On a 10-day contract, 6-3, 190-pound Blake Ahearn knows he doesn’t pass the NBA “eye test” — and the D-League sharpshooter told a couple of funny lines about that. But the Utah Jazz’s newest player very well could get playing time as soon as tonight in Houston.
Ahearn spent time with Utah reporters after this morning’s shootaround and just two days after leaving his wife and hospitalized prematurely born infant girl, Blake, behind in the intensive care unit to try to seize a rare and golden opportunity in the NBA. (His daughter gave him a little celebratory going-away gift, too.)
Here’s the transcript of a very interesting interview with Ahearn:
How is your conditioning?
Conditioning, I’m fine. It’s the game simulation. That will just come with practice and games if I get out there. I stayed in shape as far as shooting. As you can see I’m a little out of breath right now (after shooting 3s with Jeff Hornacek). Just getting that first wind kind of in ya. I went to three training camps this year, so I’m in pretty good shape — a couple of days, I’m good.
I went to the Clippers. I played for the USA team in the beginning of the year and the D-League. I’m in pretty good shape. Just a couple of days to get your timing and all of that back, and I’ll be good.
Jazz down to 10 active players. Is it exciting knowing an opportunity is at the doorstep?
Absolutely. I know there’s a good opportunity. I talked with Coach (Tyrone Corbin) and he’s going to feel it out and see where the chances are. I’ve grown to understand you’ve got to take advantage of your opportunity when it comes. This is a good opportunity for me playing for a great team, a great organization and in a playoff race too. It’s exciting. I’m up for it. I’m ready.
Does the offense seem different than anything you’ve run?
I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy on the basktball floor. My mom and (wife) may have a different story, but on the basketball floor I pick up things pretty quick. It’s a lot of the basic stuff I’ve seen before. I’ve played for a couple of teams, training camps. It’s just different terminology, different stuff like that. But I think I’m pretty good.
You’ve had big D-League numbers. Do you feel like you deserve this chance in the NBA?
No question. It’s something night in and night out in the D-League, I tried to be as consistent as I could, showing it’s not a couple of weeks of playing well. My whole career I tried to just show people that night in and night out this is what you’re getting. Obviously coming in here I’m not going to score 25 a night for Utah, but I’m going to come in and play my game in the minutes that I get and I know if I do that it will help this team win and that’s what I’m here to do.
What has prevented you from getting a real look in the NBA?
People look at ya, and I’ve heard before I don’t pass the eye test. The best thing for me is getting stopped going to the bus or getting questioned getting on the plane. Jeremy Lin’s been through it, he said. I was in San Antonio. The stewardess asked if I was Matt Bonner’s friend just along for the ride. That’s the thing that I deal with, but when I step on the floor usually when the buzzer sounds, I’ve earned people’s respect. That’s just due to my hard work.
I don’t play above the rim. I’m not a banger. I’m not that. But skill-level-wise, I have to be that much better. When I’ve put in as many hours as I have, my confidence is as high as it can get. That’s what I do, I just take all the work that I’ve done and bring it on the floor.
Your wife and newborn are in the hospital. How does your family situation change your perspective on this opportunity?
It’s tough being away. Whoever invented Skype for the computer video — unbelievable. I’m using a lot of that right now. We’re fortunate, my wife and family, that my daughter’s moving along. The problems that she’s having are good problems, if that makes sense. Stuff that can get taken care of. It just puts in perspective, you know. You see other kids in the NICU. It’s a tough thing to watch.
For me, it’s tough to be away, but my wife, she’s played basketball — high school and college. She actually averaged more than me in high school. I don’t like to say that, but I’ve got to give her credit sometimes. She knows what this is about. She’s the first one to kick me out there door, to go pay for diapers, as I like to say, so that definitely helps.
Will it be easier for you to play the 1 or 2 guard position tonight?
I enjoy playing the point. That’s where I’m my best, but the thing I like, I think I’m pretty versatile. I can play the one or the two. I can pick things up. It’s nothing. I won’t feel out of my comfort zone if I’m playing either one. I can play either spot.
Are you getting a crash course with the coaches?
Yesterday, going over plays — today. I got the DVD. I’m pretty intelligent, pick things up. The big thing is just getting used to guys. It’s tough. I know some of them. I know kind of the way they play. Just some of the timing maybe a little bit. Stuff we’ll work on. Guys get traded. They get thrown in. They get called up. You’ve just got to be ready to play. I think that’s one of my strengths. I’ve just got to be ready.
Were you expecting this?
(I was) holding my daughter in the NICU. Basically, I’d been home for 10 days. I just thought my season was over. I still stay in shape and all that, because there’s that in the back of my mind, ‘What if something were to happen?’ But I didn’t wake up the other day thinking that Utah was going to call. I’m grateful they did, and I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity.
Where were you (Monday) when you got the call?
I was in the NICU, was in the hospital holding my daughter. Funny enough, right as it happened, I handed the phone and she spit up all over me, all down my shirt. My wife was like, ‘Look, there you go. Now you can take that with you!’ I still have it in my bag. It’s the shirt I wore to the airport, everything. It’s definitely a great story. Hopefully … I can take it pretty far.