Media Day takeaways: Bear hugs, leadership and new projects

Jeremy Lin smile

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Timofey Mozgov was fielding questions from media when he didn’t know what hit him.

Someone ran into him from behind, nearly knocking the seven-foot, one-inch big man over, and the table in front of him. 

That person was D’Angelo Russell.

“That’s my guy right here, make sure y’all take care of my guy right here,” Russell said before running away to go to one of his many photo shoots of the day. 

Russell and Mozgov are coming to Brooklyn together from Los Angeles, and that kind of bear-hugging kinship is what Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sees as the bread and butter of this roster. 

“We hug each other, we tell each other we miss them. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “You kind of want to feel that. A lot of people grew up missing that gap, they want to feel the love, they want to feel cared about, that’s what we do here and that helps us on the court.”

A tight-knit group is just the start for the 2017-18 Brooklyn Nets, a team whose goal is to work to be better and improve from last season’s performance.

“I don’t want to be disrespectful to last year’s team, but with a year under our belts, I feel like we definitely will be better than we were last year,” Jeremy Lin said.

Lin, who says he feels good health-wise, added that the team’s new pieces are going to be important to the team’s growth, and put emphasis on the leadership from eight-year NBA veteran DeMarre Carroll.

Other players on the team, including head coach Kenny Atkinson, have picked Carroll out as a clear leader on the team.

“DeMarre’s been like a big brother to us, he knows how bad we want to be good, he knows how we feel about the game just by being around us,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Just by being around us, he knows we’re passionate about the game. He’s been with great with that, just helping us become men.”

For Carroll, the leadership mentality comes naturally.

“It’s my personality, that’s who I am,” Carroll said. “All these guys know, I welcome them with open arms, I talk to them. I’m one of those locker room guys, I’m not scared to get in their face, I’m not scared to get you aside and talk to you. It’s just my personality. I’m thankful to them to say that, I gotta prove it, and I also gotta go on the court and prove it. I got the combination of a lot of great opportunities here in Brooklyn, so we gotta take advantage of them.”

A leader from last year’s locker room, Lin talked about the “itch” to play basketball that came from his injuries last season. As a result, he said he spent a lot playing basketball this offseason, using that “itch” as motivation to train more than ever before. 

One person Lin is excited to hit the court with is Russell.

“His IQ is so high. Playing pickup, his passing is so phenomenal,” Lin said. “The reality is we were in last place last year, and we need both of us to play extremely well for this team to take steps forward. We’ve discussed that a little bit, and we’re ready to take on that challenge.”

Spencer Dinwiddie is ready to see the two guards on the court together.

“[D’Angelo]’s had a bunch of game experience, but life experience, and it does nothing but good to grow him as a player and as a man, and he’s going to be special,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s going to be nice to see that come to fruition and hopefully a combination of him and J-Lin will lead us to great things this year.”

Dinwiddie teased prior to media day on Twitter a “surprise,” which he unveiled to the media Monday morning.

“One of my first goals is to play in all 82 games, and that would afford me the opportunity to, after every game, sign an item from that game and auction it off, all proceeds going to a scholarship fund in my foundation, in that inaugural scholarship program, sending a kid or kids to college, and make it a four-year scholarship program,” Dinwiddie said. “To my knowledge, it would be the first of its kind. I’m hoping to have my teammates buy into that as well, if they want to donate items, they can sign items as well. That’s my plan, that’s my surprise.”

Dinwiddie repeated that he wanted to help people, and he’s found a unique way to make that happen.

As for the rookies, they’re ready to hit the court. Draft pick Jarrett Allen is ready to fill whatever role is needed, and newest Net Akil Mitchell ‘likes his chances’ of making the final roster. 

Returning players Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert are ready to apply what they learned last season to handle their next 82-game stretch.

“That’s my whole motto now, ‘Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Whitehead said. “You never know what’s going to come at you, the opportunity that comes up.”

The team also weighed in on President Donald Trump’s latest thoughts on player protests, where Dinwiddie said he supports the right to free speech. In regards to the team taking a stand, he said the team has not spoken about anything specific regarding any protest.

Next, the Nets start training camp at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., from Tuesday, Sept. 26, through Saturday, Sept. 30. 

Brooklyn basketball is back. 

“We got to show the world, show the NBA that we’re not last year’s Brooklyn team,” Carroll said. “We’re on a new level.”