess, Bazemore was ignored on draft day a year ago. He told the campers that a DUI arrest and foot injury between his junior and senior seasons didn’t help him.

But Bazemore got a chance to show what he could do in the Las Vegas Summer League, playing well enough to earn a deal with the Warriors. Although he didn’t play much as a rookie – bouncing back and forth from the Warriors and their NBA Development League team in Santa Cruz – Bazemore suited up for the playoffs.

“It was kind of like I went from two totally different extremes,” he said. “I went from not getting drafted to our team having a great chance to play for an NBA championship. It was a great ride.”

Bazemore logged 17 minutes in the playoffs, and his lone basket was nearly the most important of the Warriors’ second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. He gave Golden State a one-point lead on a reverse layup with 3.9 seconds left in double overtime, only to see the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili drain a jumper two seconds later to win the series opener.

“That was a tough way to lose,” said Bazemore, whose team fell to the Spurs in six games.

That may have been the biggest bucket of Bazemore’s pro career, yet he’s probably still better known for his sideline celebrations. His animated antics – which include kneeling while pointing an arm to the sky with three fingers extended and the other two forming a “0” – have been dubbed “Bazemoring.” It may not rival “Tebowing” – or even “Kaepernicking” – but Bazemore’s enthusiastic support of his teammates is more popular than he ever could have envisioned.

“I just want to bring energy – whether I’m on the floor or on the bench – and be that spark for the guys,” Bazemore said. “I would have never thought in a million years that the ‘Bazemoring’ thing would be what it is. It’s kind of a big deal in the Bay Area. You take a picture with a fan and they want you to do it. It’s crazy.”

Bazemore isn’t one to shy away from fans – especially youngsters like those he met at Foothill.

“It’s probably the most underrated part of the game – the influence you have on young kids,” he said. “It’s crazy, because growing up, you idolize players and do the stuff they do, and then to actually have someone (idolize you), it’s gratifying.”

Bazemore has come a long way since his days as a youth in Kelford, N.C., which he pointed out has only twice as many people as last week’s sold-out camp drew.

But Bazemore isn’t ready to proclaim that he’s made it. He recalled being ranked 499th out of 500 players by ESPN at the start of last season – something that’s motivated him to improve.

Bazemore reminds himself of this by writing “499” on one of his shoes before each game.

“I’m sure every player has doubters – it happens in the game of basketball – and people handle it differently,” he said. “I’ve embraced it.”

And Bazemore said that no matter how good he gets and how long he plays, the “499” stays.

“No question,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to stick.”

For more photos from Bazemore's visit to the Warriors Basketball Camp, click here.

Kent Bazemore visits Warriors Basketball Camp - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Los Altos Town Crier

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