The 2017 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, June 22nd. As the stars of the college game get ready to find out where they will begin their NBA journey, CBS Local Sports’ “My Life As” series will give them an opportunity to talk about how they got to this point and what they expect from the future in their own words.
We start with Kyle Kuzma, from the University of Utah. Kyle was a two-year starter for the Utes and averaged a near double-double during the 2016-17 campaign. He was born and raised in Flint, Michigan and his hometown has been in crisis for the past several years due to unsafe water. Kyle is proud to be able to call Flint his hometown, and he spoke about what it was like to grow up there, play basketball in the area, and how he hopes to help the community by getting to the NBA.
Growing up in Flint, it’s a really violent place and there’s a lot of temptation to get into the streets, but basketball has always been my safe haven. It’s something that I’ve always gravitated towards whenever I was down and out or whenever negative things were around my life. Basketball really kept me grounded through those trying times.
I started playing basketball because of my parents. They put one of those Fisher-Price small rims right in the living room when I was two years old and I’ve been playing basketball ever since.
Basketball in Flint, with it being so violent, you know that every day is not guaranteed. And that’s the lesson that I’ve taken with me onto the basketball court. Every day is not guaranteed. You may get hurt one day, or you may be in the NBA and you might get waived. So, you just have to really live it. The Flint community has been tremendous to me. Flint is a big city for basketball and it really cares for its basketball players.
As a kid, I always told my parents that I was going to play in the NBA. Even in elementary and middle school when the teacher said: ‘Okay, what do you guys want to be when you grow up?’ I would say an NBA player. Then, of course, everybody just kinda looks at you and says ‘Okay, that’s great, but pick something real.’ But, it’s always been a dream of mine and I just tried to speak it into existence.
Now that I’m pretty close to the NBA, actually going through the process is pretty surreal. Traveling city-to-city, day-after-day, and getting in front of these teams and being able to walk into their practice facilities, when you look up you see the Lakers logo, or the Detroit Pistons logo, it’s pretty surreal. I got the chance to meet Magic Johnson when I worked out for the Lakers, and that was probably the most surreal moment of this process so far.
With the way that the game is played now at the NBA level, I feel like I’m a perfect fit for the league. Power forwards in today’s game have to be able to pass, shoot, defend, rebound and handle the ball. I feel like I definitely have the versatility in my game to be able to fill that type of role. There’s not too many people that are coming out in this draft that can add the type of versatility that I can.
My biggest focus as I prepare for the NBA draft is trying to get stronger. I’m not looking to gain a lot of weight, but at the same time, I’m looking to add strength. The biggest thing for me in attempting to get stronger is just lifting as much as possible. I’ve been lifting four times a week right now with a focus on my lower half, mostly functional movement things. I have building blocks to get stronger in the lower part of my body and become more explosive as I get ready for the NBA.
The other area of my game that I continue to work on is my shooting. I feel like I’m a pretty good shooter, but I definitely want to get more consistent so that I can prove I fit into the power forward mold that NBA teams are looking for these days.
Once I hopefully make it to the NBA after the draft coming up at the end of this month, one of my main goals is to help the city of Flint. Hopefully, I’m blessed enough to play in the NBA for a long time and I can help situate me and my family, but really my community also. I have a big sense of pride in saying I’m from Flint, so if I can help my city out in any way, that’s going to be pretty important to me.
Whenever I go home to Flint, I see the continuing struggles that the community is having with the water crisis. There are just so many normal day-to-day things that have to be done differently. You have to shower in the water that is lead-infested and corroded with many other things. You have to brush your teeth with bottled water, you can’t just turn on the sink like any other family in the country can. You have to load your toothbrush up and then swallow some bottled water just to brush your teeth. Of course, you have to drink bottled water, but even to do something as simple as cook meals on the stove, you need water to boil stuff and you have to use bottled water for that. There’s a lot of different things that — it’s really taboo honestly, to think that this is really America.
I’m proud to be from Flint, Michigan. Hopefully, by continuing to shine a light on what’s going on in my hometown I can help keep the city in people’s minds so that more is done to clean up the water.