11:28 PM EDT, June 28, 2012
NEWARK, N.J. — Andre Drummond held his mom's hand.
Jeremy Lamb touched his dad's heart.
In the middle of the NBA draft, an event built on cold cash and even colder assessments of a young man's ability and character, yes, there are warm, personal moments. And when you bear witness to them, you can't help but sit there and say, "How cool is that?"
As the first eight picks of the 2012 draft came and went without Commissioner David Stern calling out her son's name, Christine Cameron, a determined woman of few public words, squeezed Drummond's hand and whispered words of encouragement.
"She was like, 'We're here. Be patient. Your name is going to be called soon,'" Drummond said Thursday night at the Prudential Center after the Detroit Pistons made the center from UConn and Middletown the ninth pick.
The Toronto Raptors had no sooner taken Terrence Ross eighth when cellphones suddenly were being picked up at the Drummond family table. Within seconds, Drummond was overcome with emotion. He wiped tears from his left eye. He wiped tears from his right eye. He bent over, working to regroup before he went on stage to shake the commissioner's hand.
Athletes are treated like lab specimens in the days leading up to a draft. Their heights and weights are measured. So, too, is their vertical leap and wingspan. Strengths are extolled loudly. Weaknesses are blared even more loudly. There was some hope that Drummond, the most ballyhooed recruit in UConn history, would go in the top five, a consensus that he'd go sixth or seventh. He lasted to ninth. So be it.
No doubt Drummond needs work on his post game. He really has none to speak of. He can run the floor, has terrific lateral movement, can block shots like a demon, can slam alley-oop passes to bring down the house. He's a horrible free throw shooter and still must learn to back down defenders, develop a little hook shot and hit the short jumper with regularity.
Yet if Andre Drummond hears one more pundit question his work ethic, you swear he's going to run from Storrs to Pontiac, Mich., swim Lake Huron and bike his way back to Connecticut through Canada. Maybe tightrope Niagara Falls just for good measure. You swear Drummond, 6-11 and down to 265-270 after losing 20 pounds, will have to become an Iron Man to prove himself.
"All the talk about my not playing hard is going to be put to rest immediately," Drummond said.
"People don't understand how much Andre loves the game," said Phil Santavenere, the man who first put a basketball in Drummond's hands when he was a mite, the man Drummond calls Uncle Phil. "As far as him not having a good work ethic, he works hard. He's young. He is going to be pushed. He understands the magnitude of how much work he has to put in. He has a great attitude."
You almost forget that Drummond is 18, the second youngest guy in the draft. Leading into the draft, with talents under the microscope and millions on the table, you almost forget these young men are barely out of boyhood. Maybe it's fitting that Drummond's going to the Motor City, because enough people have questioned his motor.
Here's my bottom line on Drummond. He needs to learn how to work. He needs to learn what to work on specifically and relentlessly. He has the energy. He has the joy. He needs the focus. Before anybody knights him as Dwight Howard or dismisses him as Kwame Brown, give him three years to grow up. Jim Calhoun is dead on when he calls him a giant piece of unmolded clay.
So Drummond cried tears of joy as the Pistons selected him. He thought about all he had been through in his life to get to this moment. He said that hearing his name was the greatest thing in the world. And his mom agreed.
"Very special," said Christine, resplendent in a one-shoulder white dress.
That it was.
Chris Elsberry of the Connecticut Post and I would be able to pry only three more words out of her. When asked to confirm that she would be going to Michigan to live with Drummond, Cameron answered, "Yes, I am." She has given up her job as a nurse at Middlesex Hospital ostensibly to be Drummond's manager, but you get the feeling a lot of what she'll be doing is being a mom.
"His mother did a great job with him," Santavenere said. "Now he will be able to take care of his mom and his sister. It's a great moment."
Only 20 minutes later and 15 feet away at the Lamb's table, Jeremy's dad, Rolando, a man of considerable faith, would also dissolve into tears. He didn't do it right away when the Houston Rockets made the UConn swingman the 12th pick. No, it came when Jeremy was being interviewed and his words could be heard on the Prudential Center sound system.
He thanked his dad, but more important to his dad, Lamb thanked God. And, well, Rolando couldn't help himself.
"Very emotional," Rolando said. "It's a great moment. He gave credit to Jesus Christ and that touched my heart."
"There are a lot of situations surrounding UConn. We took our time [deciding whether to declare for the draft], looked at all our options. We asked what's best for Jeremy Lamb. We prayed on it. When the dust settled, it was time to leave."
Lamb is famously quiet. Sometimes he's painfully quiet. And when he hits that floater from the lane on the road, when he helped UConn to the 2011 NCAA title, the Big East and the nation truly had come to know the silence of the Lamb. Rolando wore a cap for Character Coaches International, his personal development company, and said that many of the principles were used to develop his own son as a person and player.
"He's full of class," said Rolando, who played at VCU and was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics. "He wants to do things the right way. Sometimes I would mess with him. I'd say, 'Man, you need to get some stuff stirred up there.' But I loved the way he handled himself. I was a little feistier when I played. I was more of a little talker."
"I've been telling Jeremy what the NBA stands for. No Boys Allowed. Jeremy's mind-set, he's got to get tougher. He's going to get stronger. I see that already. His body is coming along. It's a matter of time. He's going to have a better pro career than college career."
The story is well told now. Calhoun had no idea he was recruiting Rolando Lamb's son when he called their Georgia home in 2009. Rolando hit a last-second jumper to lead VCU past a Calhoun-coached Northeastern team in the 1984 NCAA Tournament.
"It was a classic story," Rolando said. "No way you can make it up. It came full circle, the way he called me up and said, 'You owe me one.' I'm like, 'I owe you nothing!' I'm so glad it all happened. We looked at the people who went to UConn, played a similar position and looked what they've done in the NBA. I told Jeremy, 'Coach Calhoun is a tough guy to play for, but that's what you need.' He embraced the challenge."
And as Christine Cameron, Phil Santavenere and Rolando Lamb sat there only feet part Thursday night in New Jersey, they all agreed it was a great moment and a journey worth taking.
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